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Sports Drought Didn’t Hurt ESPN. Instead, 2020 Brought Another New Download Record.

Despite a year that had long stretches of no sports play-by-play because of the pandemic lockdowns, the tailwind of growing podcast listening sent ESPN to new records in 2020. The network says it had nearly 500 million episode downloads last year, a 28% increase over 2019.

The best month was September when ESPN set a monthly record of 50.1 million downloads, a 45% year-on-year gain. The company also points out that its combined network – which also includes the podcasts created by fellow Disney-own brands ABC, the political website FiveThirtyEight, and National Geographic – total downloads were 67.3 million in September, up 55% from a year earlier.

“It was another big year for ESPN Podcasts, yet another with new records and offerings,” said Pete Gianesini, Senior Director of Digital Audio Programming. “As sports return to their customary place on the calendar, we expect our momentum to continue,” he said in a statement. The previous record-setting year for ESPN was in 2019.

The podcast that experienced the most growth last year was The Right Time with Bomani Jones. It nearly doubled its audience, showing a 96% increase in downloads. Other big download increases were posted by DC & Helwani (+63%), The Lowe Post (+62%), and Brian Windhorst and the Hoop Collective (+60%), all of which set new annual download records. ESPN also reports that its longest-running original podcast, Fantasy Focus Football, also set a new download record last year as it completed its 14th season.

Podtrac reported this week that ESPN/ABC was the sixth-biggest podcast publisher among those it measures in January. The network had more than 46 million global downloads or streams with a unique U.S. audience of nearly seven million.

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