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Champion spreads message of college sports with new podcast

Brian Hendrickson

The scene was somewhat strange on a February afternoon as I was finishing up a Champion magazine feature.

Rather than writing, I was speaking into a microphone. Scrutinizing sentence structure and style gave way to critiques of tone, pace and enunciation in a closet-sized room at the NCAA national office. I was taking my writing into a new world, recording my first story for Champion magazine’s newly launched podcast, “Sports Section.”

The digital audio medium has experienced a surprising and sudden rebirth in the last couple of years after a decade of hibernation. NPR’s “Serial” became a cultural phenomenon in 2014. Now, 17 percent of Americans have listened to a podcast in the past month, and at times it seems every school, every celebrity – pretty much anyone with something to say – is recording a show.

But what few people are doing is telling in-depth stories, and that’s something at which Champion excels. We’ve done pretty well for ourselves in the print medium during the past eight years: This year, Trade, Association and Business Publications International – which has bestowed 40 awards upon Champion since its launch in 2008 – named the magazine the fourth-best trade publication in the world. But we’ve always felt our content’s appeal extends beyond the internal audiences within college athletics, so we’ve been looking for ways to branch out.

Then podcasting and public radio caught our eye.

The related platforms seemed perfect for telling the stories of college sports. The audiences are educated: Twenty-four percent of Americans with college degrees listen to podcasts weekly. They aren’t necessarily die-hard sports fans – the kind who listen to sports-talk radio and enjoy debates with their friends – but they’re the types of listeners who can be drawn in by a compelling story or become interested in an important issue. And they’re devoted to the medium: Ten percent of podcast listeners consume six shows per week. We’re betting they will be drawn to Champion’s content.

They’ll hear many stories you’ve already read in Champion, such as the inspiring tale of Kaneisha Atwater, the single mother and basketball star at Florida Gulf Coast University for whom basketball provided an opportunity to break free from the overwhelming challenges facing the nation’s teenage single mothers. They’ll gain insights into issues facing college sports, such as drug use, mental health and concussions, and hear personal essays read by college athletes and coaches.

They’re the stories you’ve become accustomed to reading among our features and in our Sidelines section. This format will make them available to an audience that might otherwise never have the chance to experience them.

By the time you read this, more than two hours of Champion features will be available through “Sports Section,” along with interviews with our writers and important figures in college sports. Through this project, we hope a new audience will discover college sports and its heroes, innovators and inspirational successes, who make an impact from all corners, not just those most often seen on television.