Bill Simmons. Colin Cowherd. Keith Olbermann. What do these guys have in common with lesser known, but burgeoning success Ross Tucker? They’ve each left the sports mothership that is ESPN with the intention to make it without the backing of the Worldwide Leader. The aforementioned “big names” have the clout and (fr Cowherd and Simmons, soon Olberman, too, most likely) the support of a major network contract elsewhere. But Tucker was largely taking a leap without a safety net. So how has the ex-NFL journeyman turned broadcaster, podcaster, and writer built himself a brand, a viable broadcasting career, and a panoply of four football-related podcasts?
Here are five factors that have contributed to Ross Tucker’s success, which is continuing to grow and flourish season-by-season, day-by-day:
1. Fostering the community from within. Just like any entrepreneur. Tucker is always thinking bigger, expanding, and getting more listeners and followers and subscribers. But he also knew that, from day one, he was able to bring with him a dedicated fan base from his ESPN days and he never stops paying homage or expressing thanks to the “Tuck-heads.” This is a lesson any marketer can learn from – it can’t always be about finding the next fan or customer, it’s also about fostering the fans you do have, turning all fans into superfans – into Tuck-heads. Many of the listeners that migrated from ESPN with Tucker to his eponymous podcast have since adopted his three other podcasts, consumed his emails and columns, and have become evangelists on his behalf. It’s great to have an enormous, growing fan base, but it’s just as important to keep fostering the fans you do have, getting even more value out of those known, loyal commodities.
2. Having a niche, being known for something different. Fox Sports 1 thought they would disrupt ESPN’s stranglehold on sports media by being known for “fun.” While their sports properties, much more so than their ‘fun’ personality, has allowed them to make some headway in the mountainous divide between them and their behemoth rivals, smaller players like NBCSN and others have established a niche, putting a stake in a ground heretofore not claimed. This is what Ross Tucker set out to do, becoming a former player that didn’t just throw on a suit and tie and sit at the NFL Live desk or wax poetic on a pregame show. He wanted to be the first former player-turned personality, offering a perspective and glimpse of the game that fans hadn’t been able to get on a consistent basis before. Whether it’s uncensored anecdotes about players or coaches, an unfiltered look back at trials and tribulations in his career, or even having his wife on the podcast to talk about being married to an NFL player, Tucker has found a niche that is all is own. (And likely inspired a very recent ex-player seeking to emulate Tucker’s solo success – Mark Schlereth, who recently started his own podcast).
3. Not BS’ing your audience. There is a popular, daily podcast out there called Entrepreneur on Fire. Among other things, what makes this podcast so unique is that the host regularly talks about his real business issues, even divulging his financials to his listeners. While Tucker isn’t about to open up his tax returns to his fans, he is genuine and honest with fans about business, about sponsors, and about how important it is for fans to use the sponsors, so he can, figuratively and literally, keep the lights on for all of his media offerings, His listeners appreciate that he does not have the comfy ESPN contract and that he can only continue his career, putting out the content fans enjoy, if it can support his family. That said, he doesn’t select sponsors he will not support himself, he told me during my interview with him, and listens to feedback fans give him about the content and the sponsors. He doesn’t play favorites, sugarcoating things to maintain face or relationships, and that goes a long way in why Tuck-heads continue to tune in and support him.
4. You support me, I support you. This phrase was a motif in my chat with Ross and is something he preaches and practices. Too many brands talk about a harmonious, two-way relationship, but it’s often more a refrain repeated in reference to customer service than true value add (though it is largely improving across the board). Tucker is different. He talks the talk and walks the walk. When fans write or donate or use a sponsor or spread the word about his shows and sponsors, he gives back. Whether it’s sending some signed swag their way, answering any questions they have, or incorporating their ideas into the podcasts and other content, Tucker truly cultivates the perception and practice that he wants to make each and every fan feel like they are rewarded for their investment, emotional and fiscal, into all things Ross Tucker. This has led to a special, symbiotic relationship in which several fans simply donate to the Ross Tucker brand (and podcasts) directly through PayPal, simply because they know and appreciate he will acknowledge their support and give back in whatever way he can to them. It’s a special relationship any brand should seek to emulate and what continues to carry Tucker today.
5. Trust the community, trust your instinct. While there would be the temptation to combat the big guys by exploring topics off their radar or that they won’t touch, Tucker doesn’t try to out-think himself. He trusts his instincts, which is fueled by his engaged community. Paying attention to the competition is always a good thing, but it doesn’t mean one has to always turn left when they turn right. Stay in the lanes your community cares about and let listening (and data!) lead the way. There is an inherent uneasiness with approaching a topic or theme or trend that is ubiquitous elsewhere, but if you do it your way, it’ll serve your community far better than making them go elsewhere. To go with another cliché – be you. Serve the community you’ve cultivated.
It has been impressive to see Ross Tucker really go at it on his own, managing to keep and maintain (and grow) a community of dedicated fans and corporate partners. The end game where the bottom line is affected is the sponsors see the value in working with Tucker because of the community he has built, which is engaged (active) and trusts him (influencer). People want to connect with people. Be interesting, honest, responsive, reactive, conversational, relevant, and trustworthy. You’ll be able to tout your own Tuck-heads [or superfans], too.