Meadowlark Media, the content studio founded by former ESPN president John Skipper and ESPN radio host Dan Le Batard, wants a sports content franchise to call its own.
And so the production company is launching its most ambitious content effort yet, a multi-platform series called Sports Explains the World.
“We are putting a stake in the ground that we are going to be a storytelling company,” Skipper tells The Hollywood Reporter. “When we launched the company, what we wanted to do overwhelmingly was to tell stories. Both in the number of podcasts we do and in our video. And one of the great ways to tell a story is to have an anthology series in which to put those.”
Sports Explains the World is Meadowlark’s “bold statement” that it is playing to win. “When we launched 30 for 30 [at ESPN], people knew it was quality, what kind of storytelling we did. We want to do the same thing with Sports Explains the World,” Skipper adds.
The series will consist of 30 documentaries (about 22-30 minutes long) and 45 enterprise podcasts (most one-off stories, but some with multiple episodes), using sports-related stories to reveal greater truths about the world and society.
Some of the stories in the works stem from Ukraine and Ethiopia, but also include topics closer to home, like a look at the 300 or so Kobe Bryant murals around Los Angeles. Curt Schilling’s infamous 38 Studios debacle and Wilt Chamberlain’s legacy are among the subjects of the podcasts in development.
It’s all part of the plan to build out the Sports Explains the World brand.
“Individual stories that don’t feature a big name or a famous team or significant event can be hard to sell, that is a lesson we learned at 30 for 30Skipper says. “When you build the brand, then you can tell the story about a Colombian narco trafficking through the story of the Colombian National Team’s involvement in the 1994 World Cup, and what happened to Andres Escobar.”
The docs and podcast are set to debut in early 2023, although the exact home where viewers will be able to find them isn’t quite set yet.
“We think this will have attraction to streamers, and most of the big streamers have audio partners, or audio divisions within their company, so they are equipped to monetize both of those genres,” Skipper says.
“The thesis is that at the end of the day the stickiest content is the content that has the best storytelling, and we are in a world where streamers need to acquire subscribers and retain subscribers, and some big name or famous subjects will bring in audience , but you retain it by creating content that people want to see,” he adds.
Meadowlark executive editor Gary Hoenig will lead the series, with filmmaker Smriti Keshari and podcast veteran Bradley Campbell acting as executive producers of the video and audio executions respectively.
Meadowlark will also work with Firelight Films on the documentaries in the series, and Campside on the podcasts. Firelight is the production company helmed by Stanley Nelson and Marcia Smith, and was behind last year’s Academy Award-nominated doc Atticawhile Campside has produced the popular Suspect podcast.
“We wanted someone who shared values in storytelling and quality,” Skipper says of Firelight and Campside, adding that Nelson was a “kindred soul” in the types of stories he wanted to tell.
The partnerships with Campside and Firelight underscore Meadowlark’s ambition Sports Explains the World play. The company launched and was built on Le Batard’s podcast and related shows, but it wants to establish itself as a serious player across the non-fiction storytelling landscape.
The company already has a first-look deal with Apple TV+, a platform which could make a compelling home for the franchise.
“We are also creating intellectual property here, we are creating different stories, all of which could be made into feature docs, or even multi-episode documentaries,” Skipper says. “There will of course be more dollars and more margin in longer stories, but we are prepared to take the initiative, and present ourselves as a company that specializes in this, with the hope that it leads to other work.”