Blue Wire, a sports podcast network founded in 2018 that’s growing in annual downloads and outside funding, hired Chandresh Patel from the NFL as its new chief operating officer, the company said Tuesday.
The 34-year-old Patel oversaw the NFL’s media and business development group in Europe since the end of 2016, which included TV distribution rights and growing American football in places like England, Germany and Poland. Patel is tasked with helping the company build out its podcast network of more than 140 shows and improve profits and revenue while enabling company CEO Kevin Jones to experiment and innovate in the rapidly-growing podcasting and audio space. Jones said he expects Blue Wire’s shows to collectively hit 50 million downloads in 2021.
“It’s ripe for disruption. It’s falling where the consumer habits are generating,” Patel said. “When you have a group of people that are super smart and super passionate about something, it’s an opportunity for success.”
That passion has led to funding, from an initial seed and Series A rounds of $6.2 million from Dot Capital, Bettor Capital, Side Door Ventures and Forty5 Ventures— with 500 Startups, Baron Davis, Prakash Janakiraman and David Van Egmond also on board— to a large-scale $3.5 million deal with Wynn Resorts
Blue Wire will build out a live podcasting studio in the Wynn’s Las Vegas lobby, which will be activated in time for March Madness, and promote the company’s sports gambling subsidiary WynnBet on its various shows. Wynn will also receive an undisclosed equity stake in the company as part of the deal, Jones confirmed.
“A lot of times when you get a corporate investment, you might get lost in the shuffle,” Jones said. “We’re in constant contact with the lead guys there who we really believe in their vision of they want to add more attractions inside the Wynn hotel, more content, more workout studios, less jewelry shops. We want to be a part of Vegas and the growth this decade.”
The 32-year-old CEO said that making its new partnership with Wynn a successful one means hiring new talent, getting into more video and multimedia projects and leaning in to the ever-expanding world of sports gambling. Recent hires from companies like Hulu, The Athletic, iHeartMedia and esports organization 100 Thieves increased Blue Wire’s full-time employee count to 28 spread across the U.S. And new talent who have joined the podcast network as hosts include former NFL tight end Greg Olsen, comedian Druski, ex-NFL Network host Lindsay Rhodes and Haley O’Shaughnessy and Jordan Ligons from The Ringer.
Patel, who worked at Apple and ESPN (where he worked in global distribution strategy and business development) before moving to the NFL, will be trusted with growing the business and partner side while providing wisdom to and coaching up what Jones called a young and hungry team of new entrepreneurs.
Jones’ content team has focused on narrative original content in the mode of Wondery, Gimlet and Serial, where it’ll take the baton from ESPN’s 30 For 30 documentary series and create volume in the space, he said. After a breakout narrative podcast last year called American Prodigy, where former Sports Illustrated soccer writer Grant Wahl told the story of can’t-miss, 14-year-old prospect Freddy Adu, Blue Wire is diving headlong into the format. Other upcoming narrative series this year on Blue Wire will feature Ken Griffey Jr., the Cleveland Browns, Houston Comets and Cal Ripken Jr., where the podcast will look into whether Ripken’s unbreakable consecutive games played streak is actually even real.
While Blue Wire has sensible short-term goals like building its user base, driving more revenue, gaining more partners and advertisers and sustaining a strong, stable company, Jones and Patel have larger things in mind.
“You’re gonna see us potentially have celebrity boxing in Vegas,” Jones said. “We’re gonna be experimenting with a lot of different ways, online and offline, in different cities with our fans. Chandresh is gonna be driving all this. He’s a dealmaker.”
Having come from a role in Europe with the NFL, Patel wants to also grow the company internationally and expand the company from audio to video and live events while continue to build on its current momentum.
“We need to continue to experiment and innovate,” he said. “We have the ability, so let’s take advantage of that.”