Dan Le Batard and John Skipper have reunited to form Meadowlark Media, their new media venture described as a progressive response to OutKick. Front Office Sports’ Michael McCarthy reported Friday night that Le Batard and Skipper are seeking $10–$15 million in initial financing for the project.
A source tells McCarthy that Skipper would rather “have 10 investors chipping in a million dollars apiece — than one investor giving him $10 million” to avoid losing creative and financial freedom. Le Batard and Skipper presumably plan to keep large chunks of equity after initial financing, indicating they are likely already valuing Meadowlark Media at around $50 million.
The plan includes either selling or licensing Le Batard’s show to an established media company. SiriusXM is the ideal fit, assuming the Dan Le Batard Show would remain available on Apple and Spotify. As we’ve written at OutKick, Le Batard retained the show’s valuable RSS Feed when he departed from ESPN.
Le Batard’s main show won’t drop off in interest post-ESPN. It didn’t rate on terrestrial radio, and an ESPN+ simulcast has little value for a radio show. Le Batard’s show is a podcast draw and a social media talking point, neither of which need ESPN’s support. The concern, however, is the other rumored personalities.
Jemele Hill has an audience, but her brand is toxic and risky for potential sponsors. Bomani Jones, Kate Fagan, Pablo Torre — three others Skipper is interested in — do not have large individual audiences. Simply putting them on a podcast network with Le Batard’s show would not provide a strong return on investment, particularly with Jones and Torre, both of whom just re-signed with ESPN for significant money. On Sirius, at least, Le Batard can lead into his company’s other shows, as opposed to giving them stand-alone podcasts, an area only a select number of sports talents make a difference in.
OTT services make an increasing amount of sense for unique media brands. However, if Le Batard’s show is available free in podcast form and his direction is to build yet another Left-leaning sports company, there’d be nothing unique to sell to the viewers.
I analogized the vision last week:
“This idea is the antithesis of innovation. The market share for this worldview is beyond oversaturated. Should some other media personality respond to Barstool by creating unfunny sports coverage? Should Don Lemon leave CNN to form an anti-Trump alternative to OANN? Please, someone, invent a Twitter alternative that will censor conservatives and let China call the genocide emancipated.’”
A free-to-viewers hub on NBC’s Peacock sounds good, the question is money. Could Skipper convince Peacock a business relationship would be a wise investment?
Despite these concerns, media sources tell OutKick they expect Le Batard and Skipper are confident in the approach and that the duo will be aggressive in recruiting familiar talent. Save for Mina Kimes, nearly each ESPN personality who was involved in Le Batard’s ESPN projects is a plausible fit. Of the personalities Le Batard elevated at ESPN, Kimes is the one best positioned without Le Batard’s support.
Le Batard and Skipper saw the cashouts Dave Portnoy and Bill Simmons received for building up and selling their multimedia companies; both Portnoy and Simmons entered the $100 million club in 2020. And if Meadowlark Media is successful, perhaps it could eventually be next-in-line for a massive valuation and sale. Though it can’t be done the same way as Barstool and The Ringer.
Barstool is a unique brand with an audience that roots for Portnoy akin to their favorite sports player. Furthermore, Barstool capitalized on the legalization of sports gambling in a partnership with Penn National Gaming. Skipper and Le Batard are not known as gambling guys, at least not as of today.
The Ringer, at first glance, looks reasonable. Though if Spotify overpaid for it, the impact on the market will be negative. Citi analysts recently downgraded Spotify’s stock, saying they have not seen “a material positive inflection in app downloads or Premium subscriptions” from Spotify’s $800 million-plus investment into the podcast medium. The Ringer, acquired for $200 million, is a crucial piece in Spotify’s future.
Those are long-term question marks. I have fewer questions about the next two steps: finding a home for Le Batard’s show and raising $10–$15 million. I’d expect Skipper and Le Batard to successfully get both done.