Boardroom goes inside the drive and deals with the cross-platform phenomenon that is now a part of Meadowlark Media.
All the Smoke has become a behemoth in the content space in only four years.
From Flash opening up about his child’s transition to Hancock crashing on the couch after his Oscar action scene, the hazy hub is a place where superheroes show their superhuman side. It’s a place with no precedent and an empire that almost never happened.
“People didn’t understand what we were trying to create because there was nothing like it,” Brian Dailey, SVP of Sports Programming and Content at Showtime, told Boardroom. “It’s become a standard for the way new programming is looked at.”
In the last year alone, All the Smoke has doubled its follower count and tripled its engagement.
Over 200 episodes in, All the Smoke is not just rising among the competition and permeating across platforms; it’s becoming a production powerhouse with new properties and partnerships in the works.
With Showtime Sports closing its doors at the end of the year, another door opens.
In 2024, Showtime Basketball will transition into All the Smoke Productions and All the Smoke will enter into a strategic partnership with Meadowlark Media that will expand distribution, content development, and events for DraftKings. Furthermore, Dan Le Batard’s Meadowlark Media and All the Smoke Productions will bring together a collective universe of programming and personalities that will anchor the DraftKings Network.
Co-host and creator Matt Barnes will steer the ship, building a programming slate around the blunted brainchild that’s captured eyes and ears worldwide.
“I wanted a role where we could bring all these personalities under one umbrella,” Barnes told Boardroom. “To create a monster.”
A Joint Venture
The origin story of All the Smoke isn’t far from what you’d fathom.
While working as analysts for ESPN and FOX Sports, Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson saw the media landscape from a lifted perspective.
“We were the only two athletes doing both networks,” Jackson told Boardroom. “We were smoking one day, and Matt was like, ‘Damn, we’re really the reason both networks are hot. Why don’t we come up with our own show?’ I’m a loyal friend, so any idea Matt came up with, I’d be down.”
While Jackson took the idea literally in passing, Barnes took the idea off and running. Within weeks, Barnes was knocking down doors and researching how to build his own property.
“I really didn’t know what a podcast was,” Barnes said. “But I knew working for ESPN and FOX, it was a straight line you had to walk. A podcast was probably a little more flexible, where we could smoke and drink, if the guest wanted. A little more relaxed setting, more of us.”
All the while, a premium partner was waiting in the wings.
“Showtime had recently entered the podcast space on the combat side,” Dailey said. “We had the foundation of our basketball brand built through documentary storytelling, and I was looking to build on that. The timing was perfect.”
“Brian flew to LA, and I cold pitched him,” Barnes said. “I felt like the best conversations were a group of guys in the mancave watching a game. I wanted to put a camera on that, and he went for it.”
While Dailey was all in on the idea, Showtime was only all in on Barnes. The network didn’t understand the vision that included both of them.
“I told them that wasn’t the way I thought of the show,” Barnes said. “If Stak can’t do it, I’ll respectfully pass.”
“Stak was a non-negotiable part of the deal,” Dailey said. “The vision and the opportunity was Matt and Stak together, leaning into their friendship and history as teammates.”
Holding his ground with a premium partner at his fingertips, Barnes bet on loyalty and relied on his vision. Showtime accepted the terms, and the pilot took flight.
When the first taping for All the Smoke took place, Dailey had just brought Showtime Sports into the audio space through boxing and MMA. Quickly, the fight for All the Smoke would take place in the C-suites.
“We had a marketing shoot on Day 1,” Dailey recalled. “There was content that included cannabis and smoking. Understandably, our legal team had questions, and we caught some heat.”
True indeed, everything about the title of the project proved prophetic.
“We wanted All the Smoke,” Barnes said. “It was the name my sister thought of, and we were cannabis advocates. We shot for five hours in LA, and everything had to do with smoking. He took it back to legal, and they’re like, ‘What the fuck is this?'”
“We didn’t know how they were going to take the smoking part of it,” Jackson said. “We’re posted up doing our album cover pictures, and Showtime was like, ‘Nope!’ They didn’t understand the dynamic of what me and Matt saw.”
What the execs saw were more red flags than the “Pop Bottles” music video. What Jackson and Barnes saw was an untapped media marriage between cannabis, culture, and sports.
“We knew how athletes tried to hide it for so long,” Jackson said. “Me and Matt smoked our whole career. We knew if we could start the show smoking? It’d be accepted by our culture.”
While the smoke alarm went off in Showtime’s corner office, an unlikely ally in the form of a lawyer came to their defense. Since everything was being shot in Los Angeles and cannabis was legal in California, all assets were in bounds, and the show could go on.
“People sit at home and smoke,” Jackson said. “Now we can smoke and watch two NBA Champions talk about sports and life with the biggest names in entertainment? Everything was God’s plan because a lot of things fell in line in time.”
Though the show was set to take off in October 2019 — right at the start of the NBA season — it would begin not with live-streaming the opener but with sitting down with a free agent.
“I knew with licensing we wouldn’t be able to watch the game, but I wanted to capture that barbershop talk with the guest format,” Barnes said. “Once Brian greenlit it? The first guest out the gate was JR Smith.”
“JR tells the story about the timeout in the NBA Finals,” Dailey said. “He had not spoken about it until that point. The way JR told the story, and the whole vibe of the interview, we hadn’t seen before. That put us on the map right away.”
More than just on the map, all over the map.
“It went viral,” Barnes said.
Anyone who watched the We Believe Warriors dismantle Dallas in 2007 knows one thing: Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson don’t half-ass anything.
“Our first year, we won Sports Podcast of the Year,” Barnes said. “We figured we had a little something.”
Upon catching the spark from JR, All the Smoke was able to book the likes of CC Sabathia and Dwyane Wade, offering an alternative space for conversation that led to athletes touching on topics never before presented publicly.
“The agenda was always to celebrate people, not extract clickbait,” Dailey said. “Early stuff like D Wade talking about his child and being a father? That crossed us over beyond sports. E!, Entertainment Tonight, People all picked it up. It’s always about elevating our guests versus trying to bait them.”
“Everything in our lives, from good to bad, we’ve owned it and wear it on our sleeves,” Jackson said. “We can talk about child support, losing family members, losing money. We can talk about anything and not judge anybody because we put ourselves in those shoes.”
Across the gotcha media landscape, people are often punked by pundits in the shiniest of studios. Despite the confrontational title, All the Smoke wasn’t looking to take on their guests — they were looking to take on the system by building their own.
“You weren’t walking into some corporate building,” Dailey said. “This was an amazing, gritty set-up in Santa Monica.”
A sunny setup surrounded by food trucks and access to legal weed.
“I always wanted to create the vibe,” Barnes said. “If you’re just in a green room? It’s stiff. We came out with music, food, alcohol, and cannabis. We wanted to create a relaxing, comfortable environment.”
Before cameras ever rolled, the hosts set the tone from the jump. The atmosphere they envisioned was actualized in the form of a main stage mural depicting Nipsey Hussle, 2Pac, Bob Marley, and The Notorious B.I.G. memorialized in kush clouds.
“Enkone, an LA street artist, spent a whole week sleeping in the studio and did that beautiful mural,” Dailey said. “When people saw the set and the vibe, it was an experience people wanted to be a part of.”
Within weeks, guests didn’t just want to pull up to All the Smoke; they wanted All the Smoke to pull up to them.
“Kobe was a huge breakthrough for us,” Dailey said. “That legitimized us a lot sooner than we anticipated. The network was ordering 12 episodes of our ‘Best of’ a lot sooner than we thought.”
Just as the Kobe episode caught traction on television, disaster struck twice.
Days after airing, Bryant tragically died in a January 2020 helicopter accident, making All the Smoke his last long-form interview.
Then the world shut down. Bred by adversity, Barnes and Jackson used the downtime to dig in.
“The pandemic is when we took off,” Jackson said.
“We were one of the first to get up and going during quarantine,” Dailey added. “Everyone was trying to figure out studio programming. We figured out right away how to set up the guys remotely and get to work.”
So good that the guest list, audience, and output grew tremendously.
“Matt started to hit up his network when nobody was doing anything,” Dailey said. “So we’d have Ken Griffey Jr. talk from his home office or Jamie Foxx from his steps.”
“We leveled up despite being in this terrible time,” Dailey said. “We were cranking out two or three episodes a week because we were getting such crazy volume, and the numbers were through the roof. We got Tatum, Ja, Vince, T Mac. We had legends, we had rookies, entertainers, it was wild and something for everyone.”
The path to Podcast of the Year — much like each of their NBA careers — was one of fight and resilience.
All leading up to another fight.
Season on the Brink
The inaugural season of All the Smoke spanned 43 episodes and blossomed amid a global pandemic.
It also coincided with a spring that saw ViacomCBS lay off 450 employees, including 88 at Showtime. Though ATS had made its way to premium television and soared through streams, Dailey still had to fight to keep the successful show afloat.
“The first year, he had to bootstrap to get us paid,” Barnes said. “He went to every single department and scraped the money together to pay us.”
Rather than sulk, Barnes leaned on the same ethos that made him successful as an NBA player. He hustled.
“I started learning the business and shopping it myself,” Barnes said. “I was talking to Spotify, Apple, Amazon, you name it, to figure out what the market was because it was such a new space.”
Due to the relatively new nature of podcasts and the cross-platform production that All the Smoke existed as, the market for what Barnes, Jackson, and Dailey had built was almost impossible to define because it didn’t live in one box.
Sensing such, Barnes sought suitors of all varieties.
“I started talking to iHeart and tried to figure out how we could intermix the two,” Barnes said. “I knew Showtime was great on the digital side, but iHeart was one of the biggest radio platforms in the world.”
Realizing All the Smoke had value in video and audio, Barnes brought both parties together.
“We had those two talk and sit down,” Barnes said. “We ended up being able to double-dip.”
From avoiding industry-wide layoffs to leveraging two backers, the undrafted Matt Barnes was now the media’s Rookie of the Year. Then, acting as his own agent, he was able to get audio backing by iHeart’s Black Effect Podcast Network and digital dollars by way of Showtime Basketball’s YouTube channel.
“We were able to double our money up,” Barnes said. “From there, we were off and running.”
Platform to Partners
The hustle of Barnes, Jackson, Dailey, and the All the Smoke family led to leverage inside Showtime and influence everywhere. But with power comes privilege.
In the early seasons of All the Smoke, Matt Barnes was cold-calling famous friends to talk over Zoom. By its third season, Hollywood’s elite was prioritizing pulling up on set.
“Kevin Hart pulled up,” Jackson recalled. “The first thing he said is, ‘I’m not here because y’all are my guys. You’re my friends, but I watch the show. I’m a fan.'”
The intimate hang with a worldwide audience made All the Smoke more personal and mass than TV competitors or podcast peers. Suddenly, stars in all stages of their careers were seeing Stak and Matt to talk, plug projects, and clear the air on issues personal and public.
“To have Will Smith request us to be his first show after everything went down? Will could’ve gone anywhere, but he chose us,” Jackson said. “That meant the world to us and let us know we’re doing something special.”
When it comes to booking talent on show, Jackson is quick to cite Melissa Chusid as a rockstar, with both hosts also happy to hop on the phone or in DMs. The rolodex of A-list guests from various industries makes the show a marketing magnet for ad reads and endorsements, even if the show’s sentiment towards cannabis and unfiltered conversation once scared sponsors.
“We’ve been lucky to work with partners that understand the brand and our audience,” Dailey said.
Dailey notes DraftKings as a Day 1 partner who has been on board the whole ride. Like smoking, sports gambling came into the media space with a stigma. Look around today, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a successful podcast, show, or series not backed by a betting platform.
For decades, traditional ad partners paved the way for media to make money and also appear credible. In a streaming and scrolling content space where the lines between broadcast and brand are blurred, All the Smoke is expanding into various streams of revenue to grow its reach and engage with the audience.
“From the jump, we’ve looked at it as a multi-platform content brand,” Dailey said. “We drew it up with that as our goal, and now we sit with an apparel partnership, upcoming mezcal launch, and a book.”
From fashion to spirits, books to live events, Barnes is not just fronting All the Smoke in new endeavors; he’s doing the ground-level R&D to make these moves happen.
“You see a lot of heavy exits in the alcohol space, so we jumped on and did our research,” Barnes said. “Initially, we wanted to do a tequila, but we saw the growth in mezcal.”
In conjunction with the show’s 200th episode, All the Smoke is entering the premium podcast merchandise space through a collaboration with Legends, an athletic apparel company in which Barnes is an investor.
While the show exists as a platform to push screen-printed tees and embroidered hats in bulk, they’re now hitting a higher price point and more intimate connection.
It’s a win for All the Smoke being taken more seriously as a lifestyle brand and an awareness lift for the company Barnes bought into in 2018, soon set to reach the $100 million mark.
“It’s added credibility to the brand,” Legends founder Scott Hochstadt told Boardroom. “They’ve made strategic intros for us, and it validates us. When I walk around with Matt in Vegas? More people want to meet him and take photos than current NBA guys.”
In 2023 and headed into 2024, All the Smoke will have books on tables and booze in stores. They’ll be able to sell premium apparel in limited launches online to the show’s millions of followers.
Better yet, they’ll be able to push that same product and meet those same fans via an expanded footprint in the live show space.
“Moving forward, live events will definitely be a huge part of what All the Smoke does,” Barnes said.
While live events were initially part of the plan in 2020 following the KG taping in Chicago, COVID-19 paused that momentum. In the time since, All the Smoke has hosted live events with Magic Johnson in LA and Jason Williams in Sacramento. Though the team has a flock of fans across California, they recently found out that even more exist abroad.
“Going to Croatia? We headlined a multi-day sports symposium,” Dailey said. “It was mind-blowing, we’re resonating with people in Croatia? We did a live show where a couple hundred people came out in jerseys and gear.”
Not only were fans from afar fans of Matt and Stak, but they were also in love with the content.
“We did a Q&A, and they’re asking detailed questions saying they’ve watched every single episode,” Dailey said. “It’s way beyond anything we could’ve ever imagined.”
Beyond Imagination has been a common theme for All the Smoke — so what’s next?
Battling the Big Dogs
Meet Matt Barnes in passing or pick up the phone with Stephen Jackson, and you’ll find the same candor and charisma they possess on the podcast.
Typecast them as absent in meetings or content with their content? Well, that’s where you’ve got them fucked up.
“We weren’t doing a show just to have a show,” Jackson said. “We were doing a show to compete with the big dogs.”
During their run at Showtime Basketball, Dailey, Barnes, and Jackson partnered with the likes of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, using the strength of All the Smoke to take all parties to new heights. Now aligned with Le Batard and John Skipper at Meadowlark Media, familiar faces will follow.
As a platform, All the Smoke has been able to revive Rachel Nichols’ legendary career and help DeMarcus Cousins lean into his next chapter after basketball. Additionally, they’ve teamed up with Allen Iverson as part of a multi-year partnership, continuing to build with AI and influence the next generation of hoopers.
Each entity will ascend alongside ATS with Meadowlark Media and DraftKings, making the most of this massive move.
“I’d put our roster up against any network,” Barnes said. “Brian made it easy. From the jump, I felt like he was one of us. Even though he was on the other side of the business, he always fought for us.”
“I tell you this wholeheartedly: it’s going to be hard for places like ESPN,” Jackson said. “When you have shows like ours and even Cam and Mase? You don’t have to wait for SportsCenter. I always want to see guys like Stephen A. Smith and Shannon Sharpe, the guys we look up to and love. But what we’re doing right now? I think it’s only going to get bigger.”
At All the Smoke, bigger means expanding to new audiences with new athletes and new shows.
“Basketball, baseball, soccer, hockey,” Jackson said. “Anything we feel belongs in our network? We’re trying to build a home for it.”
“We became an example of what a cross-platform content play could look like,” Dailey said. “It’s an award-winning podcast, long-form show on digital, and a program on premium cable. Our social audience has been our fastest-growing audience at Showtime, and it’s all been organic. We haven’t put a dollar against growing our social.”
The dollars instead are going to two NBA vets who won rings but never got a max contract.
“Jack and I were role players,” Barnes said. “Normally, stars are the ones that can go on and create incredible niches. It says a lot for myself and Stephen to do the same thing.”
“It’s great to be All-Stars in this space who weren’t All-Stars in basketball,” Jackson said. “Now they’re looking at us as the players in the space.”
MORE MEDIA & ENTERTAINMENT:
ESPN and Omaha Productions’ ManningCast remained an industry leader in Season 3. Boardroom set out to learn what’s behind Peyton & Eli’s secret sauce….
The latest AR & API technology from Snapchat will allow fans at the Super Bowl to watch and interact during the Big Game in entirely new ways. …