It’s not even a year old, but the podcast starring Jason and Travis Kelce has become a national phenomenon.
The show wasn’t scheduled to begin until 7:30 p.m., but hordes of fans were lined up outside the Kansas City Music Hall two hours early. With the majority dressed in Kansas City Chiefs or Philadelphia Eagles gear, there was no mistaking what audiences came to see. For the first time ever, the New Heights podcast was hosting a live show.
Co-hosted by Jason and Travis Kelce, the weekly program gives fans unfiltered access into the minds of two future Hall of Famers. The brothers, whose off-field charm is just as endearing as their skills on the gridiron, welcomed a sold-out crowd Wednesday, April 26 in downtown Kansas City, one night before the city hosted the NFL Draft. Travis has called the City of Fountains home since being drafted in 2013, and most recently helped the team win its second Super Bowl title in four years. Notably, he beat his older brother in that game, which many dubbed the “Kelce Bowl.”
Retaining a listener for 90 minutes every week is no easy feat, but fans seem to gravitate toward the pair. Perhaps it’s because we can imagine similar discourse with our own siblings or friend group. Or maybe it’s fun to see athletes shed that “tough guy” exterior. Whatever the catalyst, it has made for phenomenal content over the last 10 months.
“It is incredible to see how fans have embraced the show and allowed us to engage with them on an entirely new level,” Jason and Travis shared with Boardroom in an email. “The 92%ers bring that energy week after week. Getting the opportunity to experience that in real-time as part of the live show is a career highlight for us both.”
“History elevates conversation,” added Tunde St. Matthew-Daniel, SVP of Original Content at Wave Sports + Entertainment, which produces the podcast. “It’s these guys, their history together not only as players but also brothers. And so you have that as your foundation to kind of build upon. It’s like they have the shared experience of being NFL brothers, but it’s even more important they have the shared experience of growing up in the same household, just two of them.”
St. Matthew-Daniel understands what makes a palatable program, and he knew how successful this show would be almost instantly. With stints at the NFL, Spotify, and Uninterrupted, his knack for storytelling and separating athletes from their craft made it easy for St. Matthew-Daniel and WSE to see the long-term potential for “New Heights.”
Athletes opting to produce original content that allows for better self-expression only strengthens the bond they have with fans. While speaking to Aaron Eanes, Travis’s manager and an executive producer of New Heights, he said this trend can be traced back to players “not feeling like their voices are being heard in traditional media.”
“When developing New Heights, ultimately what we wanted to do differently was to have a conversation between two brothers that are both the best at what they do, but at the same time have very different outlooks and interests,” he said. “So not only focusing on football and the X’s and O’s, but having a general conversation about life and what goes into the general day-to-day and give people a peek behind that curtain. Which ultimately is the reason I would say that New Heights has success with a broader audience than just the typical football fan.”
Eanes has a point. Jason and Travis, while revered for their playing, have elevated their celebrity status away from football. One month after lifting the Lombardi for the second time, Travis was in New York hosting Saturday Night Live. Never too far from his younger bro, Jason made a cameo in one of the skits.
Alongside then-teammate Beau Allen in 2018, Jason guest-starred in the Super Bowl LII-themed episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, “Charlie’s Home Alone,” in Charlie Kelly’s imagination.
The Guest List
Another large part of the podcast’s success is the A-list guests that Jason and Travis book. The duo is entertaining on their own, but you see a different level of banter with a third (or fourth) voice. Among the many to have joined them are their parents Ed and Donna Kelce, legendary tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Shannon Sharpe, and most recently, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid.
With a roster of famous faces circling Kansas City that weekend, the two had plenty of options to surprise the crowd. They did not disappoint. The minute his name was called, 10,700 guests erupted in boos as Commissioner Roger Goodell walked onto the stage. Certainly used to the reception, Goodell accepted the jeers, conversed with the brothers, and left with enough time for the brothers to welcome several more friends. In all, the audience heard from Chiefs center Creed Humphrey, Chiefs legend Tony Gonzalez, Kansas City native and Modern Family alum Eric Stonestreet, newly retired Chiefs QB Chad Henne, and to close the show, the two-time NFL and Super MVP himself Patrick Mahomes.
Throughout the two-hour soirée, plenty of beer was consumed onstage, merch soared from t-shirt guns and dialogue reached an excessively hilarious amount of trolling.
“Something we’re really big on is building the shows with your host,” St. Matthew-Daniel said. “Don’t be over-reliant on guests. I’m not saying guest-centric shows don’t work. There are a lot of guest-centric shows, especially in the sports space, that do really well. But we set out to build a show with these two guys that could stand on its own even if we never book a guest.”
For those following New Heights since episode one last fall, you’ll know St. Matthew-Daniel has a point. It wasn’t until the 11th installment that they introduced their first guest, Eagles QB Jalen Hurts. Not to be overshadowed, Mahomes made his debut in episode 15.
“I think we prioritize the brothers’ dynamic over guests, and the reason we did that is because we think Travis and Jason are both stars at what they do,” Eanes said. “They’re extremely funny, extremely knowledgeable, and that’s what fans like to see. So that’s what we wanted to hold first and foremost, to give them a platform to showcase their ideas, their opinions, their passions, and their interests. I would honestly say the biggest beneficiary was Jason because people didn’t understand how funny he is, how witty he is, and how insightful he is.”
Reaching New Heights
With the No. 1 sports podcast in the country, the attention of two fandoms celebrating their every move, and a summer to build momentum for another season, it’s fair to wonder what the future of New Heights looks like — particularly after the two retire from football.
“We are always evaluating opportunities, so I think it’s easy to think about what the future holds,” Eanes said. “At the end of the day, we’re focused on how to make the best possible podcast and how to give the community of listeners that we’re building the best possible experience and insight. When we evaluate any decision or opportunity that is presented, we always think about those two things, and from there, it’s very easy to figure out what makes sense and what doesn’t.”
From his perspective, St. Matthew-Daniel says they’re committed to making the podcast accessible via all platforms. Whether it’s listening to the Kelces on a run, watching their dynamic on YouTube, or getting just the bits from Instagram and TikTok, the goal is to make a holistic show that stays authentic. St. Matthew-Daniel also emphasized their focus on building modestly, something he learned from another athlete-turned-worldwide-media sensation.
“One thing LeBron always used to say when I was a part of the Springhill fam is, ‘Keep the main thing, the main thing,'” he said. “We don’t want to have this show in any way — despite it being a big success so far — draw attention from what the guys are doing on the field.”
New Heights is available to stream on Apple Podcast, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon Music.
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