Saul Bookman and Greg Esposito were deep into plans for forming a local podcast network when Brandon Spano from the ALLCITY Network reached out and proposed something much bigger. Spano already had a thriving model in Denver and he was looking to expand.
DNVR Sports was a unique blend of video, audio and written content, but above all else, its mixture of culture and community had resonated with that city’s fan base. Spano thought Phoenix was ripe for a similar model.
One year later, PHNX Sports boasts more than 2,100 hours of programming, more than two million video views/downloads, it has beat writers covering all four pro teams in town, regular shows dedicated to those four teams as well as Arizona State and Arizona, an ever-changing array of hip merchandise, and a thriving online and in-person community.
“The common thing that I always heard is that there was a desperate need for this sort of thing in Arizona,” Bookman said. “You’ve got Bally Sports and you’ve got 98.7 [FM] and they serve a purpose, but we can do it in such a unique way where we’re not constrained by some of the things that constrain them.
“The whole vibe is to speak from the crowd, not from the stage. Too often with other forums, it’s a one-way communication with little or no feedback. On YouTube or in our Discord channels, you can communicate with us; reach out to us directly. Even my [Twitter] DMs are open all the time. Anybody can communicate with me because I value that feedback and that community aspect that we’re trying to build. One year in, I really feel like it’s starting to resonate with Arizona sports fans. The reception has been remarkable. Everybody has embraced it.”
Some of the personalities at PHNX were well established in the Arizona sports scene and had significant experience covering the state’s teams, but others were making their maiden media voyage.
“About half of our staff had never had professional experience inside sports and I would say half of those are now hosts on our shows, so it just goes to prove that we’re trying to break the model,” said Bookman, PHNX’s GM. “We’re not trying to be traditional media, but we also want to be taken seriously as media so it’s a delicate balance of having fun and providing informative content. I think we have executed at a high level.”
PHNX’s five Valley beats produce shows five times a week, the pro writers produce regular content, there are shows dedicated to the Mercury, Rising and sports gambling, and Mike Luke has generated a significant following for the UA beat in Tucson. Veteran reporter Chierstin Susel recently launched a long-form audio feature entitled “The Story” and she also hosts The Phoenix Sports Podcast with Makayla Perkins.
Bookman is also proud of the internal culture that PHNX has created.
“Espo and I just wanted to have fun at work,” he said. “As you’re developing a company and you’re one leg of a corporate structure, you understand that there are some things that are inevitably going to be instituted, but I think we’ve still done such a great job of making people feel comfortable at work, happy at work, and giving them the ability to make the environment that they want to make.
“It was a little rough at first, just because people were uncertain on how things were going to flow, but as we’ve grown, and as we’ve gotten more comfortable, you can see people really start to come out of their shell and be a little bit more assertive.”
Bookman has high hopes for Year 2. He wants to continue building the beat coverage with more written content.
“The written component is so valuable because there’s just so much color and so many anecdotes and details that people will not pick up on from a video or audio,” he said. “The writers are surrounded by it because they’re around the teams all the time. They live it, breathe it, they know what’s going on, they know the real story and that aspect is really needed.”
PHNX recently moved into its new studio at Arizona Center, which boasts three times more space than its original studio. The company is still working on finding a suitable space for its bar (a model that already exists in Denver), but more than anything Bookman wants PHNX to grow its brand by connecting fans directly to both its product and the teams for which those fans root.
“The biggest thing is getting the Phoenix sports entities — the athletes, the coaches, the GMs, the owners — to come through those doors and understand what we’re trying to provide as a company, and that we’re so much different. That’s really it in a nutshell. We’re just different. I think we align more with the common fan than others do. We try to make it fun to be a sports fan. That’s exactly what the motto is here at ALLCITY and I think we’re on track to do that.”