By Jason McKeown
Dom Newton-Collinge and Tom Fletcher have a serious problem – the pair’s Bantams Banter podcast is proving too bloomin’ successful. About to reach the end of the second series, there is a huge doubt over whether the final show for this season will also prove to be their final show ever.
“It would be heart-breaking to stop,” admits Dom. “The show has continued to grow in popularity after we achieved over 100,000 downloads in our first season. We beat that total for this season a few weeks ago, and we’re currently averaging 4,000-4,500 downloads per game. It’s free and we want as many people as possible to download it all over the world. But because so many people are downloading it, our allocated bandwidth limit has been exceeded online and it’s costing us a lot of money every month.”
A lot being an understatement. For a couple of ordinary City supporters with families to support – and who produce Bantams Banter for the sheer love of it – they admit that it has personally cost them around £1,500 this season to keep going. Set up and operating expenses, plus recording equipment maintenance, accounts for much of these bills. But what to you and me is a free show to download via iTunes is costing them £50-60 a month alone.
So a bittersweet problem, which may ultimately lead to there being no Bantams Banter series next season – even though the pair are rightly proud of what they have achieved over the past two years. “It’s like getting a pet monkey,” offers Dom. “You think it’s a good idea to get a monkey, but it ends up costing you loads and then you’re heart-broken because you’ve got to get rid of it.”
Tom laughs, “Like Ross off Friends!”
The birth of Bantams Banter
Width of a Post meets up with Tom and Dom to interview them in the Valley Parade press box, an hour before City’s home game with Macclesfield is due to start. Although all four stands are sparsely populated as the PA system kicks into gear playing records, there are plenty of journalists and radio presenters milling about, preparing for an afternoon’s work. On the front row in opposite corners are the local radio rivals Derm Tanner and Tim Thornton, while Ian Ormondroyd is in deep conversation with City’s Head of Youth Peter Horne, and former ITV commentator John Helm is stood on his own, staring thoughtfully at the pitch.
On the back row, sat at a desk next to the T&A’s Simon Parker, are Dom and Tom, in their usual positions for the match; ready to record their 51st – and possibly last ever – show.
It was August 2010 that Bantams Banter was launched, at first carrying the dreaded ‘official’ tag and promoted by the club. Recorded from the Bradford Community Broadcasting (BCB) studio in the centre of town, while interspersed with clips from City’s League Cup victory over Nottingham Forest, a very unique addition to the range of City-related entertainment available for supporters was established, albeit fairly slowly.
“When we started, we had done community radio so we were both very commercial radio sounding; it was all quite over-the-top voice driven,” explains Tom. The pair had previously presented their own radio show together on BCB, but soon developed the idea of producing a podcast devoted entirely to the Bantams; involving recording themselves live at each home match as they chatted to each other, in what they hoped would be considered a light-hearted and humorous style.
Dom states, “We’re just fans at the end of the day, like everyone else. And sometimes it’s interesting to listen to other people’s conversations at games.” “The first show got downloaded by 500 people,” adds Tom. “We were really chuffed with that, but we thought ‘well there’s so many City fans out there that we want more’. And now it’s grown.”
The first season proved to be hugely successful – particularly after a mid-season decision to switch from the studio to recording the show live from every home game. As Peter Taylor’s squad underachieved badly and Peter Jackson was brought in to keep the club up, re-living the ups and downs of matches through Bantams Banter was a refreshing and entertaining break from the growing doom and gloom.
Tom and Dom were not afraid to be critical of players and management – a fact that quickly saw the ‘official’ titled dropped, even though the club continues to support what they do – and popularity among supporters snowballed.
“Bantams Banter gets downloads worldwide, which we find amazing”, admits Tom. “It’s a lot of ex-pats. I think what drives these downloads is that we’re not one dimensional. We’re not just doing match reports and that’s it, like what a lot of other websites do. It’s kinda about personalities, what we really feel and what we really think. And it’s worked.”
The difficult second season
That success has been maintained and built upon during the 2011/12 campaign, even though the pair have made a conscious effort to become less official and be even more themselves. Previously they had featured a lot of player interviews, but Dom argues, “Having a bit of distance between ourselves and the formality of football interviews and the club, I think it helps a little. I mean last season we had Jacko on and that was great, because he was a really informal guy and he totally got that the show is just a laugh, but we wanted to leave the more serious stuff to others.”
“It totally depends on the manager and the players, totally,” chips in Tom. “If the manager is approachable, then the players are more approachable. For example, Guy Branston is a massive fan and he’s an approachable guy. He is willing to talk to us; David Syers, Ross Hannah too. But a lot of the other players – nothing against them, and we know it’s not personal – I just don’t think they want to chat to a random podcast.”
Dom adds, “It’s the same thing with the manager as well. With Jacko it was easy because, he got it. Managers like Peter Taylor, Phil Parkinson, they don’t get it. So the interview you would need to go for with them would be serious – and really time sensitive as well. Plus Phil will only tell us what he tells the Pulse and the BBC.”
On the shows they have produced this season, the pair admit to having some self-doubts which have even led to them not releasing some material. Tom reveals, “We thought we had some really good podcasts last year. And this year they have been a bit drab, because of some of the performances from the players, and the games, management changes and all that.”
“Yeah, it all started off so well,” explains Dom. “But then; well the downloads didn’t go downhill, but we felt that our performances went downhill. That’s the problem with doing a podcast, when it’s really important that we’re at a game to get the conversation rolling. But if the team performances are bad, then we feel terrible. And then sometimes you feel as if you’re trying too hard to make it more entertaining than it is.
“But that’s just one of the risks that associated with podcasts. And there’s been one or two shows this season where we’ve said lets just not release it. Because if City get absolutely tonked in a game or play terrible, we understand that no one is going to want to listen to it.”
However Tom is quick to point out that they are not too down on themselves. “We have definitely got a lot better, and the show has grown. It’s something where we are really proud of it. It’s definitely risen in popularity and we did reach the 100,000 downloads again much quicker this year. That’s partly why it’s costing us so much, because we weren’t expecting it.”
“The ultimate bits on the podcast are the bits that provoke the most emotion,” recalls Dom. “Like that Nahki Wells thunderbolt from about 40 yards against Rochdale, that was great to listen to because we’d just witnessed the new prodigy scoring an absolute belter. And then last season vs Barnet when the headphones got thrown down and I shouted at Taylor. That was me livid about what was happening on the pitch. These are the bits that I think the listeners would agree are amongst our best bits.”
This dip in confidence mid-season was partly rectified by Tom and Dom fulfilling a childhood dream that we probably all share with them – being pundits on Match of the Day.
As the flagship BBC highlights show was being relocated from London to Salford last November, the production team needed to record practice versions synchronised with the real one still going out live from London, to make sure everything worked before the move was completed. As a result of previous work done for the BBC, Tom and Dom were asked to play Alan Hansen and Alan Shearer in the fancy new studio – providing analysis on the day’s games – while Football Focus presenter Dan Walker took the Gary Lineker role.
Tom reflects, “When you’re younger and you watch Match of the Day growing up. You don’t think that you’re going to be one day sat on the sofa, albeit it was a shadow programme, but it was still absolutely amazing.”
“Not only that – and no one knows this – it was a massive confidence boost for us because they absolutely loved us,” Dom states. “We had these ear pieces in and you could hear the people in the control room laughing their heads off. There was one point where we made a joke about Mick McCarthy and they were laughing for 10 minutes. They had to stop Match of the Day until they stopped laughing. The whole thing was a dream come true.”
With the duo looking to build a full time career in broadcasting, this experience was a huge morale boost. They are also hopeful that Bantams Banter showcases their talent, as Tom reveals, “It’s a long game is broadcasting. It really is. You’ve got to do so much stuff to get anywhere. It helps us to do things like this (the podcast). We’re trying to carve out a career out of something we enjoy.”
Not only do the number of downloads for Bantams Banter present a compelling case for them ‘making it’ eventually, they also have some very devoted fans amongst City supporters. One fan (“Duncan”) places bets on the first City scorer for them, while another (“John”) rocks up to the press box bearing sweets for them to enjoy during the game. They also have a huge Twitter following. “It’s like a family,” states Tom.
While modest about their fame amongst fans, Tom believes they are well liked because of their openness. “It’s weird, because you don’t get that popularity normally. The thing is with people on the BBC and the Pulse, they do a brilliant job, but there’s a media boundary where they don’t always feel approachable, because of the professional sphere. But I think me and Dom are very approachable. Almost too approachable!”
“Yes it’s not intentional having followers,” points out Dom. “We just want to watch the footy and we’re recording it for people to listen to, and we know that we’ve got this very good rapport between the two of us, and we wanted to put it out there for people to listen to. But to say we’ve got fans or whatever sounds a bit weird, because we’re just normal City supporters.”
That said Dom is keen to tap into the unusually high number of downloads Bantams Banter receives in Ghana. “You know that tribe in Tanna that support Prince Phillip and have him as their king? I’d like to think that somewhere in Ghana there’s one for us. I’m going to look into that – I might send them a Bantams Banter shrine!”
As Valley Parade starts to fill and a young lad wanders around the press box handing out team sheets (“I used to have that job, now a 2-year-old does it. How do you think that makes me feel?” jokes Dom), the problem of how to continue Bantams Banter without racking up more sizeable losses weighs heavily. The pair have already attracted sponsorship from Napoleons Casino, and have also been supported by other local organisations such as SMF Print, but the show is still hitting them hard in the pocket.
“You can’t thank a sponsor enough,” explains Dom. “Having a sponsor is a massive help and it’s helped with certain costs, like for the new website that we have, which was built for us. But the show costs much more than what they pay. And we know that you need to get a very specific sort of sponsor, where it’s going to be a lot of money.
“It takes a lot of our time to edit the show as well. There’s quite a lot of pressure. You know that people want to listen to it and they know what to expect now, and we kinda put ourselves under a bit of pressure to get it out there to everyone to the best quality, so that takes time. But that’s our own thing, we put that burden on ourselves – the main problem is about how much it all costs us.”
Despite their pessimism, they will look to explore all avenues to find a solution to this growing issue, and are hopeful they can continue next season producing something they clearly get a lot of pleasure from doing. “Oh yeah we love it,” declares Dom. “We’re lucky to be doing it, because we’d be watching City anyway. And do we want to sit there been miserable, go home and do nothing about it? Or do we want to be miserable, and then let everyone else hear us be miserable?!
“And hopefully next season we won’t have to do any moaning – and the FA will let us in at Wembley to record a podcast for the play off final!”
To find out more about Bantams Banter, visit their website here. The pair’s final show of the season (covering the Macc game) will be available shortly.