By Al Beeber - Lethbridge Herald on January 3, 2024.
Mitch Lawson of the Southern Alberta Community Living Association sees huge potential in a young man with a dream of growing a locally based sports podcast into a huge success.
Ryan O’Donnell, who was diagnosed in his teens as being on the autistic spectrum while attending Catholic Central High School, is working to turn his home-based podcast into a program that reaches a much broader audience.
O’Donnell, who did colour commentary for the Western Hockey League’s Lethbridge Hurricanes for several years and play-by-play for the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns mens hockey team for seven seasons, is learning the legalities of gaining sponsorships and other matters from Lawson.
With a full-time job, O’Donnell is doing his Lets Get Nutz podcast in his spare time.
The podcast is available on several sites including Amazon, Google and Spotify.
He is working on creating and developing new content for the podcast, which means bringing on guests to the show who will attract a larger audience.
And since starting it, he’s already talked to the likes of Zack Boychuk, Devin Setoguchi, Matt Stajan, Cam Barker and even Kelly Hrudey.
“It’s a work in progress,” said O’Donnell recently while meeting with Lawson at the SACLA headquarters in a building that was once home to well-known nightclubs the Roadhouse and Pulse, and more recently as the site of the former safe consumption site.
O’Donnell played hockey growing up but left the sport at 14. His sport of choice is golf, a game in which he excels.
O’Donnell came to SACLA where he joined a program called Catalyst which is aimed at addressing unemployment and under employment for marginalized groups. SACLA provides services and supports that are designed to help people with disabilities achieve their goals.
O’Donnell reached out to SACLA when he was still with the Hurricanes and afterwards signed up for a youth employment program there.
He went through an assessment and when he touched based with Lawson, O’Donnell told him that he’d gotten his podcast off the ground.
Because of O’Donnell’s connection to hockey he was able to attract “some really impressive interviews,” said Lawson.
The idea of the podcast came after O’Donnell thought about it for a few years but never got around to it because of the work involved.
But since he was no longer involved with any hockey teams, he thought he’d try to attract a few interviews.
“First off I asked basically whoever I knew in hockey if they would come on and most guys said yes so I thought that gives me at least a year of content and I can go from there,” said O’Donnell.
“I have a lot lined up but some of the guys tell me they’ll come on and you ask them” and they don’t follow through, he said.
“It’s kind of hard to spend a ton of time on it right now but I’m starting to see some benefits of it. I’m working on a couple of sponsors at the moment and hiring someone to run social media or help with it.”
The podcast is named after one of O’Donnell’s nicknames when he was young. He asked his buddies what to call it and that name fit.
“I’m not good, I never played a high level,” he said about his own hockey skills “but it’s definitely still a passion.”
“The purpose of Ryan’s engagement with our program is potentially some employment support,” said Lawson.
After he learned of O’Donnell’s plans, Lawson just tried to help him get resources so he connected O’Donnell to a podcast expert who does guidance and consulting. The two met with him and met with ExecuServe Plus to see what resources were available, as well.
“I helped Ryan put together a marketing package that he could give out to businesses and we made initial calls into from a legal perspective what do we have to make sure we take care of so if we do a sponsorship what’s the exchange, what’s a contract look like, things like that.
“My job is just to help whoever I support with what they might need in regard to employment so for Ryan, I was just trying to figure out what he needed,” said Lawson. That included sitting down with social media experts to get insight on how he could make the podcast bigger and better.
All of his episodes have been done at O’Donnell’s home with his subjects being interviewed remotely.
“There’s some guys that are local that I’d look at doing in-person,” he added.
At first O’Donnell tried to talk to athletes about their careers “but I’ve kind of learned that people – not that they don’t care about that – but more so it’s about stories people want to hear. Obviously there’s some stories guys would like to not tell and some they would tell so I try to get some funny stories out there, touching stories,” added O’Donnell.
He hopes he can turn the podcast into a full-time endeavour but wants to get back into hockey with a team.
“If it ends up being a full-time job, that would be awesome. But definitely I have a long ways to go, I would say.”
Lawson says the amount of engagement the podcast has versus the quality of guests O’Donnell has is “way out of whack.”
Lawson is working with him to find a way to bring viewership up to the point where sponsorships are more lucrative and would be attractive for businesses.
“And then Ryan can hopefully position to a point that he can hire somebody to do some of these things, somebody who can help make sure everything’s set up properly, contracts are managed, things are paid on time, everything like that because that becomes really, really time consuming.
“He’s doing it because he loves hockey and my resources are limited because I’m not an entrepreneur coach – I just try to help connect Ryan to people who can guide him,” said Lawson.
“He’s got this grassroots podcast with all these really impressive names and this content” and O’Donnell is producing clips for YouTube and Tiktok which hopefully will drive people toward the podcast, said Lawson.
“But still the engagement on the podcast itself is way smaller than it should be for that level of guest,” added Lawson.
O’Donnell knows a one-on-one interview can get dry so he’s recruited a co-host in Matt Bartkowski, who played nearly 300 NHL games and is based out of Pittsburgh.
He’s not launching any new episodes right now but is setting up meetings about advancing the project.
He would eventually like to do an episode every second week, he said.
He tries to set up as many interviews with local athletes as he can and will ask his contacts to spread the word to others they’ve played with if they’d be interested in speaking with O’Donnell.
“I want to try to get a lot of guys who played pro who are from southern Alberta. There’s a ton of guys from around Lethbridge who did play minor pro so I’d like to interview those guys.”
He says Lawson has helped him substantially with his efforts.
“There’s so much extra stuff behind it,” he said.
Lawson says he sees plenty of potential in O’Donnell.
“I feel it’s kind of like this powderkeg situation where Ryan’s got these super impressive guests, he knows how to interview, he’s got these clips that are out there and I feel with a certain level of exposure at some point, it might just blow up,” he says.
“Ryan’s work is crazy good.. .it would be awesome to see Ryan get the opportunity to get some bigger names and organizations that have products in hockey and golf because Ryan also talks to some golfers from time to time,” says Lawson.
SACLA runs a variety of programs that help people with disabilities find employment. O’Donnell came in under a program for people aged 18-30, said Lawson.
“My organization just tries to tailor our supports for the people we’re supporting,” he said, with his role with O’Donnell being mostly to connect him with others who can help him develop the podcast.