Sunday Notebook - Sports Content Creation Tips
Principles to guide first steps
I'm going to switch gears a bit today and talk about some sports content creation principles I've condensed through experience over the years. These are less "actionable tips" than they are guiding points of light for anyone interested in starting (or growing) their efforts.
Important Note! - a career or even a side hustle in sports media is potentially fun and rewarding, but it is also incredibly competitive, utterly saturated, insanely time-consuming, and extremely difficult. Oh, and no matter how much work you put in, a non-trivial percentage of people won't like what you're doing and will eagerly say so at every possible opportunity.
1.) Create for yourself first
A lot of writing and content creation advice for beginners tells you to "think about your audience." Who are you writing for? What do they want?
This isn't wrong, but it usually isn't the first step. Chasing down audience preferences and trying to tailor yourself to them out of the gate can leave a creator pursuing fads untethered to a unique perspective or insight. It seeks to grow the flower without establishing the root.
Your first real audience is an audience of one - yourself. Creating content based on your own interests and curiosities is intrinsically motivating and can help build good habits that stick when you eventually do gain an audience.
In my first year or two of writing about the Flames, I had practically no readers. I established my writing habit by being curious and used publishing to "think out loud" about topics I felt were of particular interest. I tumbled down rabbit holes without knowing if anyone was following me.
It helped clarify my thinking, improve my craft, and stay motivated to write, even though I was kind of performing in a theatre of empty chairs.
2.) Double-click on your premise
I am a bit of a stand-up comedian buff. There are a lot of good comedians who can find and riff a bit on a funny premise. However, for my money, the best standups in the world can that an initial premise and delve five layers deep into it, excavating it for every angle and nugget of hilarity.
The best sports content creators do this too. Much of sports media is showing up, being present, and participating in the chatter, but the stuff that sticks is content that takes an interesting idea or topic and then expands on it.
Much of what I see from creators just finding their legs is surface-level, like a new comic crafting one-liners. But sometimes the conclusion you derive from initial research or notes on a topic isn't the end of a piece, it's the beginning.
Go a couple of levels deeper, and think about things like embedded assumptions or second/third-order implications that will help you double-click on the premise in ways others won't. Sometimes you don't merely want to walk an audience to a simple conclusion, you want to guide them through your thinking on it in a way that sparks their own curiosity.
Don't just uncover the buried pyramid in the sand - go inside.
3.) Build - or join - a metanarrative
People love stories. Narratives are how we build meaning and understanding of the people, places, and events in our lives. Even if you are an aspiring data-focused analyst in the sports realm, you should leverage narrative in ways that enrich and illustrate your analysis.
The next step up from that is metanarratives - overarching conceptual structures that shape and filter our fundamental understanding of the world. Ideologies and religions are metanarratives. Taking an active part in creating or propagating a metanarrative can be like riding a tidal wave.
Example - My relative success as an independent sports writer is due in no small part to my being one of "advanced stats" champions in the early 2000s. As an early adopter and pioneer in what was, essentially, a new metanarrative for understanding and analyzing hockey, I was able to ride the crest as "fancy stats" gained broader acceptance.
4.) Become a major node in the network
"Audience" is a bit of a misnomer when it comes to modern sports content creation. It suggests a passive, one-way relationship where one party makes something and the other party consumes it. Like strangers watching a movie together.
Thanks to the internet, however, content creation and consumption is both active and dynamic. Sports fans are not a group of people facing a screen, they are more like a network of agents participating in the ideation, creation, and dissemination of content.
Becoming a major node in the content or audience network is a significant unlock for content creators along a number of dimensions -
It organically creates new "routes" for content to move through and gain new audience members.
It enables high-velocity feedback loops that can assist in both defining and refining your efforts.
It is a strong signal that your content is resonating.
It strengthens relationships with others within the network, which is essential for audience building over time.
If you become "nodal", it can create a kind of flywheel effect where more and stronger connections within the network increase organic reach, improve relationships, creates faster feedback, and establish credibility and authority over time.
Write about what interests and motivates you first
Go deeper than others would
Create or join a movement (metanarrative)
Become a node in the fan network
The savvy reader will note that these principles are actually interconnected and most powerful when enacted in concert. They also trace many of the essential factors that allowed me to go from writing on a personal Blogspot in 2005 with no audience to managing a network of sites with tens (hundreds?) of thousands of readers five years later.
PS - If you are interested in more "content about content", don't hesitate to contact me on Twitter or email ([email protected]) to discuss further. As noted, I am considering launching a community for independent sports content creators, and any feedback about this potential project is welcome.
If you are NOT interested in this topic then I sincerely apologize (but also, why are you reading this?)
What I'm drinking
Meyer's Family Okanagan Valley Pinot Noir
One of my first-ever stops in the Okanagan wine region was this small, family-run winery, and it remains one of my first stops whenever I return. They make a handful of wonderful Pinot Noirs, but I am never disappointed in their affordable, "base" bottle - Okanagan Valley.
An old-world expression of the grape, this bottle pours with a "classic Pinot", brick red colour. Meyer Family's efforts tend to showcase scents of forest floor, mushrooms, and fresh, spring berries. This wine can surprise on the palate with bright acidity and fresh, explosive flavours of just-ripe strawberry and rhubarb (which can stand in contrast to "funk" on the nose). Aging is not a requirement, so I tend to drink these bottles pretty quickly whenever I get my hands on them.
If you are in the region, I highly recommend a stop by their intimate tasting room. Also - try the Chardonnay.