Once upon a time, there was a sportswriter. His job was to go to the games and describe the action in vivid detail because the vast majority of fans couldn’t be there in attendance. His description was the only way those fans could experience what went on that day with their favorite team.
Today, the number of fans who attend games is roughly the same, but by the time you read your favorite sportswriter over a cup of morning coffee, you’ve probably already seen the game on television, watched highlights on ESPN and read a detailed analysis of the game on the web or a social media outlet.
Such is the nature of the media in the modern world of sports. And while that may be bad news for newspapers and the writers that work for them, it’s very good news for those aspiring to work in the world of sports.
In the past those with a creative bent had to fight over one of the few positions in sports broadcasting or the news media. There were at most two or three main individuals who had the duty of covering a major college or pro team in a given market. Now there are literally hundreds of creative minds blogging, tweeting, podcasting and otherwise giving fans access to their favorite teams in any market.
While living out your dream as the next Grantland Rice or Peter Gammons is now as simple as starting your own website, the competition in this market has made it much more challenging to earn and keep an audience for your work. With that in mind, here are some useful suggestions for those interested in a career in sports media:
Have a take and don’t suck. This is the tagline broadcaster Jim Rome has used for over a decade when he opens up his phone lines and e-mail box to listeners, giving them an opportunity to comment at length about some sports topic.
As pointed out above, your readers/listeners aren’t going to be coming to you to find out the score and how it got that way. ESPN has already done that. What they want is informed analysis written in a manner that’s appealing and easy to digest.
Be committed to your medium. Sports fans are no different than any other media consumers. They’re creatures of habit. However you present your information, do it regularly and predictably. Make your blog or podcast “appointment reading/listening.”
Be prepared to work for free. These are self-starting gigs in most cases. Until you get established and have a representative body of work that can be sold to an outlet that actually make money, get used to toiling for nothing, or at least for some future payoff.
Don’t expect press credentials or access to the team. Most sports franchises are honestly a little behind the curve when it comes to new media, and those that are on the “cutting edge” are still reluctant to grant access to non-traditional media members. Sports teams are more guarded with their information than the Pentagon. Don’t expect to be embraced by the media relations crew of the team you’re covering. That means a lot of digging on your part to find quotes you can use. Remember, just because you didn’t do the interview doesn’t mean you can’t use the quote. Don’t steal the story and always give credit to the writer who did the original work, but once it’s published, it’s fair game.
It also means spending as much time networking as you do creating. The only way you’re going to get noticed by people that matter is by reaching out to them. Fortunately, the new media (Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) helps greatly in that regard. You don’t have to engage in stalker activities to get the attention of those in the sports business.
If you’re a creative type with a desire to work in sports, the market is as open right now as it’s ever been. If you have some technical know-how and a willingness to start at the bottom and work your way up, you can achieve your dream of your own by-line.