Nov 13, 2020 - Economy

Niche sports reporting finds a home

Illustration of a pen with a digital tip.

Numerous journalists, from sports writers to tech reporters, have recently launched their own, independent publications, mostly via email newsletters.

Why it matters: The rise of independent journalism has breathed new life into niche content, with tools like Substack helping subject matter experts carve out their own corner of the internet.

The state of play: Newsletters occupy critical inbox real estate, but while some are general and others broadly cover an industry, others dive deeper still, writing for a small but dedicated audience.

Take Matt Brown's Extra Points newsletter, which focuses on the business of college sports. While ESPN covers the action on the field for millions of fans, Brown covers things like athletic department budgets for a few thousand.

  • "I'm interested in UConn's schedule. I'm interested in the finances at South Dakota. And there are people who care about that, but not 200,000 people," says Brown, who used to oversee SB Nation's college team sites.
  • "The beauty of Substack is you don't need 200,000 people to be interested in what you're doing — you need 3,000 who will pay for it."

Between the lines: When the pandemic shut down college sports this spring and led to the cutting of hundreds of programs, there was increased interest in the topics Brown covers, like how college sports are funded.

  • Meanwhile, layoffs at Gannett — whose newspapers would have been covering their local universities — created a void that Brown helped fill.
  • "Most college football fans just want to look at rankings and watch games," says Brown. "As soon as that came under threat, they shifted their attention to, 'Who is deciding when and how this all comes back?'"
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