Today, someone in my Facebook feed posted this article. Before you read it, warning: it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. It’s from a sports writer who’s probably in his 50s and struggling to find work. It got me thinking about working in football, and working, in general. Especially in today’s work culture. I’ve never really told the story of how I got to be a football consultant, and I guess today’s as good as any.
We’ll start today’s story mid-stream. It was March 24, 2009. I had come back to the Houston Chronicle, working a menial administrative job after the Hula Bowl collapsed beneath my feet in mid-January of ’08. For weeks, we’d been hearing that layoffs were coming, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know I’d be part of that wave. I reported for work at the regular time, did my routine morning duties, and the phone rang, requesting that I go up and talk to Human Resources.
About 15 minutes later, I was riding down the elevator back to the newsroom with about four of my former colleagues who’d gotten the same news.
I’ll never forget that elevator ride. Grown men were crying. Red-rimmed eyes stared blankly into space. Houston is a one-newspaper town, and the people on that elevator knew they’d have to start over, some of them post-50. But because I’m a little weird, I was angry, not sad, and maybe even a little defiant.
(I should mention that I always preferred playing on the road to playing at home, and that boos and catcalls always strengthened me. During my playing days, there’s nothing I enjoyed more than beating a good team in front of its fans. It’s energizing. Yes, I’m a bit of a contrarian. But I digress.)
The point is that I had launched my own consulting service in ’02, and I knew I was getting better at it, finding my niche and identifying a market. Today, five-and-a-half years later, I can hardly believe it took getting laid off for me to permanently cast my lot with Inside the League.
The writer of the piece I linked to earlier is facing some things I didn’t have to face. His kids were a lot older when he got laid off, and so was he. He also had to start a blog from scratch, whereas I had already been figuring things out for seven years when I got the axe. He’s also blogging for free and hoping he can eventually develop ad sales, whereas my audience pays a monthly fee, along with a la carte prices for other features, for my assistance and information.
I should also mention that the love of a 40-hour week in sports and a nice salary for same is not specific to sportswriters. Virtually every NFL scout who gets laid off spends years coming to grips with the fact he was paid for his opinion, no matter how well-founded, and frankly, it’s not expensive to obtain opinions. We’ll see a revolution in NFL scouting in the next decade, maybe sooner. The era of the scout who gets upwards of $80K to travel the roads in the fall and come back with detailed takes on players is already nearing its end.
Anyway, my point is this, and it’s one I’ve made in this space several times. If you want to work in sports in general, or football in particular, it’s up to you to find a niche, a market, a place where no one else is. And there will be no guarantees. If you only want to be a scout, or only want to be a writer, or only want to be an agent, it’s not going to be easy, because those are all well-traveled roads. If you really want to be part of the football world, you’re going to have to realize that the work never ends; that you have to get good at some things you may not like; and that there are no guarantees. And you might have to have a footprint in several worlds, as I do. I touch on all three of the above professions in the work I do.
I applaud the writer of the above article for starting a blog, and I hope it continues. If he can truly develop an audience that is unlike the others, and he can figure out how to leverage that properly, he will find success. But he’s like anyone else out there, including me. It won’t be easy. It will be incredibly rewarding if he can find traction, but it definitely won’t be easy.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that cracking the football business will be easy, either. You can do it, but it will take everything you have. It has for me, but it’s been a fair trade.