What’s next if you work in local sports?

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GUEST POST

By: Jeff Zell

Let’s start with these widely accepted statements: ESPN is failing. The sportscaster industry at every level is not growing. Salaries will not be going up. Advertisers will pay less and less for content that is over saturated.

So, what’s next?

And don’t tell me… ‘become a cashier at a local supermarket’ as one sportscaster in need of work posted on Medium. While the post was extremely bold for putting her life out there, the truth of the matter is that you need to pivot…or pivot harder.

My story: I was a local sportscaster at market 153, 101 and 22. It took 10 years to do all that. I covered college and pro teams from the adjacent market and ultimately as an in market guy.

I left my position at a local station in Charlotte after not being offered a chance to interview for a promotion. My soft landing spot was 4-5 days a week of freelance at a national website that could only guarantee five months of employment but had ‘likely more work in 2017’. I had been freelancing with them for 2 years prior and felt good about the situation.

But in January, that freelance budget dried up.

I was not worried. The writing on the wall for our industry had been there for a while and I was prepared. I had also been hustling since 2014 as an associate for a stock market research company part-time in the mornings. I fulfilled the task to complete my ordinary job duties but always thought…’there are areas where this business could be exploited for larger gain’. And my background as a sportscaster translated more often than not.

How did I gain an audience as a sportscaster on social media? I provided pertinent information for free but if you want to see the extra mile (or the exclusive story)– tune into the sportscast. For the stock market business, I quickly gained an audience by giving away some information — but always pointed out how our extra information (that you have to pay for) could make or save you a ton of money. Within the first six months, that has translated the company into instant revenues.

How about navigating breaking news through Twitter? What sources are reputable, what is true? How can you confirm this quick and get it to an audience that trusts you. The stock market is a fast-moving environment that sportscasting and my career in journalism properly prepared me for.

How about presenting facts with creativity? My favorite part of sportscasting was not telling the audience that the running back ran for 200 yards last Friday night. It was telling the back-story about how the RB promised a sick kid he would have a big game in his honor. Turning information into compelling videos or other formats has a large place in the business world.

Some of these ideas…along with interpersonal skills developed as a sportscaster made the stock market company jump at the opportunity to bring me on full-time when I weighed my options in the sub-optimal sports broadcasting environment. I now work from home, make nearly double my sportscasting salary and also get a different type of reward — a chance to be involved in every aspect of my son’s (and second one on way) life.

Sidenote: It’s funny how priorities change so quickly.

Certainly my story is unique and it would have been difficult to pursue a self-employed (I’m a 1099-employee) career without a wife with a great job that had insurance. But one thing to keep in mind — the sportscaster is the ultimate utility player. Often times, we are the department who was ‘forgotten’ and/or overlooked. We came up with the ideas for sports specials; we pitched the extended coverage; we came up with the plan to make high school sports coverage on Friday night better than the year before.There is a highly-desired market for the ‘go-getter’.

So how to get started? It’s about starting small and branching out over time. Don’t quit your job today cold turkey. But finding multiple avenues of income allowed me to take a risk. Honestly, you never know when your station could be the one that cans sports so having your hand in different pots is a must.

Personally, I enjoy the stock market — so navigating into this was easier than moving into a field that I despised. But, if sports is the one true love and you won’t be happy doing anything else, it may be time to take a chance on yourself.

Find an under-served niche market. Nope, I’m not talking about an NFL or College team. How about a teaming with a high school booster club or a little league association. People will pay up for a memory video of their son or daughter. Market yourself…utilize what you learned as a MMJ sportscaster and give it a chance. You will learn that a sportscaster’s energy make us incredible salespeople.

Keep an ear out for your career. When the national and regional sportscasting industry eventually does come back…it probably won’t be as full-time jobs but likely in small doses on a freelance basis. So starting a side-hustle will be critical to controlling your future.

And if not anything else…when your idea does turn the corner and begins to make profits — you will be the one that sees the monetary value of hard work first-hand.

2 thoughts on “What’s next if you work in local sports?

  1. I think you will see a snap back with local stations who dumped Sports in the last decade. Back then, they said “We can just watch ESPN or go online for highlights.” While that can be true for pro teams with a national profile, it’s not for every college that’s not an elite Power 5 conference school, or even non-football/basketball teams at those Power 5 conference colleges. The key: local, local, local. I’m in a small market, but we know local sports (high school, colleges, local kids in the pros) is something they will ONLY get from a local TV station. Once bean counters realize this, they will see the value that is local sports.

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