Out of Bounds is one year old. Here's what I've learned and what's next
A look back and a look ahead.
Welcome back to Out of Bounds, a free, weekly newsletter about college athletics. Feedback, tips and story ideas are always welcome at andrew [dot] wittry [at] gmail [dot] com or you can connect with me on Twitter.
If you’re thinking about starting a publication, it might be good to avoid doing so on a popular holiday. Or so I’ve heard
For some reason, one year ago today, I settled on one of the most popular national holidays as the date to officially launch an independent publication. On a day based around fireworks, friends and family, swimming pools, lakes and oceans, and boats, brats and barbecue – in other words, everything that’s based around being outdoors and generally offline – I thought that, yes, this is the time to expand my personal brand.
You live and you learn.
Seven people received that debut email.
Those seven recipients included the usual suspects: my parents and one of their best friends; one of my best friends in third grade, when friendships were formed through Yu-Gi-Oh! card battles and playing Spider-Man 2 on PlayStation 2; and one of my best friends from my freshman-year dorm in Indiana University’s Teter Quad, where friendships were formed through tracking the N.L. Central standings, talking about the latest Grantland stories and putting together a five-player squad with hopefully complementary skill sets for pick-up basketball.
Since those usual suspects signed up, “new subscriber” emails have appeared in my inbox from readers who were far from expected when my first newsletter went out on the Fourth of July 2020 – readers such as Division I conference commissioners, subscribers with ESPN, Nike or adidas in their email address, and coaches and administrators from across the country. I sincerely thank all of you for reading.
So, what kind of following do you have now?
In the reporting process for a previous newsletter published in the spring, a communications employee agreed to help arrange an interview for me, but I was ghosted after the person learned the size of my reach and decided an interview wasn’t worth the time, so I’ve typically tried to keep these numbers close to the vest.
But maybe by opening up the books and sharing some of these numbers, that can actually help prompt more growth, as well as give some background context for my readers.
Through July 3, I’m up to 664 subscribers. The months when I saw 24-, 32- and 259-percent (!) growth felt much more rewarding than the ones with only four- and five-percent growth, but I know the process of building an audience is far from linear or consistent.
A special thanks to both Extra Points’ Matt Brown and ESPN’s Jay Bilas for recent shoutouts in the last few months, each of which drew a flurry of new readers. Matt Roberts of D1.ticker was one of my earliest subscribers and the D1.ticker team has been one of the most popular referral sources for my newsletter, which was especially helpful when I was trying to advance past the early stage where I was only writing for an audience of a few dozen readers. Mo Egger of ESPN 1530 in Cincinnati has invited me to be a guest on his radio show multiple times when I’ve written about the Bearcats or the American Athletic Conference, and he’s been very generous in his promotion of the newsletter.
At risk of accidentally leaving out anyone deserving, Dan Tudor, Kevin McNamee, Jason Hendrix, Mit Winter, Daniel Libit, Jon Solomon, Karen Weaver, Patrick Hruby, Charles Campisi, Paul Nemetz-Carlson, Bryan Fischer, Katie Lever and Craig Meyer have all been among the names who have shared my newsletter most frequently on social media over the course of the last year.
I’d also like to thank my uncle, Jeff Rashid, for taking my mediocre drawing skills and turning my rough sketch into the logo for the newsletter.
As frustrating as it can be to worry about accumulating views – hopefully without chasing them, but rather based on the quality of your work – those metrics and their importance is very much a part of the media industry. In each of my three biggest months, I’ve had between 24,000 and 30,000 views. Overall, I’m averaging about 1,500 views per newsletter, which includes some of my earliest newsletters from last July and August that were read by fewer people than there are scholarship players on an FBS football roster.
My goal is to reach 1,000 subscribers by the end of the year and if I average a 10-percent, month-over-month growth rate, I can reach that goal in mid-to-late December.
While I haven’t previously pursued paid advertisements for my newsletter, it’s probably worth looking into in the future. If you or your company – particularly one that’s connected to any of the topics I write about, such as athletics, education, NIL or technology – would like to connect with an audience of hundreds of subscribers and a total average reach that’s well over one-thousand readers, you can contact me at andrew [dot] wittry [at] gmail [dot] com.
There’s a reason my major was journalism and my minor was marketing, and not vice versa, so word of mouth and social media referrals are the biggest sources of growth for me. If there’s anyone in your life who likes to nerd out over details of college basketball game contracts, track college football coaches’ buyouts, NIL or anything else related to the business of college athletics, you know where to send them.
If you’re not already a subscriber, you can subscribe for free below.
What were some of the highlights from Year 1?
At risk of sounding self-indulgent, here are some of my favorite newsletters from the last 12 months:
My third newsletter suggested that college basketball programs play two-game series in conference play amid the pandemic, during the 2020-21 season. Many conferences ultimately did, including one that told me during the reporting process for the newsletter that its conference office hadn’t yet considered that idea when I presented it.
The Big 12 was viewed by some as the conference that could determine whether football, or any fall sports, would be played a year ago, after the Big Ten and Pac-12 canceled their respective football seasons. I obtained an email that now-former Oklahoma State Director of Athletics Mike Holder sent to West Virginia University President Dr. E. Gordon Gee, stating, “Without you and Dr. Ackerman the Big 12 wouldn’t be playing football, or any sports this year.”
I then talked to the Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Michael Ackerman about his conversations with the Big 12 and what led to the conference playing fall sports.
In end-of-year surveys that the University of Nevada, Reno issued to its athletes during the 2019-20 school year, numerous softball players described their locker room using phrases such as “a Matson shipping container” and “a freight train,” which they said forced them to change in their cars in the parking lot, “which is very inappropriate and quite embarrassing,” one player wrote. Another described a bathroom setup at the softball stadium that consisted of two port-a-potties, which were shared by fans, families and employees who work in the marketing department, since the bathroom in the dugout “had been broken for a while,” according to one player.
Six players described being their own groundskeeping crew, picking rocks out of the grass, weeding the warning track, picking up trash at the facility, shoveling snow off the field and tarping the field when it rained.
“It is disgustingly unfair that a basketball or football player or coach would NEVER EVER be asked to take out the trash from their games or clean the facilities, however we do it on a daily basis,” one player wrote in her end-of-year survey. “As far as I am concerned, Title IX does absolutely nothing to balance the experience between male and female athletics at the school.”
After the newsletter was published, one player reached out to me: “It forced people to pay attention to us in a way they never did before. We had maintenance crews at our field instead of having to do everything ourselves and we even started getting some food given to us as part of a small nutrition program … I hope you can help other women’s programs too because it’s like that everywhere and we deserve better.”
The sports desk at a newspaper is sometimes referred to as the “toy department” – sometimes lovingly, sometimes not – and covering college athletics over the last year has forced enterprising sports reporters to cover important issues involving public health, and state and federal governments. The newsletter about Nevada’s athletic department only went to 48 people, but given the impact that one of the team’s players said it made, it might be my favorite one so far.
With that being said, tips and suggestions for Freedom of Information Act requests are always welcome.
As Out of Bounds enters Year 2, I think it’s worth evaluating what other types of content could be beneficial to my readers. Maybe it’s an audio component – not necessarily a podcast, but maybe something as simple as a Soundcloud link for interviews or recordings of video calls that are posted to YouTube, which would allow for storytelling through a different medium when a story or interview warrants it.
I really enjoyed my conversation with ESPN’s Mike Couzens that was featured in a recent newsletter, and if my interview subjects and readers are willing, that might be an example of the type of content that could lend itself to audio storytelling.
Maybe a monthly or quarterly mailbag would be of interest. I won’t know all of the answers but I can promise you I’ll reach out to those who do, and if the answer can in any way be found in a public record, I like my chances of obtaining it.
I’m currently reading “Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction” by authors Dan Gardner and Philip E. Tetlock, who detail an initiative called the Good Judgment Project – sponsored by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) – where participants were asked to make predictions about global political and economic trends and events. I think a similar idea could be an interesting series for my newsletter: develop questions about the future of college athletics (e.g. “Will the NCAA DI women’s basketball tournament expand to 68 teams, matching the size of the field in the men’s tournament, by the 2023 NCAA Tournament?” or “Will the College Football Playoff field expand before the end of the current contract with ESPN after the 2025-26 season?”) and then I would collect responses from the Out of Bounds readers who opt in to the series in order to create some “wisdom of crowds” takeaways about the landscape of college athletics. Readers would be welcome to consult as many resources as they’d like before making an informed prediction on a zero-percent to 100-percent scale, in terms of the odds that they think a given event will or won’t happen. They’d also have the opportunity to expand on their rationale if they’d like, providing either on-the-record or anonymous insights to be used in a newsletter about the topic.
Or if you ever just want to connect and talk about college athletics or the media industry, that’s great, too. I’ve had phone calls, Zoom calls and email exchanges recently with readers who currently work or previously worked in college athletics or a related field, and they’ve asked questions or presented ideas during our conversations that have led to potential newsletter topics.
If you’ve read this far, it’d be great to hear from you in some capacity.
You can drop me a line (once again, at andrew [dot] wittry [at] gmail [dot] com) about potential content additions to the newsletter that you’d enjoy, as well as any story ideas that you’d like to read in the future.
I’m looking forward to Year 2 of this side hustle and passion project, and I want to thank you for being part of it.
In case you missed the last newsletter
(Click the image below to read)
“The $20,000, $30,000 clip, that’s definitely on the high end,” Weber said. “That’s really been restricted to the very few. We’ve seen a decent volume between the $500 to $5,000 range, obviously with more happening around $500. Then at the lower end of the spectrum, there have been several advertisers who have offered industry-wide deals starting at that $30 to $50-mark, but they’re available to every student-athlete who wants to claim it.”
Thank you for reading this edition of Out of Bounds with Andy Wittry. If you enjoyed it, please consider sharing it on social media or sending it to a friend or colleague. Questions, comments and feedback are welcome at email@example.com or on Twitter.