With all the sites on the web today clamoring for a voice, as well as traffic, it can be tough to find a niche that can break through. However two Ivy League grads have created a platform built around unique analytics and storytelling that is gaining solid traction, views and attention. Meet The Sports Quotient, a digital media company that provides a platform for intellectual conversation about sports. SQ is home to over 100 analytical young sports writers, led by CEO and Penn grad Zack Weiner, and COO and Yale grad Robert Hess, who is a story in himself as a chess Grandmaster.
We caught up with Hess to find out what makes SQ tick, and how it sets itself apart.
What was the thinking behind launching the site?
The Sports Quotient was officially launched on September 5, 2012. We wanted to form a community of college-aged sports enthusiasts who also excel as writers. In general, the sports journalism field is dominated by older men. But the younger generation is also spearheading the analytics movement, delving deeper into advanced statistics to determine how impactful players truly have been. We wanted to give these incredibly knowledgeable sports writers the voice they deserve. We named ourselves The Sports Quotient because we aspired to be a source of intelligent analysis, a site fans would come to enhance their sports knowledge.
What has the response been?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. We have been well-received by many other publications, and, more importantly, we’ve built an incredible community. Our writers are constantly in communication with one another (they send hundreds, if not thousands, of GroupMe messages every day) and we have nearly 40,000 extremely engaged Twitter followers with whom we are frequently interacting.
You have a wide variety of writers, where do they come from and how do you find such a great flow of contributors?
Our writers and editors (and video analysts and editors) hail from over 70 universities. We have a strong reputation as a company that deeply cares about and respects the writers we bring on. We’ve been thankful to see writers choose The Sports Quotient over other companies because of our dedication to each and every member of our staff.
What type of stories are you most proud of on the site this far?
Interviews are always a great source of pride for us. We enjoy humanizing athletes. On top of that, we’ve published numerous in-depth articles detailing why players might or might not be as good as you think. Writers also use statistics for predictions, analysis of league trends, team performance, historical comparisons, etc. We certainly pride ourselves on analyzing advanced metrics in a way most other sites fail to.
What are the biggest challenges in growing the site?
We’ve faced many challenges these past three years. It’s certainly been difficult to balance friendship and business. On top of the personal challenges, sports media is a crowded market and you have to constantly be thinking of fresh and unique ideas and services to differentiate yourself. It was really hard to build up an initial fan base, craft our own voice. But over time we’ve learned what works and what doesn’t, built a community oriented on teamwork, and dealt with the highs and lows.
You have a unique background in competitive chess as well. How has the strategic side of being a chess grand master help you in the business world?
I think the cliché would be to say that I’m always thinking a few steps ahead. But this isn’t too far from the truth, either. There are always enticing deals that seem like the correct move upon first glance, but when you actually take a step back from the excitement and think about the long term, the deal doesn’t seem quite as sweet. I also think my background allows me to predict what stories will be well-received and helps me adequately prepare before big events.
What has been the most effective way SQ has grown so far?
Word of mouth. Our writers truly love SQ and that often does the job for us – they’re our greatest marketers.
Where and how do you get your information. What sites do you like, who do you like to read in general?
Our writers enjoy the usual suspects: ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Grantland, Fox Sports, etc. For stats and data: Pro Football Focus, 82games, RealGM, etc. Twitter of course helps us learn about breaking news as it is happening. For industry knowledge, we keep up with TechCrunch, VentureBeat, etc. We are always reading and learning.
What advice do you give to young people trying to find their voice in the content world?
Think about what you can bring to the table that’s different. Always consider how is your voice adding value and not creating noise? What do your favorite writers do that you love, and how can you take the best of all worlds?
What’s next for the site and the business? What can people expect to see this fall?
Our football (and futbol) and basketball coverage will be more extensive and in-depth than ever before. Some of our writers are even working on interesting models. We’re going to continue to grow, provide new forms of enriching content, and continue to raise our readers’ SQ.