“What’s next? When’s next?”
A friend asked me that question over two years ago as we entered our first pandemic summer. There were no sports taking place as leagues had been shut down for months. Games would soon start up again without fans as words like “bubble,” “protocols” and “quarantine” became part of our new lexicon.
The question continued to stick with me this year as we entered our third pandemic summer. Things were better than they were two years ago but there were new contagious variants popping up and Los Angeles County was thisclose to reinstating the mask mandate that had become a distant memory for many.
I still wasn’t sure what (or when) was next for me when I met my friend Chris Mattmann for dinner a few months ago. Chris and I graduated from USC around the same time and went on to become adjunct professors at USC. That’s where the similarities end. I was a sports writer, he was the Principal Data Scientist and Chief Technology and Innovation Officer at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. I was in journalism, his invention of the Apache Tika allowed journalists to break the story on the Panama Papers, ultimately winning the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in journalism.
Chris was serious about his work but he never took himself too seriously. I loved talking sports with him. I loved going to games with him. He was so passionate about the teams he loved. He was the smartest guy in every room he walked into but he just wanted to be one of the guys when he was talking about the Lakers, Dodgers and USC. Everything about his everyday job was serious but he never took sports too seriously. It was his escape. He relished being a fan at a game; cheering for his favorite teams.
The seeds for what would become The Sporting Tribune were planted that night at dinner over far too many lychee martinis and spicy tuna rolls at Sushi Roku.
The idea was simple yet audacious. We wanted to cover sports in Southern California, Las Vegas and Hawaii in a unique way. We picked that region because it’s makes up the local territory for Southern California professional sports teams and is the broadcast area for regional sports networks airing games of the Lakers, Dodgers, Clippers, Angels, and other teams in the region.
We wanted to address the issue many fans have with local sports coverage in the region with a fan-first approach. We wanted to build a community around our reporters who have built a connection with fans of the teams they were covering over the years and genuinely care about them. What if there wasn’t this divide between fans and reporters? What if reporters engaged with fans on social media, held watch parties with fans when the team was on the road and asked the questions you felt were important?
My most popular stories over the past two years had nothing to do with the games I was covering but were on the food options at SoFi Stadium as well as the parking and traffic issues at the stadium.
These are important issues to fans and we want to be your voice in covering what’s important to you. Sometimes that will be on food, parking and traffic and other times it will be on the actual coverage of your teams or lack thereof.
Chris and I love hockey. We went to a handful of Kings and Ducks games last season and had an amazing time. We reminisced about the Kings winning two Stanley Cups in three years a decade ago and the Ducks winning California’s first Stanley Cup 15 years ago. Both teams have struggled to get any kind of coverage locally. We plan on covering both teams extensively and are currently talking to reporters who would be at every home game and practice.
The same goes for every team in the region. My brother and father have been Sparks season ticket holders since their first game at The Forum. We’re going to cover them as passionately as we cover the Lakers and Clippers. We’re going to have a dedicated reporter cover every soccer team in the market and not ask one person to attempt to cover a handful of teams by themselves. The fans of those teams deserve that kind of care and attention.
Are we there today? No. Will we get there at some point soon? Yes.
Whenever you start a company, the first question people ask is what makes what you different?
For me the answer is simple – it’s the people.
As I thought about the staff I wanted to put together, I thought about the people I wanted to hear from after big sports moments in this region. I wanted to hear from Blake Harris on the Dodgers, Ryan Ward on the Lakers, Joey Linn on the Clippers, Michael Duarte on the Rams, Fernando Ramirez on the Chargers, Taylor Blake Ward on the Angels. I also wanted experienced journalists that could lend context to big events. I wanted to know what Steve Carp, who was with the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Review-Journal for 30 years, thought about the city winning its first major professional sports championship and maybe getting an NBA and MLB team. I wanted to know what Nick Abramo, who was with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser for 20 years, thought about Hawaii football, recruiting and the Little League World Series. We’re excited to announce more big names in the coming weeks.
As I began this labor of love, I wanted to surround myself with my friends, who also happen to be some of the most talented people in the business, and create an outlet this region could be proud of. This website doesn’t exist without the tireless efforts of our creative director Neil Jamieson, who I’ve known since I moved to New York out of college almost two decades ago. He was the art director when I was at Sports Illustrated, the creative director when I was at ESPN and just an incredible human being. Our senior advisor Ben Osborne, who was the Editor-in-Chief at both Bleacher Report and SLAM magazine, gave me my first magazine assignment when I was still a student at USC, and now we’re reunited 20 years later in a very cool full circle moment for me professionally.
The website you see today isn’t a finished product. Far from it. It’s just the first step in a long journey we hope you’ll join us on. One of the most humbling moments of launching the site was receiving over 150 applications from people who wanted to be a part of the team we’re building after we dropped a sizzle reel narrated by my friend and future TST contributor O’Shea Jackson. Some were from leading professionals in the field looking to leave legacy media for something new and exciting but many were from fans. They simply wanted to help out and be a part of something we all believe will be special.
I’m in the process of meeting with each and every one who sent an e-mail to me at email@example.com and will continue to do so if you e-mail me today, tomorrow or next week. Even if we don’t get to work together, I want to talk with you and see what’s important to you. This is your site as much as it is ours. We want to tell the story of your city and your teams with your help.
As I struggled to raise the curtain on a website that wasn’t finished and will likely always be a work in progress, I received a text message from that friend I was talking with two years ago at the start of the pandemic and laughed before hitting the live button.
“Next is now.”