Surprise! The Super Bowl is coming up this weekend! If you’ve made it this long without realizing it I truly envy your ability to block out the world around you (and I would love to know more), but unfortunately, your ignorant bliss is coming to an end. If you haven’t been stumbling your way through endless conversations about yardage, points and Peyton Manning, then you’re about to start.
For those of us who are just aiming to make it through the weekend without making huge fools of ourselves, there’s Goalposte, a website and daily email that gives you a quick and simple rundown on all the important sports news of the day as well as more indepth primers about big deal games, just like the Super Bowl. We sat down with Goalposte’s founder Jane Wu Brower to talk about what inspired someone who knew nothing about sports to write about them everyday, and share some tips on how to survive a Super Bowl party when you know less than nothing about football.
What lead you to start Goalposte?
My background is that I went to Michigan Law and right after that I went to, as most attorneys do, to a big law firm. I was practicing big law in New York City for a couple of years and one of my major cases was for Major League Baseball. I was on that case for over a year. It was really cool! It was really exciting, obviously I got to meet the commissioner and defend a deposition, or at least second chair it, and meet a lot of execs and go to a lot of client business development dinners, but the whole time I was just incredibly stressed out because I honestly knew nothing about baseball. I was just like faking it a little bit or staying quiet in a lot of these meetings.
It was very uncomfortable and it started getting out of control, I was a part of the sports practice group by this point, and I started getting invited to all sorts of stuff. I went to a dinner with Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and all this stuff. So I ended up confessing this to a couple of coworkers and being like, “Hey, can you just sit me down and tell me about the major things that are happening?” So at least I would know the right questions to ask, and I’m not going to be sitting there mute. They sat me down and they told me about all the major things that were happening and it was such a relief. It was really basic but it was a huge sigh of relief for me.
At that time I was like, someone should just do this. Someone should write a daily update so people can feel like they’re in tune with what’s going on. I felt like there’s got to be a lot of people like me who are clueless or just casual fans and aren’t really up on what’s happening on a daily basis. That was the idea and it stuck with me for the next couple of years. I ended up going to the Boston Consulting Group and becoming a management consultant and it still kept nagging at me, so I thought why not give it a try? I’m as well poised as anyone else. I thought I should try.
Is Goalposte your full time job now?
It is. It’s my full time job. I just left my consulting gig two weeks ago.
Yeah, so very very fresh, very new and I’m excited to be working on it full time.
So how did this scale up from an idea you had into a full time job?
Honestly, I’m really really new to this. Maybe this fall is when I started thinking about it very seriously. I was working at BCG on a pretty difficult project and felt like it was the right time. It was precipitating in my mind, the thought that, do I want to be working this hard for someone else? Or do I want to try and work on something for myself? Which was led to a lot of discussions with my husband and trying to figure out if this is something that’s feasible, and something that I could do and wanted to do.
In that fall period I started working on the primers and writing sports primers and saying, okay, if you’re completely new to the game what would you want to know what is going on? So I started writing those and then started practicing writing some daily posts and sending them to family and friends and getting their feedback, trying to get the voice right and make sure the product was what it should be. So just a couple of weeks ago I formally ended my time at BCG. It was exciting and scary and I got to put my name behind it and just go go go. I’m trying to get addition subscribers, of course, and build it up.
So you started out as someone who is unknowledgeable when it comes to sports. Do you actually enjoy watching and talking about it now?
So, what I would say, is that I started out as a complete novice. It was something that when I was growing up, my parents are first generation Chinese immigrants, they were like, “What is the point of this?” You know? They thought I should study or play the violin or something that would be good for my future. So it just wasn’t something that was ever valued. By the time I got to be in college, law school, and people were much more into sports I always felt like I was a little bit behind. So that’s part of what I wanted to do with this.
It’s great for casual sports fans who aren’t following every single update throughout the day, it’s great for a professional purpose if you just want to be able to chit chat with clients or your bosses or coworkers, and then it’s also great for this third group, which I think is the one that I fell into, which was someone who felt like sports was beyond their reach and really just wanted someway to get into it. So what I try and do is make little digestible chunks everyday so that you can start to know a few players and then get excited about a few teams and follow a few story lines so isn’t just all these guys with institutional knowledge going like “Oh, he threw however many yards and has whatever record.”
So, back to your original question, I think I’m still kind of in this casual sports fan category. I watch a lot of games now and I obviously always have ESPN on, and my husband loves sports, but I think what’s exciting to me is that as I’m writing it I’m thinking about it from the perspective of my target audience. So that’s been really fun for me to go on with my target audience in mind and find out what they want to know more about.
Why do you think there is such a large barrier to understanding sports?
That’s a good question. I think originally… my primary target audience is professional women or young professional women. There are some people who are going to say, women shouldn’t have to know a lot about sports to succeed in business, and I completely agree with that. You shouldn’t have to learn about sports to succeed in business, but there are practical realities. If you work with a lot of men then they’re going to talk about sports a lot. If you’re sitting on the outside looking in that’s not the best for you as well. I think there are a lot of women who, like me, who didn’t grow up watching sports or for whatever reason it wasn’t valued, so by the time they got older they just assumed it was something they weren’t interested in even if they could have been. So then joining that conversation feels really intimidating because everyone around you knows all the players from the seventies and the eighties and all the stats, but what I hope to do is help you enjoy the game without all of that. Just enjoy the game for the games sake and for what’s happening now and putting that into context.
There is that knowledge barrier for a lot of new sports fans who are trying to get into it and I hope to kind of help cover for that I guess.
Yeah, that back catalog of knowledge has to be a part of the reason.
Sports have been around for thousands of years in some shape or form, you know? So there’s something naturally captivating about watching someone do this physical feat and the story lines that go along with it. So I think there are a lot of people like me who would say they’ve never really been into it, and now that I know a few players and I watch a few teams it’s made it a lot more enjoyable as an experience.
How do you decide what to include in your roundups and primers?
That’s tricky and honestly I’m always trying to balance not going overboard with the length as well as making sure that I hit the top things. So for me it curating and going to a lot of different sports websites and seeing what the top stories are, and where they intersect is where I choose to summarize the stories. If possible I try and merge a couple together and link to each one so if you want more detail you can find it. It is just curating based on the major sports news outlets. CBS, Fox, ESPN obviously, Bleacher Report, all those things.
Would you ever branch out into other topics?
I think first what I would like to do is to create different specializations. So if you live in D.C. I would love to be able to do a D.C. specific newsletter. Then you can really feel like you get to know these teams. I’d do that for a lot of the big geographical regions. Then also if you only care about one sport, I’d love to be able to do something like that. So I think that’s my first natural outlet. After that, it’s really hard to say.
So, obviously, the Super Bowl is this weekend, and I would like to ask you how to navigate a Super Bowl party, if you know absolutely nothing about football.
Oh god. Hmm… If you really know nothing…
I think you can assume they know who is playing.
Hah! I think then your best bet is to start with some questions where you can get a little debate going. So I would say, ask if you think anyone in the room thinks this is going to be Peyton Manning’s last season. I think most people are going to say it is, but you never know. You might get this off chance that there’s someone in the other camp, especially now that there are some rumors that the LA Rams might want to pick him up if he decided to stay another year. So I think that’s a good question to throw out to the group and then you can throw out that tidbit as well.
Alright, so get people angry enough so they don’t have time to realize you don’t know what you’re talking about.
What about after the Super Bowl, you’re in the office, you didn’t watch it. How do you navigate that?
You read Goalposte on Monday morning and I’ll summarize the game for you. Monday I’m going to do a little run down of what happened and give you some helpful tips on what to say around the water cooler.