Interview with D3Playbook and how they’ve coped during a global pandemic

D3Playbook is a site and newsletter that is dedicated to keeping the influencers in NCAA Division III (non-scholarship) athletics apprised of what’s happening around Division III. With 195,000 students participating in athletics at 450 colleges and universities – that equals 390,000 parents – they have an affluent audience and over 1600 subscribers.

Navid caught up with Steve Ulrich, founder of D3Playbook to learn about his journey and to understand what it takes to become a successful newsletter.

Tell us a bit about D3Playbook newsletter!

D3Playbook is a daily newsletter (M-F) devoted to NCAA Division III (non-scholarship) athletics. We cover everything from finances to admissions, from rules and regulations to scores and results. Everything that an administrator would want to know to make them better at their job on individual campuses.

What was your inspiration to start your email newsletter?

I began the newsletter as a service to my membership when I served as Commissioner of the Centennial Conference. After I retired from that position, I wanted to keep my hands in collegiate athletics and decided to continue Playbook for all of Division III rather than just for the 11 institutions I worked with.

How have you monetised your newsletter?

D3Playbook has solicited advertisements and sponsorships on a monthly basis from a handful of businesses. We have nearly 1,700 free subscribers and are debating moving to a hybrid paid/free subscription model.

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    From when you first started your newsletter to now, what do you think has been your biggest hurdle for growth?

    Spreading the gospel, if you will, of what D3Playbook has to offer. Although many readers have shared D3Playbook with friends, colleagues, etc., I have found that word-of-mouth is a slow process. So getting the newsletter in front of those who could benefit most has been my biggest challenge.

    It seems that due to the COVID pandemic, the sports industry has been hit the hardest, with the ban of live audiences. I wanted to ask whether this has also impacted your newsletter since you’re all about sports, and how.

    Surprisingly not. Although one might think D3Playbook is mostly about the games, our focus on other aspects of the higher education business has been beneficial. D3Playbook became the need-to-follow newsletter and twitter feed for conferences as they made their decisions to suspend play due to COVID. We wrote about the financial impact on tuition revenue due to remote learning or admission deferrals due to the pandemic. We are glad to be back to the fun-and-games of sports, but that is not our sole focus.

    We’ve just recently launched our Instant Bookings feature on Letterwell and I saw that you’ve already enabled this on our website. How do you think this feature will help newsletters just like yours?

    D3Playbook is a one-person labor of love – and a part-time gig – and any support that can be provided in this way is an incredible benefit. It takes time and effort to cultivate sponsors on why it benefits them to partner with you.

    What tools do you use to help run your newsletter?

    D3Playbook runs off Mailchimp at the present time and posts every newsletter on Blogger as an archive. We subscribe to certain media channels (i.e. Chronicle of Higher Education, WSJ) to stay in the know.

    Are there any other ventures you have planned right now to further grow your newsletter?

    I am considering media trades to get the word out. For example, we traded classified advertising space with one institution in return for 2-3 mentions on a streaming video broadcast of a football game. It was beneficial for both sides and something we would like to further explore.

    Finally, what’s your best tip for others interested in starting their own newsletter?

    No better time than the present. It is not easy. You must establish a set time to deliver your newsletter to build your readership. D3Playbook publishes daily M-F during the academic year (Aug-May) and twice weekly (M-Th) during the summer. We also provide breaking news when necessary (example: Supreme Court rules against NCAA). Your audience needs to know when you will be there for them and will learn to put its trust in you if you can deliver.

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      Author Bio

      Navid Aminnia is an intern and Sales Associate at Letterwell. His interests lie in sport, music and boxing, and he has a passion for technology and marketing. He is currently a student at the London School of Economics studying for a BSc in Philosophy and Economics.

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