Extra Points a site and newsletter that is dedicated to all the off-the-field factors that shapes college sports, from the largest FBS schools to the smallest NAIA programs as well as commentary, analysis and original reporting on major issues like NIL legislation, how college athletic budgets function, how athletic departments fit (and don’t fit) with the rest of the university, and how the entire enterprise really operates. Extra Points has amassed a following of over 5,000 newsletter subscribers and 15,000 followers on Twitter.
Raul caught up with Matt Brown to learn about his journey and to understand what it takes to become a successful newsletter.
Extra Points covers the off-the-field forces that shape college sports. That may include coverage of how higher education issues shape college athletics, or how athletic departments earn and spend money. It could be a look at state and federal legislation, demographic changes, history, religion, and more. It’s a newsletter that’s more about business, education and politics than Xs and Os, but all of those things really do shape the games you see during the week.
College sports is a business, even though it also has high-minded academic ideals. Any athlete would benefit from learning more about how that business works, and how those business leaders make decisions, so they can make more informed decisions about their own careers. This is even more true now, as college athletes will soon be allowed to monetize their name, image and likeness. Much of this newsletter has tracked that story, including how athletes can take advantage of new marketplace rules and opportunities.
I have a more non-traditional career path. I have a degree in political science, not journalism. Before writing for a living, I taught elementary school, worked as a political organizer, and did a few HR and marketing jobs in the corporate world, before landing a job with SB Nation, an outlet that focused on covering sports from the perspective of fans. I worked there for seven years, eventually running their college team site programming. Since SB Nation was a smaller outlet without a TV contract, we really had to work hard to find new angles to cover college athletics, which meant it was a perfect place to learn to do things like file FOIAs, cover money, and report on smaller conferences. I was laid off during the COVID pandemic, and decided to strike out.
College sports has been my career for the last eight or so years, since I was covering college sports for SB Nation. I’ve been writing on some level since I graduated from college back in 2009.
The largest platform is the newsletter, which reaches over 5,200 free subscribers and publishes four times a week. I also publish a weekly podcast, and regularly tweet to about 13K followers. I’m not opposed to building out other platforms, but I also have to be aware of my capacity issues. I’m only one guy, after all.
No, and honestly, they’re a pretty small part of my revenue. I make about 6% of my annualized revenue from ads right now, although I’d like that to grow. Over 90% of my revenue comes from reader subscriptions. I charge $8/mo, or $75/year, for the full subscription, with college students getting a discount.
The two biggest problems are ones I still haven’t mastered. One is time. Not every newsletter has original reporting, but many of mine do, and that takes a lot of time. These aren’t really quickie, curated newsletters, but 1,500-2,500 word columns, so I need to block off enough time to really research and write them. I also need time to sell ads, network, interview…all of this while my children were in remote school over the last year. Figuring out that balance is always a struggle, and I’m always looking for ways to take stuff off my plate.
The second issue is audience growth. I write about a relatively niche topic. That audience absolutely exists, and is even willing to pay for it, but finding the best way to grow it has been a challenge. I’ve bought several ads, but my best ROI has still come from good ol’ fashioned word of mouth and from Twitter. I don’t know if Extra Points will ever be a 10,000 subscriber newsletter, but I think it still has plenty of room to grow.
No, it was pretty cheap. I initially launched on Substack, which has no start-up costs, and took about 10% of my subscription revenue, with Stripe, my payment processor, taking another few percent (I’d later switch to Ghost). I had some initial tech investments to make (I had to buy a computer, microphone and recorder), and I spend more on ads and subscriptions than some of my competitors, but my monthly expenses are still typically under $1,000. I’m looking to spend a little more aggressively on marketing in the coming months, though.
You can be anything you want, but you can’t be boring. Newsletters that offer something truly unique in their space have the best chance to succeed. You can’t do what everybody else is doing and expect better results.
At the college level? That this is a business, and that means you should learn about that business, just like you would for what you’ll do after college. How do folks make money? How do they spend it? Where do you fit in with it? The more you know, the more security you’ll have.
I’d love to grow my revenue enough to hire at least some regular PT help, either on the editorial, or support side. If somebody else wants to buy the newsletter, wonderful. If not, I’m happy to keep plugging away. I love what I do, and my audience seems to really enjoy it too!
Raul Sharma is a Sales Associate and an intern at Letterwell. His interests lie in Sport, Classical Music, Mathematics and Luxury Watches. He was a passion for technology and marketing. He is currently studying for a BSc in Actuarial Sciences.
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