It’s violent. It’s brash. It’s invigorating. And it’s coming back this week.
The National Football League opens its season Thursday when last year’s Super Bowl combatants — the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos — square off on national TV.
Those markets that have an NFL team typically have beat reporters assigned, but what if you’re a sports editor or reporter in a small market? How do you keep your readers’ insatiable NFL appetite in mind, all while maintaining a focus on the important high school and college sports in your community?
Here are a few ways to do just that:
1. Feature a local player who’s made it big
This is the one we’re all familiar with. Got a player from your coverage area who’s since cracked the big stage? Grab that player when they’re home over the summer, and ask for the details of life in the NFL. What are the workouts like? What’s bigger, faster or better about life in the pros? And ask them who they still are in awe of (if anyone), and who they’re surprised to now be friends with. These make great stories, especially when you can keep the local ties strong.
And don’t forget to follow this up. For example, when I was the sports editor in Niagara Falls, where Green Bay’s James Starks went to high school, we would run a graphic in the rail with his headshot, stats, and his next start after every game, even if we didn’t have a full story on him. This took seconds to produce, but kept his local fans fully informed.
2. Pick the games (and invite others to do so)
This is also an easy one, but one that resonates with readers. If you’ve got high school picks in the paper (and you should), why not add the pro games? Here’s an intense grid that the Canton Repository produces each week. Yours doesn’t need to be this dynamic, and it will still get people coming back week after week.
3. Ask your high school coaches for their thoughts
Local high school coaches consume the NFL games with the same intensity that local fans do. And while you’re already picking the games (hopefully), it’s great to get insight from them on topics like the league’s biggest surprise, best defense and their best bet for a division champ. High school coaches love showing off their expertise, and it often softens them a little for other questions you might need to ask.
4. Find a local expert
Houma, Louisiana, is a little over an hour from New Orleans, so it’s clearly in Saints country. But the sports editor of the Houma Courier uses a regional columnist, Mike Detillier, who provides expert analysis without the investment of a full-time reporter. Detillier’s columns are typically focused on the Saints, but often provide league-wide coverage. The paper follows up by sending reporters to games, but they don’t write the same story the Associated Press provides. Instead, they focus on notebooks and local angles.
5. Do a series of road trip stories
Even if the closest NFL team is hundreds of miles away, someone from your coverage area is making the trek. Reach out in social media and in blurbs in the paper, looking for photos and insight from local residents who have traveled to NFL stadiums.