The Axios Sports newsletter, written daily by Kendall Baker, recently crossed the 100,000 subscriber threshold, and according to Axios has an impressive 42% open-rate. To commemorate the occasion, we did a quick Q&A with Baker that describes the background of the newsletter, why it has been successful, and what his goals for it are:
Ryan Glasspiegel: What was the process of Axios acquiring the newsletter, and what have been some of the marketing strategies for helping it grow?
Kendall Baker: I launched Sports Internet in September 2017, and my plan was to grow our daily newsletter readership, start selling ads, raise a small round of funding based on that performance and hire a small team to build a full-blown media company.
But pretty quickly, I started getting interest from existing media outlets and realized I enjoyed the writing/reporting process far more than the whole growth/sales/running a company thing, so I started weighing some offers.
After talking with Axios for a few months (we connected after I tweeted at a managing editor with a link to one of my newsletters and a few employees signed up), it was obvious that it was a perfect fit, so we got married.
RG: What have been some of the marketing strategies for helping it grow?
KB: At Axios, we’ve been able to leverage our existing audience and other newsletters (we have nearly 20), and we just launched a referral program to incentivize readers to bring their friends on board. But overall, word of mouth is still huge. Build a great product and people will share it — it’s how we’ve been able to grow to more than 100K subscribers in less than nine months, while maintaining more than double the industry standard open rate.
During my Sports Internet days, our growth was almost 100% word of mouth. No paid ads, nothing like that. We did do a few cross-promotional campaigns with other newsletters (I tell my readers to sign up for theirs, they do the same), which were super effective.
The Biggest Takeaway: People who read newsletters but aren’t necessarily die-hard sports fans are much more likely to subscribe to a sports newsletter than people who are die-hard sports fans but don’t read newsletters. In other words, “newsletter reader” is a demographic.
It’s a certain type of person who carves out time in the mornings to get informed, whether that’s in bed, on their commute or when they get to the office. If they’re already reading newsletters (aka, ‘the modern newspaper”), there’s a good chance they’re interested in adding a “sports page.”
RG: What is your general background, and what was the impetus to start writing the newsletter?
KB: After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 2013, I began my career as a writer for Bleacher Report. I then moved over to ESPN, where I worked in TV — cutting highlights for SportsCenter, writing scripts, operating the teleprompter.
After that, I was really interested in starting my own sports media company, so I actually got out of the sports world and took a job at a startup media company called The Hustle, which covered business and tech. My goal: Learn how to build products, grow an audience and make money.
At the time, The Hustle was basically a blog. But within a few months of being there, I convinced the co-founders that we should pivot to a daily newsletter. I began writing that every day and, long story short, it blew up.
I then looked at the sports space and realized that there were very few daily sports newsletters, especially compared to verticals like politics and business, which had hundreds. So I left The Hustle to start Sports Internet with the goal of creating “SportsCenter in a newsletter.”
RG: Who are some dream interview subjects for the newsletter?
KB: The Super Bowl MVP the morning after the Super Bowl. LeBron James after his final NBA game. Mike Trout. Alex Ovechkin. Kobe Bryant. Christian Pulisic. Nick Saban.
RG: What have been the most clicked outbound stories in the last year?
KB: I’m pretty sure it was the story that ESPN golf writer Nick Pietruszkiewicz published about fathers, sons and Pebble Beach.
It moved me to tears, so I told my readers “Click this link and read the whole thing. Trust me.” And when you audience trusts you, they click what you tell them to click.
RG: Who are your favorite sports reporters and/or media personalities, and why?
KB: As someone who enjoys both sports journalism and entrepreneurship/building things, I appreciate the evolution of Bill Simmons’ career.
Pardon My Take guys are obviously awesome and add such a refreshing element to the landscape. If I’m watching a basketball game, I want Doris Burke calling it. And Scott Van Pelt is the gold standard — and we have a similar amount of hair.
RG: What outlets do you read most frequently?
KB: Hard to say. My secret weapon is my RSS feed, which I have plugged into every subsection of every sports website on the internet. Literally. I see everything you publish, Ryan … in real-time.
I even have it connected to subreddits and newsletters, so it’s kind of this one stop shop for everything that gets published on the internet and it’s in a linear list so I don’t miss anything.
In many ways, I view my job as basically “editor of the sports internet.” I consume everything, decide what’s important, organize all of that information and present it to my readers into a super digestible and engaging way.
RG: What’s a bold prediction of yours for something to happen in sports or sports business in the next year?
KB: Sports: Denver Nuggets make the NBA Finals.
Sports business: The esports bubble pops.