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The relatively sleepy town of Holt may not seem like a likely locale for a sportswriter with national reach. But the Internet has a way of changing things.
Holt native Ty Schalter, 34, started blogging about the Detroit Lions in 2008. From his humble beginnings as an independent blogger, Schalter built up a sizable following, parlaying his success into a gig as national NFL analyst and radio host for Bleacher Report, one of the biggest online sports outlets in the U.S. He also writes about football for Vice, about pop culture and sports for the Comeback and tweets “too much” under the handle @tyschalter.
With the Super Bowl right around the corner, City Pulse sat down with Schalter to talk about this year’s matchup and his sportswriting journey.
How did you get started in sportswriting?
Since high school I was on the sports Internet — message boards, forums, those sorts of things. When sports blogs started to become a thing around 2006 or 2007, I started reading them. In the back of my mind, I had this idea that this is a thing I could do with the Lions. I could write about what it means to be a Lions fan and the unique experience of being a Lions fan. It didn’t really coalesce until they went 0-16 (in 2008). It was the morning after. It was the coldest day of the year; it was like 10 degrees below zero. I had to dig my way into the car. I finally got it to start, and local sports talk radio was on. Of course everybody was upset about the Lions, and I was getting all upset. And then I was like, “Why do I care about this team? This is nuts. This is literally the worst team in the history of sports, and I still care so much.” So that lunch break, I opened up a Blogspot account and I started blogging. I just put it all out there. I basically said, “I’m going to convert all the time I spend on forums and message boards and comment sections, and I’m going to channel that into something productive and lasting. Maybe it will mean something, and maybe people will like it.” So that’s what I did.
It took off really quickly. Sports blogging was growing really quickly. I had an ad network approach me six months in. I really tried to write what nobody else was writing — what I wanted to read but wasn’t out there. And with my database and data visualization background — I was in IT, in database technology, for the State of Michigan — I tried to do different things that other people weren’t doing. I worked on my craft. I tried being more reactive, and I tried being more virtuosic, playing with ridiculous, over-written stuff. It got a lot of attention. I freelanced for MLive briefly doing daily Lions posts, and I worked with a guy named Michael Schottey; we traded days. Then he got a job at Bleacher Report, which led to a part-time opportunity for me at Bleacher Report and I moved up from there.
This year’s Super Bowl features the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers. Are you excited about the matchup?
I am. But it’s tough, because with the two teams that are playing, it’s hard to imagine that the Panthers don’t have a significant advantage in this one. And as good as the Broncos’ defense is, and as much as I believe that that’s a titlewinning defense, they’re going to have to give the Panthers their best shot. They basically have no margin for error. I think the difference between the Broncos’ defense and the Panthers’ defense — which is also very good, despite the injuries they’ve had — is much smaller than the difference between the Panthers’ offense, which was the top-scoring offense in the NFL this year, and the Broncos’ offense, which is basically “hope Peyton Manning doesn’t throw an interception.”
I’m hoping that it’s a better game than it looks on paper, because the Panthers have blown out the (Seattle) Seahawks and blown out the (Arizona) Cardinals, and you just hope it’s not another blowout.
I know you’re also a big “Star Wars” fan, and you also bring a data-driven skill set to football analysis. Do you think the sports community is becoming more inclusive of “geekier” elements?
Absolutely. There used to be this jock/ geek divide where geeks were not welcome to like sports and jocks were not welcome to like video games. And now that’s completely dissolved.
Chris Conley, who was a third round draft pick by the (Kansas City) Chiefs and played at (the University of) Georgia, wrote and directed a “Star Wars” fan film. It’s like 20 minutes long. It’s amazing. The players who are coming out of college now were raised in this Internet culture, which is the same Internet culture we’re all in.
A lot of geeks and nerds in their 20s and 30s are also seeing that sports is tribalism and it’s fandom in the same way that we can be “Star Wars” fans.
Social media allows us to be more of our authentic selves. As a blogger, it was all about my personal feelings. My memories of Barry Sanders and my memories of rooting for the Lions informs my fandom today and how I watch the games today, and that resonated with a lot of people. That’s more meaningful than, “Here are the bare facts of the game. Here is some national columnist's opinion.” I think when you bring your humanity into it, as a writer, that makes it way more relevant to the reader.
You also tweet a lot about soccer — European football, if you will. How did you get sucked into that world?
In the ‘94 World Cup, my uncle took me to the quarterfinal game between Italy and Nigeria, and it was a really cool experience. But there was no cable soccer channels; you couldn’t watch European soccer. There was no Internet. I had no way to follow soccer. So I just thought, “Well whatever, that was interesting.”
Then the 2010 World Cup came and it just really got me. It’s a lot like hockey in the tension and the passing and what works and what doesn’t. It just hooked me. I started following English soccer and the U.S. national team.
I see it in a lot of ways as the sport of the future. If you go to any elementary school or middle school, you’ll see as many soccer jerseys as football jerseys, if not more. You see kids wearing (Lionel) Messi jerseys or Tottenham (Hotspur F.C.) jerseys around the mall. You never used to see that before. The availability of soccer on TV and on the Internet, and the culture that’s springing up, it’s really cool.
It’s also a clean slate for me. As a football writer, I can disengage my brain and just be a fan. I don’t have to think about it impacting my work or what I’m going to have to write about or having to be careful what I say because some fan base might get the wrong idea.