Discover more from Jason Kirk's newsletter
Watch Grid: Niche
"It's a big, big yard."
Sup. I wrote something dope. For a long time, I thought it was only for certain readers, but several people smarter than me have said it’s for absolutely everyone. Who am I to argue? It’ll be at Shutdown Fullbooks and then everywhere else, too.
Institutions don’t usually become significantly more or less visible after a century of consistency, especially not overnight. Sure, lil tweaks like a College Football Playoff can add some TV attention, but generally, college football’s established level of exposure has spent many decades unlikely to jolt one way or the other.
Now, I know many of this season’s Colorado Buffaloes watchers who turned a game involving one of the worst Mountain West teams into a full actual-celebrities-are-posting-about-it spectacle — 9.3 million viewers for a game that didn’t end until 2:30 a.m. ET!! — won’t actually convert into annual Boca Raton Bowl perverts. (Unless Deion’s somehow in it.) But some will, and either way, the point is this:
It feels weird to have everyone suddenly looking at the thing you’re into, a thing you’d assumed would always remain both enormous and invisible. It’s especially bizarre when one person’s overwhelming personality causes everyone to suddenly pay attention to the demented subculture you’ve spent your entire life yelling about.
Two true statements:
College football is big. The country’s second-oldest and second-biggest major sporting association, its largest stadiums dwarf the NFL’s. Minor bowl games (redundant) regularly outdraw baseball and basketball games that have actual stakes.
College football is niche. We thought we were already sick of hearing about four-year college football legend Tim Tebow — until he became Actually Famous by goofing around with the Denver Broncos for a few months. In 2022, the national championship had a smaller TV rating than Nickelodeon’s NFL game (and 32 other NFL games).
But wouldn’t that mean all non-NFL sports are niche?
No, because niches aren’t just about how many people are participating, but also about which people. For a long time, people from big Northeastern cities with lots of media companies have referred to the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL as “the big four,” a really generous way to describe the NHL (and two of the others).
Anyone who’s spoken in gen pop about college football has experienced the dissonance of how little the average totally invested sports fan — even the average football fan — knows about this monumentally influential sport. That’s not a complaint about those sports fans. Everyone likes the stuff that’s popular in their hometown. The thing I like is weird, and that doesn’t make me better or worse than anyone else.
Anyone who’s poked around in lots of American sports websites’ traffic numbers knows college football usually ranks somewhere between a close #4 and a distant #2 on that list (or #1, if your website has a certain editorial setup and it’s the mid-to-late 2010s 😎). That information is an easy way to surprise private-school Northeasterners, but of course it is! College football’s map appears almost allergic to population density.
You might’ve heard the story of that time a Manhattan gatekeeper described the Shutdown Fullcast as “too niche.” Granted, they weren’t interested in an already audience-proven product that’s since secured a seven-figure deal (over [mind your business] years) and annually helps raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity. But, jokes aside, I can’t blame them for that lack of interest.
We’re from America’s enormous niche, at home in an endless ocean of mystery, while people who spend a lot of time in tall buildings have been conditioned to believe nothing important happens outside of those tall buildings. (And, to continue being fair, the show is about as niche as a sports podcast with this many millions of all-time downloads can possibly be.)
In short, everybody’s born into at least one bubble or another. Everybody.
So when something rare (like Deion’s Colorado stint) breaks forth from our gigantic bubble and into the bubbles of normies, it’s a learning moment for all. “Oh, this is what it’s like when Boston Red Sox fans have opinions about your confusing hobby?” meets “Oh, that’s what you’ve been drinking at 1 a.m. in Lincoln, Nebraska drainage ditches?” Sure, it’s a little jarring to see Deion’s Colorado described as if it’s the first program at which a coach has introduced himself by advising skeptics to leave or the first to blare a rival’s music during practice, but we’re all learning stuff here.
Selfishly, I hope the result is lots of newcomers choosing to hang out with us indefinitely, tumbling into the history books of a sport with a thousand Warhammers’ worth of obscene lore, and doing weird shit on Saturdays.
Hey look, newbs, we have Ohio State-Notre Dame! You’ve heard of those teams! One of them even has a Marvin Harrison! Stick around after Deion! More importantly, two bad teams will be playing until Sunday morning in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on some app you’ve never heard of! Also, the main thing to know about college football is that it usually sucks, it hates its own labor, and its most hallowed institutions are the ones that are the best at lying! It felt good to tell you all that!
Because no matter how great it feels to gatekeep as a know-it-all (it feels really great), it feels even better to blow a mind by demonstrating the weird thing is so much weirder than a sane person would’ve ever guessed.
Last weekend, I talked with a friend about how the experience of covering Big Niche sports stuff …
… actually helped equip us to discuss even bigger niches …
… especially since we’re among those who escaped those behemoth bubbles in the first place. Aw heck! There I go writing another newsletter about my novel while pretending I’m writing about sports! How does this keep happening! As noted, the link to be the first to know is Shutdown Fullbooks.