It's the end of my relevancy in the coveted "male 18-to-34-year-old" demographic: I turn 35 tomorrow.
A year ago in this space, I wondered how 34 could possibly top 33, given that 33 included the birth of my kid and the dramatic end of my ESPN.com career (and start of my blogging career). I wasn't sure it did…
...Except that being the parent of a toddler is even better than being the parent of a newborn. (This post on Varsity Dad points you to a must-read post by Josh Marshall, one of my favorite writers, on his birthday today and his fatherhood. Not about sports, but a great read.)
...And my adventures in blogging (Launching Varsity Dad, Deadspin guest-posts, "celebrity blogger" fantasy leagues, creating a spin-off blog…just for commenters, rejoining the "paid" ranks with SportingNews.com, Twitter, Tumblr, writing for the New York Times, etc) were totally satisfying.
...And, totally unexpected a year ago, my incredible fortune to land a "day job" on the "business" side of the media industry that I would say is the most interesting and energizing opportunity of my career, working with the most talented and smart collection of people I have ever worked with and for a company whose mission I believe in.
So 34 was amazing, actually, now that I think about it.
Still: I come back to the end of my consumer relevancy -- unless, of course, marketers realize that at 35, I will have way more disposable income (and interest in spending it) than I had when I was 25 (let alone 18).
And they realize that I am more open to their messages now (or, at least, more impacted by intermediaries I trust, like blogs or friend recommendations) that I am making more choices (and doing more "consuming") than ever.
Do they really want to boot me? Or is it time to re-align "18-to-34" -- "21-to-38," maybe? I'm not just saying that because I want to remain part of a "coveted" demographic (and I'm not shutting out the college kids -- they deserve their own demo segmentation). I'm saying that because it's in the marketers' best interests to keep me in the fold!
Meanwhile, I share a birthday, among sports stars, with John McEnroe and Jerome Bettis. But, to be honest, I have always felt a birthday kinship with Chris Webber, who was born on March 1, 1973. It's not an exact match, but we stepped on Big Ten campuses together at the same time, and because of that birthday tie, I have always tracked his career against mine -- can you imagine that hilarity?
Anyway, it's crazy to think about now: Webber is a 15-year NBA vet. FIFTEEN YEARS! That, more than anything (like my new age or my fatherhood), makes me feel old. His career is at its end -- he has gone from franchise savior to mere star to role player.
How does that relate to me -- or to sports-bloggers?
More and more over the past year, it has become obvious that sports-blogging is a younger man's game. Cripes: Am I the Chris Webber of sports bloggers?
(Now: Pause right there. I'm not going to announce I'm "retiring" or anything, and I can reel off two dozen sports bloggers over the age of 30 -- even, ahem, 35 -- who are not just great, but consistently doing some of the most fantastic work in the industry.)
But if anything, this last year from turning 34 to turning 35 has coincided with an insane explosion of the sports-blog universe -- everything from hundreds of indie fans starting blogs of their own to leagues (and privately held sites) co-opting the Arenas Effect to give athletes their own platform to mainstream media increasing the use and impact of blogs, realizing what an phenomenal format it is for their talent to bloggers publishing books.
All these are great developments. As I've noted a bunch over the past few months, opportunities for the most talented indie sports bloggers to find mainstream (read: paid) traction have never been greater, whether it's at Sporting News, Yahoo, ESPN, AOL, Deadspin or other prominent "mainstream" places you'll see pop up in 2008.
But on the "indie" front -- where all the really cool, cutting-edge sports-blog ideas are happening -- wow, is it competitive. It's like a microcosm of what's happening to mainstream media: The more choices, the less traction any one place can or will have with an individual consumer. Every day, the more well-known sports blogs had better bring it -- or be supplanted by more talented offerings. (Either that, or be willing to accept a smaller slice of audience.)
The energy and creativity it takes to create a really, really good post is astonishing (which is why guys like Leitch, Ufford, KSK, Abbott and FJM are as successful as they are). I am regularly blown away by the blogs -- prominent and obscure -- that produce "must-read" posts.
The Quickie was built (and DanShanoff.com was built) on the idea that there is at least some audience for shallow (but timely) analysis and baseless (but provocative) conjecture.
There's obviously still a place for that (or I wouldn't wake up early every morning and do it), but I just wanted to tip my cap to all the bloggers who take so much time and energy and care to create that One Post (per day or week or whatever) that has impact, whether through biting comedy, deep analysis or provocative commentary. (Not to mention the insanely clever commenters, who have been the unrecognized driver behind sports-blog success.)
I am so curious whether a 35-year-old's perspective can continue to resonate with a reader base that generally sits right in that "18-to-34" group that I am now leaving. I'm no sports traditionalist or "purist" -- hardly -- but I'm not 21 anymore, starting my career being paid $1,500 a month (before taxes!) to write 15,000 words a week of quasi-faked college basketball game recaps for an online-sports startup.
I guess the reason I find it so hard to fathom producing such cool work is that, heading into 35, I am working just about as hard as I have ever worked in my life. Between the daily column, my intensive "day job" and my interest in having an all-consuming experience as a spouse and dad, that doesn't leave a whole lot of time or energy. (What an elaborate rationalization for not cleaning up around the house -- or, say, not finishing my half-finished book proposal!)
That's what 35 will be defined by: Really really hard work -- to a degree I'm not sure I have ever worked in my life.
But it is really fulfilling work, on all fronts. I think for the first time since I entered the "18-to-34" group, I am -- wow, this is a strange feeling -- content.
Not content with my effort -- hell, I can always work harder at everything -- but content with where things stand right now, which gives me the opportunity (if I am willing to work for it) to have all of these pieces of my life -- family, career, fun -- come together in a satisfying way like never before.
That's a hell of a birthday present.