Media organization collapses often lead to notable consequences for many of those involved. One of the latest cases there involves Mike Tanier, a noted NFL writer who has had the singular misfortune of having three different newsrooms collapse around him in the span of 11 months. And it comes with a surprising connection to the NFL.
At Defector, Tanier wrote about the impacts he’s seen in the past 11 months from being around sports media collapses at Football Outsiders, The New York Times, and, most recently, The Messenger. But what’s perhaps particularly remarkable is what he has to say about Super Bowl LVIII, where he seemingly could have picked up valuable interviews despite his outlet going under…if not for a NFL decision to pull his credential.
Jan. 30: The NFL sends an email announcing last call for media hotels. Taking a calculated risk that even a two-week notice of a shutdown would now encompass the Super Bowl, I book a non-refundable room at the Excalibur for eight days.
Jan. 31: The Super Bowl coverage team meets at 3:30 p.m. amid apocalyptic rumors. We discuss logistics and plans in language usually heard at Irish wakes: If we but live to see tomorrow, we shall drink together in the land of gold and whiskey.
A New York Times article lands in the Slack channel as the meeting is wrapping up. We’re done. News of The Messenger’s death reached the Times news desk before its own, which would be a multifaceted problem if anything mattered anymore. The Super Bowl meeting wraps like the victory party for a candidate down by 40 percentage points. Finkelstein’s email, headlined “DIFFICULT NEWS,” reaches my inbox shortly after.
…I am at home, not in Las Vegas: the NFL rescinded The Messenger’s press credentials, leaving me up the creek for my expenses. There’s an ex-Messengers Slack channel in one window of my computer, and a Discord for ex–Football Outsiders writers and readers in another: two ghosts who follow me. There’s a fresh unemployment claim filed with the state. I have another MacBook to return to a company that no longer exists. Nearly everything I have written in the last year has vanished. I have become a phantom.
Many aspects of The Messenger’s shutdown can be criticized, including the way they communicated with their employees. And slightly better communication might have ensured about-to-be-laid-off employees didn’t use their own credit cards to book Super Bowl hotels. But while Tanier’s piece is full of descriptions of bad behavior from companies, including Football Outsiders parent Champion Gaming and The New York Times‘ treatment of their sports desk, maybe the most interesting part of it is one he doesn’t fully dive into here. Why did the NFL feel the need to rescind his press credentials?
Yes, even if the NFL had maintained Tanier’s credentials, that isn’t an automatic win for him. He has announced he’s going to take his NFL coverage independently on a “Too Deep Zone” Substack newsletter, so he would have had a place to publish interviews he picked up in Vegas. But there are added costs (food, transportation, etc) beyond just accommodation for any coverage trip. Still, if the league had maintained his access despite the demise of his outlet, there might have been at least a decent argument for him to go to Vegas regardless of The Messenger’s end.
On some levels, it’s understandable why the NFL might do this. The Super Bowl is one of the biggest events in the world, and it receives an incredible amount of media credential applications. And it makes sense that those are likely predominately handled by outlets rather than on the basis of individual writers. And that logic would lead to a conclusion of “Oh, The Messenger no longer exists? Well, their writers no longer need credentials.” But that isn’t a reflection of the media landscape in 2024.
With a late-arriving outlet like The Messenger in general, the only reason sports readers were checking them out was because of the established names they brought in, from Seth Davis to Ryan Nanni to Tanier. Working for The Messenger and founder Jimmy Finkelstein may have been seen as providing some further prestige and credentials to some lesser-known news and politics writers, but it didn’t really do that in sports. There, in particular, the company brought in people who already had their own audiences.
And that’s certainly the case with Tanier, who had established himself as a notable NFL commentator across a variety of outlets. And, considered independently, there is very little to suggest it was worth it for the NFL to pull Tanier’s credential based on him covering the Super Bowl for his own Substack newsletter rather than for The Messenger. That’s a website that many in the sports world didn’t even know existed until its recent collapse. So if it was fine to credential Tanier while he was working for The Messenger, why was that suddenly not fine when that website blew up?
Of course, this is all based on assumptions. As noted above, Tanier doesn’t clearly state that he would have covered this Super Bowl for his Substack if the NFL hadn’t pulled his credential. And there would have been extra food and transportation costs for him if he had. But still, that should have been his choice to make.
The NFL made the right call in issuing a credential to Mike Tanier to cover the Super Bowl. They made the wrong call in rescinding that credential due to the implosion of The Messenger. And that speaks to a wider issue for leagues.
While it may be simpler to issue credentials based on the outlet, the 2024 media landscape involves many prominent writers who do not work at traditional outlets. And there’s something to be said for recognizing competent and talented writers regardless of their outlet. Yes, by outlet is simpler, and it avoids having to make determinations on which independent writers are worthy or not. But there is really no difference for the NFL in whether their Super Bowl is covered by “Mike Tanier, The Messenger” or “Mike Tanier, Substack.” And that should be kept in mind going forward.