Back in September, theScore made an unusual move for a digital media company. That move saw them bring in Jordan Schultz as a NFL insider, with the release around his hiring indicating he would “produce written and multimedia content for theScore’s digital sports media platforms, with a focus on NFL and NBA coverage,” “be featured across theScore’s extensive digital media footprint, including its Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and YouTube channels as well as podcasts,” and also “provide betting analysis and insights.”
That’s a wide range of content for one person, with many insider roles elsewhere sharply differentiated from fan-facing conversations, betting analysis and insights, and specific social media content. But theScore’s executives have been quite happy with how that deal with Schultz is working out through the first few months. And theScore head of content Aubrey Levy told AA in a recent interview that the flexibility of Schultz (whose previous work includes NFL, NBA, and betting content on-air and online for ESPN, Yahoo, and Bleacher Report) made him the perfect candidate for this new role. And Levy added that theScore’s particular setup made versatility a requirement.
“We’re not a traditional sports media organization,” Levy said. ” We’re mobile-centric. We’ve kind of cut a different path with how we’ve approached sports, and coverage of these sports, and gaming. And if we were going to get into the world of reporting, it was important we had someone who could come in and be a vertical, integrated player. Not just someone who is breaking stories, but someone who is breaking stories, contributing to editorial, who has a social pulse and understands what’s going to play on Instagram versus TikTok, who’s interested in engaging with his audience and our audience, doing Twitter Spaces, getting involved in our in-app community features.”
“Because we’re a bit of this multifaceted media play, it was important that we found somebody who could bring an insider reporting capability and layer that on top of our strategy. And Jordan fit that beautifully. He’s hungry, he’s up-and-coming, he clearly has relationships, but he has a fire in his belly to dominate. When we met with him and talked about all the pieces that we bring to the table, and what he brings, it fit beautifully.”
And took extreme measures to make sure he only *saw* the ones he needed for work. ?
— Lindsay Rhodes (@lindsay_rhodes) November 2, 2022
While there’s been a fair bit of talk around digital-first or betting-first sites potentially hiring newsbreakers and insiders, that really hasn’t happened much to date (with some exceptions). Most of the big betting-first hires have been more on the personality side. And while there have been some notable digital-first hires of prominent social media content creators, and while Schultz has some involvement on that side, his reporting focus is a little unusual for a hire in this space. But Levy said insider reporting was a logical area for theScore to expand into if they found the right person.
“We had been giving some thought to what an expansion of our media strategy might look like, and this was an area we hadn’t played with previously; original reporting, insider reporting. For us, it was a question of ‘Well, if we’re going to do it, it’s not just how do we it, is there a person we do it with, with the flexibility to do it across any number of sports that we cover?’ It was about finding not just the right way to approach it, but the right person. And those kind of go hand in hand. So when the opportunity with Jordan came up, it kind of fit like a glove for us.”
— Jordan Schultz (@Schultz_Report) December 5, 2022
Levy said Schultz’s versatility made that decision easy, as he gave them a chance to work his contributions in across multiple platforms.
“It was a combination of us thinking about what that strategy would look like, and making sure that if we did it it would have to layer in across our entire sports media strategy. That takes a unique character like Jordan.”
I’m told Jamo really showed out in just 3 days of practice, which impressed the entire staff and convinced them the former 'Bama great could make an immediate impact! pic.twitter.com/liuvEyMpwX
— Jordan Schultz (@Schultz_Report) December 3, 2022
An interesting facet here as well is that Schultz’s insider reporting isn’t necessarily always about competing with the likes of ESPN’s Adam Schefter or NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport for major national stories. Levy said theScore’s highly-customizable app-focused setup means they can get a lot of value out of even “smaller” stories, and Schultz has done a good job of being first on many of those stories.
OL Jason Peters will make his Cowboys debut tonight, source said. Don’t look for him at left tackle — future is now, as rookie first-round pick Tyler Smith continues to grow and impress. Peters to be on pitch count if he plays. LG a possibility. @Schultz_Report first reported.
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) September 26, 2022
Source: #Jets are signing OT Cedric Ogbuehi off the #Texans practice squad to their 53, as @Schultz_Report reported. Joins OT Mike Remmers (new add to PS) as Jets scramble for depth in light of Becton (IR), Brown (IR) and Fant injuries. Ogbuehi a Cincy first-round pick in '15.
— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) September 27, 2022
“Because of the audience we have and how personalized it is and how wide-ranging it is, a story that might be a tier-two, tier-three story that doesn’t make its way to broadcast, we can still amplify,” Levy said. “We can cover that, write it up as a story, push it out to followers of the Bears, the Vikings, or whatever team it is relevant to. And it doesn’t have to be a [national] headline story, but it can still be relevant to that team, or that fanbase for that team or that player. So part of that versatility with Jordan is ‘Okay, let’s go be aggressive, let’s go get as much news and reporting as we possibly can,’ and we have the team infrastructure in product and audience to support all of it.”
AFC executive I spoke with: “[Jordan Love] looked like a different quarterback. His decisiveness and confidence running that offense. … Not a lot of plays to go from, but still impressive.” #Packers
— Jordan Schultz (@Schultz_Report) November 28, 2022
Levy said theScore’s variety of platforms, and Schultz’s familiarity with and openness to those platforms, also helps. Because of how they’re set up, they have a wide range of distribution options, and there’s never a need to save things for a key TV appearance.
“It’s not like ‘You have to come to us every week with something that’s going to be a headline-grabber.’ Yeah, we want the headline-grabbers, and he’s already delivering them. But we can take that story and we can figure out the right format, whether it’s a tweet, whether it’s in editorial, whether it’s in Twitter Spaces, or an Instagram post, or Instagram Live.”
“We can kind of slice-and-dice it into the right channels for distribution, which also ties back to how important it is to be versatile. He can figure out with us how to build the strategy and select the right channels for the right story. Which, if you had someone who’s a little more conventional who didn’t really understand the potential of all of the channels, you might not have as much flexibility.”
I just asked a long-time NFL scout to describe Mike White’s performance: “Mike’s good because he sees it before he throws it. He didn’t force throws and he didn’t mind hitting singles and doubles. That’s all they need. They have playmakers and their defense is very good.” #Jets
— Jordan Schultz (@Schultz_Report) November 27, 2022
In addition to insider reporting, Schultz does a lot of athlete interviews for theScore’s podcasts and/or video shows. At many media outlets, those roles are often segmented. And when they’re not, there can be clear indications that the talent in question prefers one role or another. But Levy said he thinks Schultz is interested in both. And he said that deal makes this contract with Schultz work for an outlet like theScore, which needs more versatility than a bigger outlet where there can be more specialization.
“You see it in other instances where the insider is on camera, or they put together interview segments, and that’s not necessarily something they’re interested in. They do it because that’s what’s being asked of them, but it’s not necessarily something they’re interested in or something that’s native to them.”
“It was important to us because we’re a pretty flexible media organization. We’re not the kind of company that’s going to send a 20-person production crew out to shoot an interview, we’re not the kind of company that’s going to staff 10 research people on this breaking story. We need versatility in our talent. That’s how we built ourselves up.”
? Will Hackett be fired?
✈️ Will Mike White Be QB1?
? Is Jordan Love the future of the Packers?
— theScore (@theScore) November 29, 2022
Levy said that flexibility was a key part of why they picked Schultz, and why they didn’t try this strategy earlier.
“It wouldn’t work for us to plug someone in who was more rigid than that. It’s a bit of a unique beast to find someone who has got that ability, who’s got the credibility to do the work and get the story, but at the same time, can jump into a Twitter Spaces or an IG Live or jump into an on-camera interview for broadcast and be able to crush it across all of those. It’s part of the reason why we hadn’t dove into this strategy previously. It didn’t necessarily fit for us to go find someone who was more narrowly defined than someone like Jordan.”
Rookie wide receiver Christian Watson has ARRIVED… And that’s a beautiful thing! ??
— Jordan Schultz (@Schultz_Report) November 16, 2022
But Levy thinks that reporters with this kind of versatility are only going to become more common.
“And to be honest, the future of sports media broadcasting and sports media reporting is guys who are more versatile. Guys like Jordan who had to figure out how to build themselves on social, who had to flourish on their own and kind of fight to build their own name.”
Levy said the spread of so much reporting and engagement to social media channels is a part of that, where big media outlets are no longer as much of a necessity as they may have been in the past. That’s something we’ve seen discussed before, but it certainly seems to becoming more and more true. And Levy said he thinks there’s value for outlets like theScore in boosting somewhat-established people rather than finding unknown people.
“I think there are more guys and girls like that coming up because of all the distribution channel availability that exists. There are media players like us who can augment and amplify you, but you don’t need us to start to build a name. Jordan was proving it, he was building a great reputation on his own, which he’d been doing at his previous job and since he left. And I think you’re going to see more and more people like Jordan cutting a path.”
Another interesting and different thing with what Schultz is doing is the level of engagement with fans. Many insiders heavily focused on reporting don’t really talk to individual fans. But theScore’s setup for Schultz involves that, through live feedback platforms like Twitter Spaces, Instagram Live, and their own app. Levy said that’s part of what theScore is trying to do in general.
“It’s important because it supports the authenticity of our coverage. Community features are embedded throughout our media strategy, whether it’s having a robust presence on social, or what we’re doing in other capacities on IG Live, or if you look at our app, where we have incredibly active chat features next to every single box score. It’s been part of our DNA across everything. It’s a product; we try to respond to every piece of customer feedback, we try to take customer feedback into our product road map. So it was an opportunity.”
He said there are potential opportunities for them to expand the feedback element more in future, too.
“To be honest, we’re just scratching the surface; there’s a lot more we can do. But I think being able to engage with your community like that just engenders further loyalty and gets fans more bought in on us and on Jordan. It removes some of the unnecessary and inauthentic guardrails that exist around how we have that sports conversation and how we engage with fans. So I guess the question really is ‘Why not?’; if we have that engagement, why not facilitate that, and take our talent that are apt and able to, get them out there to have the conversation?”
theScore is in a different place than it used to be following their August 2021 acquisition by gambling company Penn National (also the parent company of Barstool Sports). The company was into sports betting even before that, from their displaying of odds on TV broadcasts in Canada back when they were still a linear TV channel through their theScore Bet app (since closed in favor of Barstool Sportsbook). But the Penn acquisition definitely has them focusing on gaming when it makes sense. Levy said it’s important for them to do that only when it makes sense, though, and Schultz is a good fit there given his ability to talk gaming or not talk gaming.
“Part of the reason why we like Jordan, one of the facets he brings, is that he has the ability to talk sports betting. One of the things he’s done before, he was on [ESPN’s] The Daily Wager previously, he’s got the ability to infuse that into his content, which is an absolute win for us. However, what I would say is first and foremost, we’re still a media organization. We’re a media organization that has an incredibly robust sportsbook and, in Ontario and other places, a casino offering, but the reason we’re in this game is because we’re a media operation.”
“So when we were talking to Jordan about his role, it was ‘First and foremost, you have a media role to play. Your job is to absolutely dominate and crush on your insider reporting and original news, and content production. And we’ll find those authentic and integrated places for you to talk sports betting. It’s not about getting you out there as a shill for sports betting and forcing you into a lead-gen funnel or an inauthentic marketing conversation.’ Which was important for us and important for him.”
Levy said he feels it’s critical for theScore to stay committed to being a media company first rather than a gambling company, especially considering that not everyone takes that approach.
“You see that happening a fair bit in online gaming now, where clearly there’s an understanding that media, and especially the more media you can control, is valuable for driving audience. And some of our competitors try to move up-funnel into the media space, but media’s really challenging to build an audience on that. And if they view your media coverage or your content as purely lead generation for sports betting, it’s going to be unfulfilling for them from a media perspective.”
“Yes, it’s important to us that there’s an authentic hook into betting. But that should never dominate the strategy for our media business. Our media business needs to be as big and as engaged as it can possibly be. And we will find those right integration points for getting betting into it. Which is exactly what Penn loved about us. And if you look at their gaming strategy, everything ties to media, and to media-led generation of gaming. So it was definitely a ‘Nice if you can do it,’ but it was not the primary reason we brought him on.”
Levy also said that he feels theScore is a good fit for someone like Schultz given their many platforms, and their ability to really maximize any story, no matter how small.
“What we can help him do with the reporting is unique given our unique suite of assets, and the kind of reach we have throughout. It’s been really cool so far.”