By Heatherly Grace Shepherd
An aerospace engineer isn’t the first person you’d expect to be a sports media expert, but in the case of Matt Graves, it’s as a winning a combination as the Cardinals’ lineup in their 11 World Series titles. I met Matt while studying communication at the Loveliest Village on the Plains and witnessed his obvious passion and dedication for sports content first-hand. As a St. Louis native with a penchant for analyzing the ins-and-outs of baseball, he has mastered the art of the sports story.
Officially, Matt is the site expert, editor and media representative for Redbird Rants, the St. Lous Cardinals Fansided page. Unofficially, he’s go-getter with a deep understanding about how to create engaging sports content people want to read. Along with writing, editing and social media management, Matt has been featured on podcasts for the Kansas City Royals and Love Sport Radio out of London. He took the Redbird Rants site from 300,000 viewers to 900,000 viewers during his two years with them, and kept the platform updated with fresh content even during the 2020 MLB season pause due to to COVID-19.
You have been passionate about baseball since I met you, how did you go from a super-fan to the Site Expert of a major website?
I’ve always been an avid reader of Redbird Rants and many other blogs in the Cardinals world of content, but the change came in Spring 2018 when I saw they had an ad up looking for new contributors. I debated it for a while, but finally decided to write and submit a post and was lucky enough to get taken aboard. I think the key there is a willingness to throw your hat in the ring. Once I was a contributor, I wrote for eight months until December of 2018 when the former editor stepped down. At that point, I once again saw an opportunity for initiative and expressed my interest in the role. After a trial run, my writing and editing proved I had what it too, and my success has really taken off from there.
Research is so important for publishing commentary, what is your process when choosing and writing about a topic?
Normally, I start with an idea or a statistic and research it as I write. It happens more often than I expect, but I frequently find that my argument changes based on what statistics and research I can find. I try not to cherry-pick stats that just support what I’m arguing and sometimes have to restructure the beginning parts of my article to fit what new conclusion I’ve found. Some would say it’d be smarter to brainstorm and research first followed by writing my thoughts, but I’ve found that I write with the best flow when I lay down some words and follow where my research leads me.
How do you decide what content will do well and what your audience will be most impacted by? How do you create conversations from the media you publish?
At least in my experience, outside of a few topics that consistently do well, every piece has boom or bust potential. It can be really frustrating at times when you work on a piece for a while and then it flops, but then you spend 20 minutes on something quick like a news piece and it blows up. While I’m measured on my view count, it’s reasons like the boom or bust potential that I strive to just provide the best overall content rather than being click-bait. I am a big believer that if you put out good work, make well-backed arguments and push to educate as best as possible, the views will all even out the way they’re supposed to. I think it’s with compelling points rather than just news pieces that make those good conversations with readers.
“Never stop writing and to never stop reading; the best way to get better at writing is to write and reading other people just helps everything … do both of those things but never stop looking for opportunities to do more.” – Matt Graves
Baseball has slowed down for coronavirus, but you haven’t. How do you keep the momentum going without having fresh plays to analyze?
The absence of baseball has really put pressure on me to grow as a writer. With no new stats or info coming in, it’s forced me and the rest of the contributors at Redbird Rants to dig deeper into overlooked arguments and revisit historical content. It also allowed us to dive into the MLB Draft much further than we ever have before. Exploring these new areas really helped us grow as a site.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into sports writing or content creation?
The biggest advice I can give to others is to never stop writing, never stop reading and never stop searching for more opportunities to throw your hat into the ring. I’m not sure where my path will go from here, but I do know if I had never put myself out there, I would never be where I currently am.
What are some lessons you’ve learned about connecting with your audience having a background as a consumer and now a content creator?
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to never let yourself get emotional when interacting with readers. I’ve been called an idiot and plenty of worse insults many times, but one over-emotional response from me I would lose my job and make a fool of myself. Interactions are always better when I can calmly coax the argument out of the reader, even if they say I’m an idiot. Cooler heads always prevail in comment sections.
What do you think is next for baseball?
I think the next thing baseball needs to figure out is how to get out of its own way. The season is on track to start now, but for the past three months, there were very ugly negotiations made public about what the 2020 season would look like. Between the players and the owners, only outcome was a bad look for baseball. They had a fantastic chance to lead the return of sports and start at the beginning of July, but are now delayed until the end of the month because of the owners’ greed. If the two sides can figure out how to get on each other’s teams, baseball will take off. If this trend continues, the next round of labor negotiations post-2021 season is going to be even uglier and much more public.