Not long ago, as we were approaching the one-year anniversary of GrantWahl.com, I happened to come across a tweet from two years ago:
You might think it made me feel bad to see it. But the truth was actually the opposite. If you click on it and see all the QT’s, there was an incredible outpouring of support from so many places—from readers and listeners to media people—that was overwhelming, even moving, to see again. I can’t tell you how thankful I am for it.
We’ve come a long way in two years. I did an award-nominated podcast series on Freddy Adu. I started my own twice-weekly podcast that partnered with John Skipper’s Meadowlark Media and just published its 250th episode. I signed with CBS Sports for TV appearances and documentary film work. I spent the past year helping put together a documentary film series on the U.S.-Mexico soccer rivalry that just got sold to Amazon.
And, within a short time of what happened in 2020, I was on good terms again with the people who now run Sports Illustrated:
Then my biggest work development happened. A year ago this week, I took a deep breath, turned down writing offers from traditional publications and started my own writing site at GrantWahl.com. Few things are as professionally scary as finding out how many people are willing to pay for your work. You just can’t hide from the verdict. But I thought the risk was worth it for a few reasons:
1) I needed to be tied to paid subscriptions, which incentivize quality, and not advertising, which incentivizes clickbait and quantity.
2) I’m still at the top of my game.
3) As my own boss free from the bureaucracy of a big organization, I could be a lot more nimble and efficient. Want to report three different stories on the same trip in Spain-Moldova-France or Italy-Qatar-Spain? Go do it now!
4) I wanted to see if old-school journalism—visit, report, write—would work on Substack. I spent 25 years at Sports Illustrated magazine, most of those when SI was still the best sports publication in history, and I was hopeful that readers would pay for the kind of stories that made the old SI print magazine great.
So: What if I travel to all the big U.S. national team games—men’s and women’s, including all 14 USMNT World Cup qualifiers—and write a magazine-quality story with great art and reporting you won’t see elsewhere that will be sent to your inbox at 9 a.m. ET the next morning? That’s what I used to do for big games in the late ‘90s for SI until we stopped because editors thought readers didn’t want to wait until the following Thursday’s print magazine.
And what if I write high-end feature stories that you won’t see on other subscription sites like The Athletic and the New York Times? (They’re both terrific, by the way.) Why not travel to Transnistria, an unrecognized Moldovan breakaway republic, for a story on the smuggler-owned, Real Madrid-slaying club FC Sheriff? Or to Qatar, where journalists get detained for doing real investigations, for interviews with migrant workers at all 14 FIFA hotels in the main parts of Doha about whether they’re treated lawfully by their employers (answer: they’re not)?
Why not do 5,000-word deep dives on the most pressing stories for U.S. fans, whether it involves visiting the Americans at Leeds United or Catarina Macario, the next USWNT superstar, in Lyon?
Over the last 12 months, I have produced 30 premium magazine stories (featuring Dan Leydon’s distinctive artwork) from 15 countries: Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, England (3), France, Germany, Honduras, Italy, Jamaica, Mexico (3), Moldova, Panama, Qatar, Spain (2) and the United States (11). I was literally the only English-language U.S. media member who was on-site reporting from all 14 USMNT World Cup qualifiers.
What’s more, GrantWahl.com has regular content every week:
• Weekly Friday Newsletters with breaking news, opinion columns, soccer business reporting and Mailbags that allow us to interact as a community.
• Regular in-depth interviews with some of the most intriguing figures in the sport.
• My 3 Thoughts columns at the final whistle of the biggest games every week.
Most of my “3 Thoughts” pieces are available to free subscribers, and I hope you enjoy them. But I would also ask free subscribers to consider upgrading to a paid subscription, which will give you access and comments privileges to all the premium offerings mentioned above. The cost is just $50 a year, or only $4.17 per month, around the price of a hamburger, and you get not one but two World Cups in that annual subscription if you start it today.
This is how I make my living now, and we’re not ad-supported at all, so I rely solely on your paid subscriptions to keep this thing going. Artist Dan Leydon is paid for his phenomenal work, and so is editor Mark Mravic (my favorite editor from my SI days). And while I don’t travel first-class, even economy-class global transportation still costs a lot of money, which you make possible with your paid subscription.
If you enjoy my site, it’s tremendously helpful if you spread the word about it, recommend it to your soccer-loving friends and consider giving GrantWahl.com as a gift subscription.
I can’t tell you how excited I am about the coverage that’s coming in the year ahead. I’ll be on location reporting from the men’s World Cup in Qatar (in November-December) and the women’s World Cup in Australia/New Zealand (in July-August). I’ll be doing daily coverage and writing magazine-style stories around those World Cups while continuing to produce the feature stories and the weekly coverage that you have come to expect year-round.
Also, if you have been a reader, I want to hear from you in the comments below. What has worked for you on my site, and what hasn’t? And what would you like to see more of? It has been a fascinating process for me to see what moves the needle on subscriptions and what doesn’t. Sometimes the answers are surprising.
So far, the risk I took a year ago has been worth it. Thanks to people like you, the response to GrantWahl.com has been incredible, and this past year has been the most enjoyable and productive of my 26-year journalism career. I’m psyched to continue with you on this journey and appreciate your support. Vamos!
All I can say is this: Grant, you are an inspiration to me. You have followed your passion and a journey based on a palpable passion without a guaranteed predictable outcome. As a nascent soccer fan, I consume the content of what you write with eager anticipation each week. But, I think it's less about the content (although I can't get enough of it and have grown to love soccer). It's more about your love for the game, which is contagious and inspiring. Please, please keep doing what you are doing. It transcends soccer, and provides a model of how all of us should live our lives.
Congrats Grant. I've been reading you since your days covering college basketball in the late 90s, and I'm happy to continue reading and supporting you on your site. I really enjoy the "My 3 Thoughts" columns, since it's great to get your more topical analysis in addition to the long-form pieces. I would love to read more short pieces that are reactions to the soccer news of the week.