Okay, I’ve got a deep dark secret, something that I’ve kept close to my vest to all but my closest friends. It’s a secret which will probably bring my manhood into question (although I have a staunch record of unblemished heterosexuality in my favour on that regard), but it may come as a shock to those of you who don’t know.
For nearly ten years of my life I worked for Canada’s Sports Leader, TSN.ca originally as an online journalist, then later as one of the brains behind the direction of the website.
But I don’t like sports.
I hate football, can’t stand basketball, barely tolerate baseball, have no patience for golf, am bored to tears by any flavour of Olympics or god forbid skating, dislike tennis, get bored by soccer, but I can appreciate a good hockey game, and I will confess I used to love boxing (but now that love has transferred over to mixed martial arts).
Whew. I feel better already.
Now that’s not to say that I don’t understand sports, or I don’t understand sports users. As a matter of fact, I can hold my own in most sports conversations, and I’ve done more with my meager sports knowledge than many others have.
I was an online sports editor for 3 years, I wrote CFL, NHL, Curling, and Auto Racing stories from scratch. I edited Soccer Saturday for about 6 months for the TSN network. I edited SportsDesk briefly. I wrote feature articles for TSN.ca, on the wrestling site, on the boxing site, and even on the former “Magazine”. I know sports users not only because many of my good friends are avid sports fans, but also because I spent years reading every single technical complaint from users.
If anything, I think that my ability to remove myself from the subject matter made me a better user advocate. I didn’t have a lot of preconceived notions about what a user wanted, I actually asked users what they wanted instead of building what I thought they wanted.
I loved my job too, even though I wasn’t addicted to the sports news and info, I loved the freedom that I had, and the fact that I really had my finger on the pulse of what users wanted. It got harder and harder to try to please all of them all of the time, and whenever we did a redesign, I was a very hated man for a good long while, but I really did try to make the product better.
I always think back to the six months I spent at what should have been my dream job…but which wasn’t. I worked at Alliance/Atlantis, which is the largest distributor of movies in Canada, and who produces the very popular CSI franchise. I thought it would be the best job ever. I love movies, I love TV, Alliance/Atlantis did tons of both. However the reality was that nobody there understood the internet, yet they all wanted to make it the way they thought it should be. I rebuilt all of their websites quickly pulling them out of the frames-centric 1997 design they were mired in and into a passable 2000 design, which I managed in record time (2 weeks to pull off a half dozen websites, to this day I don’t know if I could do that again). I also built a website for a feature film (with Samuel L. Jackson), a website for a TV movie of the week (starring Elisha Cuthbert), and the site for a Canadian TV Series (the Associates).
Each one had its own special frustrations. For the film site, I was sent a dozen poster concepts. I wanted to leak them on the internet, and was told by a producer that they’d have to run it by legal first. I wanted to make the Lucky Girl site all crazy dynamic, but was told not to spend a lot of time on it. The TV series website ended up being pretty cool, although it had an annoying “skipintro” on it which drove me mad.
In the end I left the joint because I loved the product too much, and wanted to make something better than I was allowed.
Which is why TSN.ca worked out so well for me. I was allowed to make as good a product as I wanted. They trusted me to make the right decisions, and allowed me to help steer and shape the online vision for TSN.
Even though I was never a huge sports fan.
With this being one of the biggest sporting weekends of the year, I feel glad that I don’t have to lie to people and tell them that I enjoyed the Superbowl. With the advent of the internet, I can watch all of the commercials on Monday morning (not that we get the good commercials up here in Canada anyway), and not have to spend one moment wondering whether the Bears or the Colts will have a good game…yeah, I know who’s playing. Just because I don’t particularly care for sports, doesn’t mean that my DNA isn’t keyed to know who’s playing.
In the meantime, I can lord this over my wife, reminding her every Friday night that I don’t care about Friday Night Football, every Saturday night that I’m not watching Hockey Night in Canada, and every Sunday that I’m not spending 8 hours on the couch watching the pre-pre-pre game show and the post-post-post game highlights wrap up and over-analysis.
…and reminding her that the once a month I spend watching a UFC pay per view is but a drop in the bucket compared to what most wives have to put up with.