Yahoo UK’s Head of Sport Shares his World Cup Playbook
When we catch up with Raj Mannick, he's going full speed ahead. The brand-new Head of Sport for Yahoo UK is immersed in all things World Cup. In addition to covering England's progression and the tournament overall, he's producing a new fan-centric World Cup video series, The 32.
His enthusiasm is contagious. "It's such an exciting time to start here, with both the World Cup and where the company's headed. I've seen a lot of good things already, and it's only been one month."
Name: Raj Mannick
Role: Head of Sport at Yahoo UK
Location: London, England
Time at Oath: 1 month
Previous employers: BBC, ITN Productions
Education: University College London
Major: Chemical Engineering
Hometown: Sussex, England
Outside of work: Keen football player, triathlete, and endurance open water swimmer ("I've done an Ironman, a few marathons, and long swims"). Outside of sport, a huge film geek.
Oath: Imagine then create
How did you get into sports writing?
Forget sports writing—I fell into the media industry in general. I have a master's degree in engineering and planned to go down that route. But I graduated during a massive recession, and opportunities seemed to dry up. I was left with a gap, thinking over, "What do I want to do?"
While I was pursuing engineering opportunities, friends passed me writing side projects. At university, I was always on the writing team, and president of the football club. Then I found something that really excited me: a work experience role with the BBC. It was a summer placement, many years ago, and it gave me incredible opportunities in my earliest days as a journalist. I reported from Old Trafford (home of Manchester United), from Wembley (home of the English national team and Premier League playoffs), and from Lord's Cricket Ground. All these amazing opportunities came within two months of being at the BBC, and I quickly threw my engineering degree out the window. I knew then: This is what I want to be doing with my life.
I stayed with the BBC another year and a half, then freelanced before moving to ITN. During my six years there I built their sports business pretty much from scratch. I worked mostly in video, but also writing and audio.
For those of us who don't follow football (or who even call it soccer), why is the World Cup such a big deal?
In the USA you have the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL. Football is all those combined into one for us. Football is the holy grail of all sport in the UK. Nothing comes close to it. The World Cup is the most important international tournament there is. It's the biggest competition, in the biggest sport, on the biggest stage—that's why it means so much to the UK market.
What's it like covering the World Cup as a writer?
It's really fun, but it's a lot of hard work. The whole team is in early at 7, 8 am, and we stay until 10 or 11 pm. There's just so much football to cover. In the first two weeks, there are three matches every day, so for us there are no breaks.
As a writer, a producer, and content maker, the volume of games gives you so many stories. So yes, it's hard work; yes, it's labor intensive; yes, it's long hours, but that's why we're in the business, isn't it? The reason why I wanted to become a sports writer and content maker is competitions like the World Cup. You don't care how busy you are if you're covering the biggest names on the planet. It's the highest-profile footballers doing amazing things, or doing terrible things, and either way, it's a great story.
Who do you think will win it all?
So I made a prediction on The 32, our fan-focused World Cup series out now on Yahoo UK. I tipped France actually, and I'm going to stick with them because I'm a man of my word. But honestly, I think it's very open and anyone could win it. England could win, same as anyone else that's in there. Personally, I don't think England will.
What makes UK fans stand out?
I don't know if you guys (Americans) pick up on this, but we English fans are an unpredictable type. One minute we love our team, the next minute we hate our team. If the team's great, we want them to do badly; if the team's bad, we want them to do well. There's this strange Jekyll and Hyde dynamic to the UK market and the English team, and we're already seeing that. Three weeks ago no one gave them a chance. Now, a few games in, some great wins, and suddenly we're going to win the World Cup.
It sounds like there are high expectations for a tournament of such importance. How do you focus on delivering the best coverage for the fans?
I think it's about finding the gaps. As you can imagine, we're not the only people covering the World Cup. Football is a saturated market in the UK, and there are so many options on where to get your opinion pieces or other coverage. We have to make sure we're giving the fans something authentic, original, engaging, and—ultimately—fun.
The word "fun" isn't used enough in sport coverage. People take it so seriously, and that has its place. You cannot take the emotional importance for granted, but it's entertainment, isn't it? It's about having fun watching and playing the game we all love.
That's what we're trying to convey with the tone of our coverage, both in our written pieces and with shows like The 32. We're making that series all about the fans and the energy, passion, and fun they bring to the game. Without that, the game would be lost.
Is that what makes Yahoo Sports unique?
What makes Yahoo special is its tone. That's what we're pushing moving forward. That's our unique selling point. We're going to have a conversation with fans, but we're going to do it on their terms. Sports fans are just as knowledgeable and passionate as former sports players, and they can be as insightful too. We seek to give our fans a voice, and to avoid patronizing them.
Ready for more? Get exciting up-to-the-minute coverage of the World Cup from Raj and the UK team.