Best of the Week — First Winner
Exclusive AP analysis: The NFL keeps getting younger and cheaper
The unusually short careers of NFL players have long been a thorny issue among the players, the league and even fans of one of the most injury-prone leagues in sports. A pair of high-profile contract disputes during the 2018 season placed the topic front-and-center yet again.
But what more was there to say?
Denver-based national sports writer Eddie Pells and Global Sports Editor Michael Giarrusso came up with the idea of mining data to illustrate how average experience on NFL rosters has changed since 2011, when the league and players agreed to a contract designed in part to help veterans get a bigger share of revenue.
Pells was joined by New York-based data journalist Larry Fenn who started digging. After scouring season-opening rosters from the last 14 years, Pells and Fenn had the data: Average experience in the league was going down consistently as every team chose younger players over veterans who would earn more – even if the veterans were better players.
Pells then asked more than a dozen AP writers in the field for reaction from key players on the teams they covered, while Fenn worked with Top Stories designer Phil Holm, who produced insightful illustrations of the data. Pells also collaborated on videos that were used on social media and embedded in the story.
Other stories in the package included a profile of a typical 4-year player who is cut just as he became eligible for a larger contract, a piece on shortened careers at the center position, and a column foreshadowing collective-bargaining hurdles. Pells also did a story looking at how Super Bowl champions shed expensive players after winning the title.
The package was released in the week leading up to the Super Bowl, commanding attention across the football landscape and getting about double the usage of typical top sports stories. Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Sally Buzbee called it a blueprint for how to plan coverage around big events by timing enterprise and breaking news when attention is high.
For using data and creative storytelling to quantify one of the NFL’s central issues and break news during the biggest sports week of the year, Pells, Fenn and Holm share AP’s Best of the Week award.