Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Tiger Woods soundtrack: 'When a woman's fed up...'

UPDATE: this is really happening! Follow the updates on my Yardbarker blog.

Here's my formal request to @MTVJams to program a set of videos in honor of Tiger Woods' "accident." It can include R. Kelly's "When a woman's fed up," Jazmine Sullivan's "Bust Your Windows," maybe Kelis's "I hate you so much right now"... and I'm sure the MTV Jams folks can think of many more. Thank you to Throat Chop University for the idea in this video:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

To make money, sports bloggers need to be business-oriented

This is the last post in my series about what’s next for sports blogging. As a reminder, these are my own opinions, not necessarily those of my employer Yardbarker. You can read the previous posts here:

Introduction: a call to action
Sports blogs, ESPN, and why I like Deadspin’s ‘horndoggery’ series
The power of distribution: why content is not king
Sports bloggers need to work with the incentives of distributors

Contrary to what’s often said, I don’t think the key to success is simply producing good content. Sports bloggers need to understand the distribution landscape and how they can best benefit from it. For small bloggers, being part of a network may be important. But whether your blog is in a network or not, if you’re trying to make money, you need to be business-oriented. It doesn’t matter if you produce serious analytical posts or silly photoshops. Being business-oriented is important for each blogger individually and for all of us as a group.

A lot of sports bloggers think they should just focus on making good content because doing anything else would be “selling out.” At Blogs with Balls 2.0 in Vegas there was talk about whether bloggers should strive for page views or the respect of their peers. If you’re trying to make money, your primary driver needs to be page views. That’s not to say that peer respect has no value – if you play nice with fellow bloggers and create content they like, you’ll be more likely to get linked up by them. But there’s a limit to the page views you can get from that small circle of sports blog peers. And don’t forget that blogs like The Big Lead and Deadspin have become very successful while being somewhat “hated” by many of their peers.

At Blogs with Balls I spoke with a Mom blogger who had attended one of the panels. She said it seemed like sports bloggers hadn’t yet reached the stage of thinking of themselves as businesses like the Mom bloggers had. Here are three things I think sports bloggers should do to be business-oriented:

1) Think about how you can tweak your content offerings to get more page views. For instance, we all know that certain mass appeal gossip stories are good for page views, and there’s no shame in playing into those story lines, especially if you’re doing it with high quality content (like Sports by Brooks, for example). Of course, the gossip angle is not for everyone, and playing in the “lowest common denominator” game will mean competing with many others. If you want to stick to content that does not play to mass appeal, think about what you can do to make your content unique and valuable to readers as compared to your competitors. You might be able to carve out a niche for yourself and be the strongest in that category – just be aware that your niche is a small part of what’s already somewhat of a niche category, sports.

2) Be proactive about distribution opportunities. On a small scale, this includes promoting yourself to other blogs who might link to your content. (And when you’re sending a pitch email, think about the busy editors who are receiving dozens of other tips daily – be informative but brief in your message.) On a larger scale, this means being proactive about joining a network or getting involved with a large partnership. When the partnership between Yardbarker and Fox Sports on MSN was announced, I received a couple of emails from bloggers who wanted to be involved. Some outlined ideas for how Fox Sports could benefit from their content, some sent me one-sheets about their blog, some offered to write proposals for me to present to Fox Sports. These proactive actions have directly impacted conversations I’m having with Fox Sports as we hash out the details of our partnership, and those bloggers stand to benefit from their initiative.

3) Work together to elevate our industry. The current challenges facing sports blogging include proving our value to reluctant big brand advertisers, league/team media offices, and big distributors. Conventional wisdom is that sports blogs are just the wild wild west – risky to align with. I am not suggesting that sports blogs band together to be vanilla and easy for these guys to swallow. As I previously wrote, I support Deadspin, who differentiates itself by publishing controversial content, even though Deadspin’s actions often contribute to the wild west reputation of all blogs. (Deadspin is pretty good at what they do – if you think they’re not, then that will eventually bear out in their individual reputation.) But maybe there are some things we can all do to increase our appearance of professionalism. For instance, some team and league PR offices struggle with whether or how to include sports blogs in their media coverage – maybe a collective of bloggers should take the initiative to write up some suggested guidelines for them so that we can frame that conversation. Maybe we should draft some best practices? Maybe we should consider dropping the muddy “sports blog” moniker and adopting something like “online sports content”? I’m unsure about the best ways for us to work together, but it’s not unusual for competitors to form industry alliances for certain issues. Of course, maybe the wild west aspect of sports blogs is essential to their appeal. I welcome any ideas on this front.

Thank you to everyone who has read this entire series and those who have continued the conversation with me by email. I look forward to your feedback and to the continued growth and maturity of sports blogging.

How can you not love Manny Pacquiao?

Manny Pacquiao's marketing people are geniuses. Between goofy videos like this one from Fox Sports and punching pumpkins on Jimmy Kimmel you can't not like this guy. Cotto who?

<a href="" target="_new" title="Cubed: Manny Pacquiao's Punchout">Video: Cubed: Manny Pacquiao's Punchout</a>

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Niki D'Andrea adds Twitterjacking to her arsenal of cluelessness

If anyone else had done this, I might have ignored it. But this is Niki D'Andrea, and I'm a big fan of running jokes.

When last we saw the "reporter" from the Phoenix New Times, she was quoting hilarious excerpts from a satirical blog post as fact and basing an entire cover story on the false premise that NBA Commissioner David Stern was thinking of imposing a "tattoo cap." That's right, she actually believed that each team could be limited as to how many tattoos their players could have. The story made it all the way through the New Times "editing" process and was published as the cover story during All Star Weekend when tons of NBA players and fans were in town. OOPS!!

Somehow she wasn't fired, and I later got tired of caring about the so-called journalistic standards of a shoddy old-media publication.

Then a few weeks ago D'Andrea started following me on Twitter, so I followed her back. And then this...

I tweeted a link about a Cornell email scandal, giving RT credit to @coco_cure (Coco actually should have given RT credit to the original source who I discovered later, @guestofaguest). A few minutes later, D'Andrea tweeted the same link, with the same exact headline, and gave no RT credit at all. Why do I think she got the link from me? Because the story is three days old and a Twitter search on the subject showed that very few other people had been talking about it at all today, and not with that particular shortened URL.

By the way, it's not like D'Andrea just doesn't understand the concept of RT because her timeline shows she has RT'd plenty of other people. And there was plenty of room to give RT credit.

It could be she was just embarrassed to give hat tip credit to me in particular. But more likely she was just hoping I'd write up another one of my blog posts to add to her robust Google search results. I'm always happy to take a few minutes out of my day for that!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Sports bloggers need to work with the incentives of distributors

This is part of my continuing series about what’s next for sports blogging. You can read my introduction here, as well as posts about the tension between ESPN and blogs like Deadspin and the power of distribution in relation to content quality. As a reminder, these are my own personal opinions – although in this post I’ll talk about my employer Yardbarker.

As I’ve discussed, merely producing high quality blog content is not enough to ensure success. Mass distribution from large portals like Yahoo or AOL is essential to helping content “float to the top.” (There are some early-mover indie blogs that are notable exceptions.)

Yardbarker just announced a partnership with Fox Sports on MSN that I hope will give our high quality blog content the distribution it needs to be very successful. Part of the partnership involves collaboration on sales, which gives Fox Sports an incentive to promote our blog content (Ben Koo has a great discussion of this). Even so, the partnership is not going to mean automatic success for blogs – I’ll be working on the editorial end of things and I realize that it’s partly my job to show Fox Sports how valuable our blog content is.

Many portals (such as the two where I’ve worked, AOL and Yahoo) have teams that are responsible for the homepage only. These teams often judge success by the click-through rates of headlines they place on the homepage. This creates incentives for the homepage team that don’t necessarily line up with those of the entire company or those of sports bloggers in the system.

Consider two stories you might find on AOL: one is a thoughtful FanHouse blog post about the end of the baseball season, and one is a short wire story about Khloe Kardashian and Lamar Odom being pregnant. The Khlodom headline will likely click through at a higher rate. As a result, a homepage team may be inclined to showcase that story instead of the baseball one.

However, the Khlodom story is not necessarily more valuable to AOL than the baseball one. If a large number of people click on the Khlodom headline just to gawk for a moment and then close the window, that might not be as valuable as a smaller number of people clicking on the baseball story, enjoying the writing, and then clicking to read more FanHouse stories or more posts by that blogger. Even if the time-on-site or total page views are equal for the two, the baseball story still might be more valuable because it promotes the brand of FanHouse and that blogger’s name. Promoting brand helps to build repeat and organic traffic (which is especially important to a property like FanHouse that might not always be able to rely on the AOL homepage firehose). An empty calorie story like the Khlodom one might not have that same effect.

In addition to competing with “gossipy” stories for homepage attention, the thoughtful baseball blog post might compete with an article by a well-known columnist. For instance, Fox Sports gets heavy traffic on Jason Whitlock’s columns. Part of that popularity has to do with his actual content, and part of it has to do with his name brand that he’s built up with years of mass distribution. Whitlock has proven that his content guarantees eyeballs. A talented but unknown blogger doesn’t have that same pull -- but if given steady distribution, that blogger could develop that pull over time.

I’m not suggesting that portal editors aren’t sophisticated enough to be looking at long-term value or metrics beyond the first click – surely they are. But it’s harder to quantify those other kinds of value, and short-term wins in click-throughs are often rewarded. This creates the incentive to promote the fluffy Khlodom piece or the Whitlock sure thing.

So what can we do, given that those with distribution power have incentives that may not favor a long-term investment in budding sports bloggers?

1) We can push them to have a longer view and try to show value with whatever metrics we can.

2) More practically, we can sometimes give them the piece of mass-appeal candy that they want. The blogger who wrote the thoughtful baseball post may not want to “stoop” to writing a fluff piece because that kind of writing could hurt that blogger’s budding name brand. But another blogger could write a Khlodom piece and promote other content from there. Or the baseball blogger could compromise and write a somewhat fluffy piece about Alyssa Milano. Snobby artists may turn their nose up at the idea of playing to the masses – but that’s why most snobby artists aren’t commercially successful.

3) We can highlight the places where blogs can replace standard content. If the star linebacker for an NFL team is out for the season with an injury, that's a headline the homepage editors know they want. So instead of linking to the AP wire version of the story, we can show that a blog post can communicate that same information (which incidentally would create value for the blogger).

In the coming weeks, as I continue working with Fox Sports on MSN, I hope to show them the long-term value of the sports bloggers in our Yardbarker Network. One thing that’s going to require is an organized, proactive, business-oriented attitude from our bloggers. I will be talking about that in my next post.

Thank you for reading, and as always, I welcome your thoughts in the comments or by email.