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.
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