Your East Coast correspondent attended the first ever Blogs with Balls sports blog conference, held in New York City on June 13. The event was organized by the fine folks at Hugging Harry Reynolds as well as a litany of sponsors who included our bosses at sbnation.com, yardbarker.com, SI.com, and others. SI.com even chipped in with a few iPod Touches for raffle prizes, as well as sending this along for the intro.
So that was a bit of a surprise.
Among the many other bloggers that I managed to speak with were Paragon SC of Conquest Chronicles, Brian Cook of mgoblog, and Spencer Hall of Every Day Should Be Saturday. It was a mutual lovefest, with everyone expressed admiration for everyone else's work. Of our humble blog, Paragon and Brian Cook both said that they were amazed at our community and how any given fanshot can randomly blow up to 400 comments. So kudos to everyone here for the level of involvement that we have.
There were a number of panels, so I'll try and briefly go over the highlights as I remember them for each one.
The Future of Sports Media
iPhones, Facebook, Twitter — they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Join a team of media and sports thought leaders in a discussion of what emerging technology will mean to the sports blogger and fan over the next couple years and beyond.
- Jim DeLorenzo, Octagon
- Richard Ting, VP, Mobile & Emerging Platforms Group, R/GA
- Christopher J. Russo, CEO, Fantasy Sports Ventures
- Kathleen Hessert, President, Sports Media Challenge
Hessert and Ting came off as the stars of this panel, with Hessert's claim to fame (to me, anyway) being that she was the woman who got Shaq started on Twitter. She told a story about how Shaq got his "THE_REAL_SHAQ" handle because there was an imposter Shaq on Twitter sending out tweets that were so realistic that she even reached out to the real Shaq to see if that was him. She went on to say that Shaq is really very unique in how much he's embraced Twitter and other sports media platforms like YouTube and 12seconds to the point that he's become the icon for the new age athlete.
What about other athletes that Hessert's firm represents though? Well, not everyone needs to leverage social media. Guys like Eli and Peyton Manning don't have or want Twitter accounts, because they want to keep whatever privacy they still have. It depends on each athlete's individual personality.
Ting pushed the concept of the digital starfish, which illustrates the different avenues that new media offer in terms of access to athletes. More and more walls between fans and athletes are breaking down, with things like Twitter providing direct access. Ting showed that if you were to stack up the number of people who follow Shaq on Twitter with the daily circulation of every major newspaper, Shaq would be the number three newspaper in the country behind only USA Today and the Wall Street Journal. So when Shaq says he's reporting live from his Shaqberry, he has a larger audience than the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the Boston Globe. That's a little scary.
Someone asked Hessert what she thought about Tony La Russa suing Twitter. Her response? It's sad, but it was inevitable. Twitter's grown far too quickly for the company to keep up with its popularity, and it originally wanted all along to build in some kind of identity verification system. But when your accounts are blowing up by a factor of 400% a week, something like that tends to get pushed to the back burner. It's probably starting to creep up in importance now.
Confirm or Ignore: Leveraging Social Media
Social media has had a profound effect on all media, sports being no exception. In this session, we’ll explore ways that social and creative media tools are being used to connect with audiences like yours.
- Sarah Braesch, BlogHer and Social Media Consultant
- Julia Roy, Undercurrent.com, JuliaRoy.com
- Dan Levy, On the DL Podcast
- Matt Sebek, JoeSportsFan
This was fairly monotonous and I wasn't terribly interested, though this might just be because I and the rest of the Marshawnthusiasts have never really pushed to make a huge deal of money off of the blog and have never gone all-out to try and increase our readership by any means necessary. Maybe we should, maybe we shouldn't, but as a labor of love, we've never thought about pimping every one of our posts on Digg or using TwitPix or any of the other applications discussed here. Julia Roy is pretty god damn cute though.
Hi Mom! Claiming That Earned Media
A link from the right source can be the star-making turn that propels a brand into the stratosphere. Gain a better understanding of what it takes to earn media coverage of your site, blog, or campaign using actual examples from speakers’ experience. And hear the cautionary tales of what can happen when things go wrong.
- Michael Tunison, KissingSuzyKolber.com
- Todd Lippincott, WhoDeyRevolution.com
- Sarah Spain, Mouthpiece Sports
- MODERATOR: Matt Ufford, With Leather.com
I have no idea why Sarah Spain is famous, and I honestly don't care. Tunison's claim to fame is outing himself on KSK while he was working at Washington Post - surprise, surpise, he was let go two days later. And you guys wonder why none of use our real names here.
Lippincott's site is notorious for its message, which is that the Cincinnati Bengals are incompetent and will continue to be until the Brown family hires true outsiders and stops trying to run the show themselves. An admirable message, and their Project Mayhem plots really do seem quite interesting. Might be worth stealing some ideas for the next Big Game down at the Farm, or if anyone wants to launch an assault on Pauley Pavilion.
Ufford is notable to me as the guy who wrote the original Allison Stokke post on WithLeather.com that made her a cult phenomenon. I meant to ask whether he now felt vindicated at all by the fact that she now doesn't mind using her looks to get some more attention, but kept forgetting to during the Q&A sessions. He totally takes this blogging stuff seriously though, and it's been working out for him.
A few tips on getting started? Don't start BCC'ing everyone when you have a new post up. It's impersonal, it's annoying, and no one will want to read your stuff. If you're able to personalize emails to each person to say, hey, I wrote about (x) which ties in your discussion about (y), you'll have more success. (Frankly, if you didn't know that already, you have no business writing anything because you have no idea how to communicate.) How do you handle criticism? Develop thicker skin. There are going to be people out there who don't like you and what you have to say. Learn to deal with it. But do NOT assume that everyone has read everything out there. Don't give the light of day to some obscure rant on a messageboard no one reads blasting your latest well-written post. Why even answer the lunatic fringe? Chances are nothing you say is going to change their mind, and 99% of your audience isn't going to know what the hell you're talking about if you do respond. Ignore it and no one with half a brain will know it even happened.
Making it Big: The Secret of My Success
Everybody wants to go "viral" and be the next internet sensation. But shocking as it may be, it’s not always as simple as hitting submit and sitting back watching the hits roll in. Participate in a discussion of what it takes to appeal to large influencers, with real life examples, and tips on how to take it to the written page.
- A.J. Daulerio, Deadspin
- Matt Ufford, With Leather.com
- Dan Shanoff, DanShanoff.com, Sporting News
- Jimmy Traina, Senior Producer, SI.com
- MODERATOR: Michael Tunison, KissingSuzyKolber.com
Daulerio didn't have quite the presence that you might expect from the guy who runs the most famous blog out there, but he definitely did seem like the coolest guy there. He was probably mentally getting ready for the Deadspin Meetup.
This panel is general wasn't as interesting as you might think given the heavy hitters, but they did get into a discussion about the importance of community and commenters. Ufford came out with his 98-1-1 theory, which is that 98% of your audience doesn't read the comments, 1% does but doesn't comment, and 1% comments. I'm not sure how true that is of our audience here (we'd probably have to have a bigger audience for the number of commenters that we have to only represent 1% of that total audience), but he also said that in the grand scheme of things when you've blown up, commenters aren't that important. Trying to cater to them can and will alienate a large number of the silent majority, so just like responding to an obscure rant on a messageboard no one ever reads, don't assume you need to respond to every comment out there either. Except for those from my main man Palvador. He rocks!
Oh, and Jimmy Traina's the guy who writes Hot Clicks every day. Meaning he basically has carp's dream job.
Power in Numbers: Content Networks
In the beginning, there was blog. Almost immediately thereafter came content networks. Now, nearly decade later, we bring together leaders in content networking, community building and creating other distribution partnerships to discuss what a network or community offers for publishers, advertisers, and consumers of sports media today.
- Pete Vlastelica, CEO, Yardbarker.com
- Jim Bankoff, CEO, SB Nation
- Jarret Myer, Co-Founder, Uproxx Media
- Dan Kelly, CEO Bleacher Report
- Adam Best, FanSided.com, Arrowhead Addict
- MODERATOR: Dan Shanoff, DanShanoff.com, Sporting News
The bigwigs were unanimous in saying that they see online ad revenues increasing both in the short-run and long-run, not necessarily because the economy is going to rebound but because the impact of traditional advertising is starting to wane. Everyone was also unanimous in saying that blogs aren't going to replace traditional media, but serve as a complement.
What kind of complement? Jim Bankoff (hey boss!) says that what we try to develop here at SBNation.com is a bar room kind of atmosphere where you can hang out with similar-minded fans and not get into shouting matches over whose lineman can bench more. Instead, you can argue which wide receiver on the team can bench more. Or argue over your own team's quarterback controversies without getting rudely interrupted and being reminded that both guys suck. But anyway, it's a different atmosphere from the guys who read ESPN.com and SI.com. You want to hang out with fans of the team just like you, because you need that sense of community, especially if you've since moved away and can't follow the team in person.
But what kind of content do these networks want? Above all, they want good content. They want hits, but there's no sense in being edgy just for the sake of controversy. If you are going to be controversial, the first rule is to write well. Bad writing doesn't magically step up in quality because you've talked a controversial subject; furthermore, writing badly about something that people are going to have strong feelings about opens you up to criticism if what you've written isn't up to snuff.
And how about it when we're happy to get shout-outs in mainstream media? It might be time to get over it, and act like you've been there before, even if you haven't. Mainstream media and entertainment companies now see the value in viral marketing, so as happy as we were when we get linked in Ted Miller's Pac-10 blog, often they're just as happy to see something they've written blow up on blogs and become major points of discussion.
Make the Leap, Make it Your Job
Almost everybody dreams of getting that call — joining the big leagues of writers who get paid to blog full-time. Hear first-hand from bloggers who have made sports blogging their job and how they did it, or would do it again.
- Greg Wyshynski, Editor, Yahoo! Sports’ Puck Daddy
- Jason McIntyre, The Big Lead
- John Ness, NBC Local
- Matt Cerrone, metsblog.com
- Spencer Hall, EDSBS
- MODERATOR: Matt Sebek, JoeSportsFan.com
Here were my notes for this segment:
- Spencer Hall - FUCKING HILARIOUS
- Wyshynski - almost as hilarious as Hall
- McIntyre - oddly serious looking
One story from each guy. Hall was asked , how did you know it was time to start blogging full-time? What was the moment when you realized it can be done? His answer was that there have to be a few things to fall into place for you to be a blogger and make a living. The first is that, well, you have to be really really really good at it. The second is, it helps if you're not making a whole lot of money, so you won't feel that hit economically. And third, if you describe to people that your job involves a bunch of baby seals, a huge mallet, and you forcibly bringing the two together, you'll get a lot of encouragement when you tell people, "Hey, you know what? I'm thinking of giving up this whole killing baby seals thing to blog full-time. What do you think?" That'll help.
Wyshynski told a story about being invited to appear on Hockey Night in Canada to offer his view on the Stanley Cup Playoffs along with a few other bloggers. That's pretty much the holy grail of hockey coverage, so he found it a little odd when he was asked along with all of the other bloggers to sit at their desks with little plastic laptops to signify that they are, in fact, bloggers. They then spent the first four and a half minutes of a seven minute segment debating whether information written on blogs should be considered reliable - this after they've already decided to put them on the air and lend them an air of credibility. One hand not knowing what the other is doing, or Canadians being Canadians? You decide.
These are some Canadians that I can support.
As for McIntyre, his story was that starting a blog is tough. How tough? Try earning 103 dollars for the entire month. Things have obviously gotten much better for him since then, but man. 103 dollars? WTF
Show Me the Money
You put in enough hours to call it a full-time job — isn’t it time you got the pay to match? Get the strategies and suggestions to create a financial return on your intellectual investment. Hear directly from advertisers what they look for/avoid when it comes to placing their ads on sportsblogs.
- Pete Vlastelica, CEO, Yardbarker.com
- Nat Berman, Uncoached
- Paul Dalessio, Fleishman Hilliard
- Micah Baldwin, VP of Business Development, Lijit, LearntoDuck.com
As I mentioned before, I and the rest of the CGB'ers have never been in it for the money. I wasn't particularly interested in this, so I went and got some more free Guiness. Go Bears!
Why We Hate You: The Media’s Take
Thanks to the likes of Buzz Bissinger and a host of other mainstream media journalists, the conflict between traditional media and bloggers is well-documented. Get the unvarnished truth about working with (or for!) established mainstream media from the media themselves.
- Jeff Pearlman, Author, SI.com Columnist
- Amy K. Nelson, ESPN
- Dan Steinberg, The Washington Post’s D.C. Sports Bog
- Jeff Pyatt, Real Clear Sports
- Bethlehem Shoals, Free Darko, The Sporting Blog
Mike Hall, NESN
- MODERATOR: Dan Levy, On the DL Podcast
Shoals? Insane. Not to say he didn't have good points, but I feel like he was about to eat Amy Nelson alive.
Pearlman and Nelson did probably the best jobs of offering insight into what it's like as a traditional media member at this point. Pearlman said he thinks it's important that there be at least one source of unbiased sports news - this was in contrast to something Wyshynski had said earlier when he said that all sports coverage is, or should be, inherently biased. What's the fun in not cheering during a game that you grew up a fan of? Sports are entertainment and meant to be enjoyed - you can't treat it the same way that you would an earthquake. But Pearlman's take is that there's enough room for that elsewhere that the mainstream media shouldn't be blasted for offering an objective take. Someone's got to do it, right? You want a biased look, go find a blog. You know, like ours.
The biggest debate the entire day was over the Raul Ibanez thing. Nelson stuck to the belief that because Ibanez didn't have a chance to respond to Jerod Morris' article before it was published, it shouldn't have been written. But wait - who the hell thinks Ibanez would have deigned to look at an article written by a random blogger that he's never heard of? He wouldn't have bothered. This tied into a discussion over the distinction between bloggers and writers. What's the most important part? Access. But it doesn't mean anything if you don't use it, because if you're sitting at home writing about a game but still claiming to have magical insight, you're full of shit. Mike Lupica, we're looking at you.
So then, if we as bloggers don't have access, but shouldn't write anything without clearing it with the subject of our articles first, but we can't clear it, because they won't talk to us, then...well, she never really answered that point. She just said it's important to keep in mind that what you say could hurt someone. Which is valid enough, but is there that much of a distinction between running around Times Square and yelling that Raul Ibanez takes steroids and putting up a blog post saying the same thing? You wouldn't believe the guy running around Times Square, so why is the blogger held to a higher standard? This also was not addressed, but that's how these things go.
All in all, this was a fantastic event and one that I'd readily recommend attending if another one of these is put together in a West Coast location. Among the other things that your intrepid reporter did was chat with Brian Cook about his thoughts on Michigan football (7-5...maybe), basketball (up and coming, but still not making the tournament), and the continued sponsorship of the BlogPoll by CBS Sports. Good stuff. He also encouraged me and Paragon SC to look into producing t-shirts if we want to make some cash, as that's been doing well for him. What do you think?
Paragon SC also told me about a Vegas trip that he and Spencer Hall took in April, which automatically got me thinking about all sorts of Hangover-like hijinks between the two. I should ask if I or the other CGB'ers can go along next time. Just imagine all of us at a blackjack table. Really, do it. I also managed to speak with a Cal alum who works for Yardbarker who offered to get us in touch with Marshawn's PR peeps. We'll try and get a short interview with him, while also pimping the shit out of his Yardbarker blog. One hand washing the other.
And finally, each one of the heavy hitters also mentioned that they would be attending the Blog World Expo to be held October 15-17 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. So if you really want to relive this experience, or you just want an excuse to go to Vegas, that's right in your wheelhouse. I hope to be there, will you?