In the wake of ESPN shutting down Grantland last week, there was an enlightening exchange this week between Clay Travis of Fox Sports and Bleacher Report co-founder Dave Finocchio about the state of sports media.
Travis, who was a lawyer before becoming a sportswriter, blogger and radio host, writes in his piece, On Grantland and Sports Media, that most of the analysis of Grantland’s demise has missed an important point: “the site was losing money.” He points out that the reported $6 million in annual revenue Grantland produced was less than sports-talk radio stations WJOX in Birmingham or 104.5 The Zone in Nashville, which, Travis writes, are both profitable.
When two single sports talk stations in mid-size markets produce more revenue and profit than a site like Grantland, located on the front page of ESPN.com, there are larger issues at play than Bill Simmons and editorial differences and lost jobs for the writers. Put simply, Grantland failed because it lost money and ESPN decided that the benefit Grantland brought to its brand wasn’t worth the cost it extracted.
Travis then launches on a sort of history of disruption in sports media, finally offering 10 “thoughts” for people hoping to make a living in the industry. The first of them is “Writers have to understand the business of writing.” He compares sportswriters to the scouts in the movie “Moneyball”:
Just like those baseball scouts for the Oakland A’s, most sportswriters are operating with an antiquated notion of what their job is, and they have no concept how to use the tools around them to make them better at their job.
At one point in the piece, Travis had mentioned Bleacher Report and SB Nation, calling them technology companies that treat writers like commodities and don’t pay them much. Finocchio, one of four friends who founded B/R, wrote him an email arguing that Bleacher Report is “very much a content company, not a product company, not a technology company.” Travis asked for and got permission to publish Finocchio’s note.
Finocchio goes on to talk about his view of the sports media landscape, focusing on how changes on the distribution end—from Google News driving traffic to Facebook doing so, for example—have affected content strategy.
Distribution disruption has now settled, and we’re swinging toward a period where the publishers with the most valuable content/brands are going to separate themselves from the pack. Cable is crumbling and distribution is getting more and more fragmented with no clear end in sight. Many traditional TV brands (like their newspaper brethren) ten years ago, are going to die, and they’re being replaced by the digital native brands that create the most valuable content. The talent (whether writers, video, audio, mixed media, other) are going to kick ass if they can actually deliver the goods. But lots of people are good. You have to be great (at something, anything).
Both pieces are long, and both are worth reading. They’re written by two men who have been successful in the rapidly changing media landscape. In both of their stories, the losers are the people who didn’t understand what was happening around them.