Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Taking Their Rightful Place: How Sports Blogs Can Become More Than Heretical New Media

Some sports stars are ahead of the curve. We don’t know their true motives for certain, but they apparently "get it." Three stars, still at the top of their popularity, if not their game (in one instance, not even there yet), are using new media social networking sites to interact with fans and grow their base.

  • Lance Armstrong (Twitter ID: @lancearmstrong) is nearing the end of his athletic career and is rumored to be considering a second career (politics).
  • Shaquille O’Neal, though still effective, is beyond the pinnacle of his career, but still as popular as ever.
  • Natalie Gulbis, the professional golfer and budding superstar, is preparing for her best days as a golfer and general celebrity.

These three aren’t the only professional athletes to use new media to reach fans. Greg Oden, Rajon Rondo, are but two stars who use blogs as their outreach. Many others, including Tiger Woods, use their web sites to connect, albeit in a less interactive manner.

Why Star Athletes Choose New Media

Why do they choose to connect through new media? Because they get it. Regardless of their primary reasons for reaching out, they see the opportunities present in reaching out in this way. Certainly, none of the three will pass up a spot on Leno, or an interview on Sports Center, but they wouldn’t use new media if it wasn’t a valid way to connect.

Sports blogs, large and small, should see themselves on that same cutting edge. Recently, sports blog reporters have made headlines due to the controversy over whether they should garner the same locker room rights as traditional media reporters. They certainly should, but that is not the question, nor the most promising aspect. The real point is that it is a controversy. There is debate, there is discussion, which means that there’s likely validity to the argument.

Going on the Attack

All sports bloggers need to do is assert their position. Now, that doesn’t mean draw up some signs, staple them to a stick, and go on the march somewhere. Sure, there’s a time and place for that, for other causes. Sports blogs need to go on the attack, and attack in two distinct ways: by doing many of the things traditional media often (but not always) do; and many things they do not do.

Newspapers and magazines still hold to high editorial standards. Most place prime importance on accuracy, relevance, timeliness. Sports blogs that seek to gain a following should do the same, and many do; in fact, there are few that do not. Of those that do not, most are personal blogs that have no designs on making inroads toward recognized legitimacy.

Those same traditional media editorial standards require sound, technically correct writing. Good writing needs to be a cornerstone of a top-quality sports blog.

Without revenue, a newspaper will, of course, die. Good writing, accuracy, and relevant reporting will ensure they continue to maintain their financial solvency. A sports blog that wants to remain in business must also seek revenues, which is accomplished through sound and relevant content, which grows an audience, which grows relevance and power. It’s all interrelated.

What traditional media outlets do not do effectively, except in a few online instances, is connect with and listen to their fans. It’s often difficult for large organizations to directly interact with fans, unless their own reporters and columnists are forward-looking and insightful and recognize why it is important. That difficulty is an opportunity for the sports blog. Their relatively small size means they are much more nimble and the means in which they connect with fans and readers, the Internet, is the perfect place for constant, often immediate contact. This doesn’t mean a blog should cater to the whims of a passing reader or group of readers. It means they should hold to their particular mission in life, why they started the blog and what it represents, and simply interact through blog comments, social media, email, IM, whatever is at their disposal.

"Crossroads, Seem to Come and Go, Yeah" (Alman Brothers Band)

Sports blogs are approaching a crossroads: stay where they are or reach a new high level. One good blog, or five, or a hundred won’t get sports blogs as a whole to that level. It needs to be a ground swell. If they, we, are to get make the same impact and achieve the same popularity and as other new media like Twitter, MySpace, and Facebook, and surpass them as legitimate reporting and commentary outlets, something huge needs to happen. As marketing expert Seth Godin would say, a "tribe" must form, and it must go on the offensive.

By the way, follow me on Twitter: @alanlhammond.


  1. Alan,

    I think you really hit on some key points with this post. The amount of people reading traditional media is decreasing, while the amount of people obtaining their news from the Internet is significantly rising.

    Fans are in control now, and that's why it is essential for athletes to reach out to their fans in new mediums. It is why sports blogs can gain momentum right now.

    You mentioned Seth's notion of 'Tribes,' but just as important here is Seth's notion of 'Think Big, Act Small.' Blogs, are typically smaller, more versatile entities and they have the ability to provide fans with the content they want.

    Finally, I'm not sure traditional media has a choice anymore. They have to have brand evangelists 'in the field' communicating with fans, or hire someone capable of either doing it for them or providing them with the tools to do it themselves.

  2. Ryan,

    Thanks! The role of traditional media has certainly changed and, safe to say, they aren't happy with it. The must accept the challenge and discover a way to remain viable.

    As I try to think about the problem from the traditional media perspective, the first idea I come up with leads me toward using the same platforms as bloggers and social media users. That, of course, lends even more legitimacy to new media.

    Thanks again for the comment and thanks for reading.