17 March 2010
On the heels of The Basketball Jones entering into a pretty significant/bellweather agreement with The Score, Philly sports blog The 700 Level has now been acquired by Comcast Sportsnet Philadelphia.
Below is Enrico's explanation.
"Today, I'm excited to announce that The700Level.com has entered a new stage in its history. We have officially partnered with Comcast SportsNet and CSNPhilly.com. The700Level.com will retain editorial independence, while tapping into the unique access, technology, and resources of Comcast SportsNet in Philadelphia.
Over the past five years, through two business consulting jobs and a two-year stint in grad school, I've spent the majority of my free time trying to make this site as fun, entertaining, and interesting as possible. Now, it will be my full time job to do so. Perhaps the best part of it all, we get to keep the band together. While I'll be working on the Level full time, Matt, Andrew, and Kulp will continue contributing their same fantastic takes on Philly sports that you've come to expect out of them.
You may be thinking, Why now? Will the site change at all? All fair questions. Through hard work and solid writing, blogs have fought their way into the mainstream media conversation. The700Level.com has enjoyed somewhat of a first-mover advantage in the Philly sports blog space. We've been doing it a long time and I like to think we do it pretty well. But there were maybe two or three other Philly sports blogs in existence when I started. Now there are hundreds. This move allows us to not only differentiate, but to also put my undivided attention and effort into making this site a must visit destination for Philly sports fans."
This is really interesting to many on many different levels. Let's go over some of the many different story-lines that are relevant here.
Established Bloggers in Content Niches are Getting Rewarded
You know how we date time with BC (before Christ). In the blogosphere maybe BT, Before Twitter, should become a demarcation of when blogs were established.
Bloggers who really dug in deep early on such as JE Skeets, Tas Melas, Eamonn Brennan, and now Enrico are getting rewarded with full time positions. In almost all of these cases, the blogger in question has a specific content area (NBA, college basketball, Philly sports), and a built in readership that was attractive to larger media companies.
This is really encouraging as a lot of these guys were working a lot of various writing gigs and other odd jobs and now have settled into a full time job covering their passion. Extremely happy for Enrico who I met a year and a half back and have been in touch with ever since. He's a great guy.
Going forward you have to wonder if some of there more established names in the blogosphere are going to find themselves in competitive situations for full time employment. Up until now places like Fanhouse, Deadspin, Yahoo, and SB Nation have been more dependent on part time contributions, but as media giants like Comcast and ESPN get more involved, that could change.
Mainstream Media Continues Absorption of Key Digital Properties
ESPN bought True Hoop, Fox bought College Football News, PFT was bought out (or partnered with) NBC, AOL has acquired MMA sites, and now you have Comcast buying The 700 Level. What's interesting here is that almost all of these sites were not massive sites or start-ups so to speak, but rather small shops run by a tight nit group of writers. In the cases of True Hoop and PFT, those initiatives have since been expanded with affiliate sites based off the concept site and hub.
While there is a hell of a lot of interesting things going on in sports 2.0, there has been very little M&A activity with the larger sports 2.0 startups like Yardbarker, Bleacher Report, Citizen Sports, and SB Nation. Instead we're seeing a lot of smaller deals for very niche content sites that most likely have much more modest price-tags.
I am sure Enrico can't comment, but its extremely interesting that Comcast bought out the 700 Level. What puts a smile on my face is that Enrico isn't your average sports blogger, but rather a recent MBA grad who held his own and then some in negotiations. The fact they kept editorial independence, he's full time, and the other writers are probably earning at a better level are all big wins for him. With all of that it's anyone's guess how much the site actually sold for. I think given the length of the negotiations this was the major sticking point as Enrico stuck it to the man to a certain degree as he negotiated the sale of his baby including the archives, the url, the brand, etc to Comcast. 6 figures? More? Its hard to know..... but he seems pretty upbeat about it.
Comcast Continues Lusting For Sports
Lets recap their moves into the sports world for a second:
- Rebrands OLN to Versus and acquires rights for NHL, college football, MMA, UFL, and rumblings of other deals in the works
- Buy out numerous regional sports providers or launch new ones.(replacing Fox affiliates in many cases)
- Add programming like Sports Soup and Fanarchy to Versus to try to tap into more viral sports coverage
- Buy NBC Universal with multiple contracts in place spanning Olympics, NBA, NHL, PGA, college football, NFL, and a lot more.
- Lead investor in latest round of SB Nation
That's a pretty impressive track record of movement gravitating towards sports and potentially a clash with ESPN. Now as ESPN looks to get more involved at the local level with their city microsites, it seems Comcast is trotting out an experimental strategy with the 700 Level which gets to my next point.
Localization of Sports
Think about it for a second..... Rather than building a new site and paying a dozen or so tech people, writers, and spending on marketing for a new site like a hypothetical ESPN Detroit, what if you took the Comcast approach and bought a site like Detroit4lyfe or for DC a site like DC Pro Sports Report?
A built in audience who knows how to scrap for traffics versus a 7 figure investment on a new site. Hard to guess what will be a better investment over time. Also keep in mind that other regional sports providers like SNY, NESN, and others are getting involved in the localization of sports as well.
This bodes well for companies like Bloguin and SB Nation as companies begin to realize the importance of local sports coverage to augment national coverage. Having such hyper local coverage also allows you to chase local ad dollar as well, although that's been a very tough nut to crack.
Still though if you think about the advertisers during a ball game or on local sports radio, there is a lot of local and region specific advertising dollars out there that could find itself transitioning to online and its pretty clear that local newspaper and radio sites are not in a good position to harvest that money. If local ad money begins to trickle towards sports blog, you can certainly expect a lot more consolidation in local media similar to The 700 level.
If you can't beat them....buy them
Title says it all. MSM has fallen way short of integrating the culture of blogs into their content ecosystem. Its a culture clash as media execs are still green to this genre of content and social media in general. Its not wise to try to build something from scratch that you have limited expertise in. In many cases, I think buying makes much more sense.
Regional hubs- A chink in SB Nation's armor?
In interviews I have given and on this blog I have said nothing but glowing things about SB Nation and I don't think anyone there can say anything to the contrary. One thing that does stick out is that SB Nation has gone out of its way to not have any sites like The 700 level in their stable of blogs. I know for a fact they haven't been keen on the concept in the past and opted instead to focus mainly on team specific sites.
No harm there but as we see more ESPN, cable providers, and blogs like The 700 Level thrive as regional hub you have to wonder if they made an error in avoiding them. Maybe its already a crowded space to begin with or maybe they'll launch hubs in the future as well. Still its not often you have to second guess something they have done over the years.
written by Tom- Eagles Eye, March 18, 2010