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Koo Runnings Volume Two

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A couple weeks backs I mentioned I’d try to give a periodic rundown of industry news. This is the second installment and thanks to friend @roneface, I’ve decided to brand this column “Koo Runnings”. A banner should be added to this column very soon and he should be receiving a Bloguin jacket anyday now for helping come up with the concept. So let’s get going…

Feel the rhythm! Feel the rhyme! Read on up, its Chinese Jew time! Koo RUNNINGS!

- We’ll leadoff with a bit of sad news that Dan Levy and Nick Tarnowski will be ending their podcast in the coming weeks. i’m not a big podcast guy myself but usually took the time to listen to Dan’s (he seemed to largely “own” the show) especially when he had some interesting topics. I thought Dan did a great job balancing sports with industry news and had a style that was engaging and entertaining. Most importantly I found his takes on both sports and industry news to be largely on target from my own thinking.  DL_LOGO-09

Dan cited the need to move on to paying gigs to help support his growing family, a very honorable decision. He didn’t pull any punches in the announcement stating he’s a bit turned off by the lack of interest from a handful of old and new media entities to employ him. The show will be winding down sometime in April and he’s eluded to doing some more venting during the home stretch. I’m definitely looking forward to this.

I have a lot of respect for Dan as well as Nick and hope the advance notice leads to someone stepping up and involving Dan in a prominent role as he’d be an asset almost anywhere. 

- Two bits of news from SB Nation. First they’ve launched newsletters. Probably a smart move but to some degree it seems a bit late in the game given B/R and Yardbarker have been busy on this front for quite awhile. Still though they have a lot of users and its another way to promote member sites.

In another move, they’ve acquired two group of sites. Both are actually groups I know very well, the first being a group of soccer sites that I worked to sign with Yardbarker back in 2008. The other is the FanTake network which is run by Drew Dunlevie who is a great guy and is always quick to pick a tab when we meet up. While FanTake has a couple dozen of sites, only a handful were active and flush with content. 

Barking Carnival and Recruitocosm are the two main assets that will be joining and likely moving over to the SBN platform. I think it’s likely that other premier FanTake talent will move over to either writing for member SBN sites, SBnation.com, or the SBN local sites. Drew and revered college blogger, Paul Wadlington aka Scipio Tex, will both join the company and help the college vertical churn out good content.

Kudos to both those guys and kudos to me for not getting jealous haha.

- Not to air my personal beefs to my audience, but is anyone else having issues with Sportacular? Snapped up by Yahoo, I’ve always counted on the app for scored and game-times, that is until this happened.  

What’s wrong with this picture? The Ohio State Indiana game was not on Saturday 2/26 at 9am but rather Sunday 2/27 at 1pm. Even on Sunday the game still showed a tip-off time on the wrong day. While its just one error, it has completely turned me off the app as it wrecked my weekend. Late on Friday someone inquired about my availability to go out for drinks. I declined citing an early game the following day and being a bit burned out from the week. I also declined an event early on Saturday because it overlapped with the game. Making it worse I committed to something on Sunday when the actual game was being played. Waking up Saturday and trying to find the game for quite awhile definitely left a bitter taste in my mouth (can you tell?). I hate to do the personal venting here, but when your apps main function is scores and schedules, then you really need to have that perfected especially when you have the resources of Yahoo behind you now. “Everybody is working for the weekend”……except when Sportacular ruins it. 

- Sportacular was the main product of Citizen Sports who was acquired by Yahoo. I consulted for their main competitor, Watercooler Sports which is now Kabam, for most of 2009. Kabam has been moving away from sports for quite awhile but still was active in the space up until recently. The company which is now focused on social games (similar to Zynga but aiming to be more robust) has got out of the Facebook March Madness bracket game which was a former emphasis of theirs. They’ve also shuttered their fan communities which used to be core of their former business. You may have actually belonged to some of these communities (remember being asked “do you want to add the _insert team_fans__ app” to your facebook page).

Kabam actually was successful in getting tens of millions of users to join the communities but didn’t find much luck in engaging with their users or monetizing them. With the company churning on other fronts (when I left it was about 30 employees….. its now at 200 and rumored to be heading to over 500 by end of the year), they’ve opted to focus elsewhere which certainly makes sense. It remains to be seen if they’ll keep working with Sports Illustrated to power their fantasy football app on Facebook, so definitely keep an eye out on that front.

 - Speaking of fantasy football, RIP Open Sports. If you’re unfamiliar with them it was founded by Michael Levy, the guy who founded and sold Sportsline.com to CBS. Levy raised over $14 million from his personal network but cited an inability to raise more traditional means of venture capital. Part of it was a timing thing as Open Sports was actively looking for more funding during most of the economic apocalypse of late 2008 and most of 2009. They did partner with Fox and made inroads elsewhere but in the end it wasn’t enough.I had heard that they were having a tough time and recall thinking they were in trouble when they gave an update in Sports Business Journal that basically said “Yeah….we’re raising money and its tough out here”.  With the closure of Fanball, Open Sports, and a host of other smaller fantasy providers, its looking like fantasy sports is just not a niche that a small startup can disrupt the big boys.

- One company that has secured funding is StarStreet, an artificial market for athletes. You buy and sell shares of ownership in players to help build your portfolio’s value. It’s pretty much the exact same concept as One Season and Pro Trade which both failed in addition to Athlete Exchange which seems to be finding some level of success. While the funding is certainly good news, I’m not the only who is skeptical of StarStreet’s chances.

Screen_shot_2011-03-16_at_1.47.18_AM-  On the acquisition front Coveritlive was purchased by Demand Media. Sports bloggers and bloggers of various niches have been very heavy users of the live blogging/chat system. I know their CEO very well and actually predicted this awhile back in some tweet that I am having no luck tracking down. Demand Media had partnered with CoverITLive over a year ago and it seemed like foreplay for an eventual acquisition given Demand Media is flush of cash and CoverItLive never went the traditional bloated VC route and ran their operations very lean and mean. Frankly speaking I think Yahoo and AOL missed a great opportunity to add some heavily used consumer facing technology at a great value price.

- FanHouse and Sporting News is now integrated. Not much here to say other than meh…. I really haven”t heard much positive feedback if any about the new site and integration between the brands.

- Couple of interesting tidbits from the Ohio State digital world. Bucknuts (where I contribute from time to time) has moved to 24/7 sports an upstart looking to compete with Rivals and Scout. In fact its the same team who sold Rivals to Yahoo and they’re actually in the same building as the Rivals team (awkward!). Their betting big on more modern technology as Rivals and especially Scout have really become stale platforms. There has been rumblings that Scout is financially having a tough time and I’d surmise that given the amount of ads you’ll see crammed on their sites, there may be some credence to that rumor. Seriously though 27 ads? If you have IE and dial up that’s literally going to break your computer.

My first impressions of 24/7 is that the technology is good, the features are solid, but I’m not really keen on the design. In other Bucknuts news, one of their more popular writers, Ramzy Nasrallah, has decided to spend most of his time posting on elevenwarriors.com. The move makes sense given Ramzy’s been more of a blogger type opposed to traditional media and it was rumored he had received some push-back in regards to some of his more edgy content. It’s certainly a win for blogs and free content opposed to traditional media and the paid content model.

- I’ve always wanted to know the cumulative amount of page-views that the popular Y! Sports Blogs get on a monthly basis. Recently I scoured up some data that the dozen or so blogs received somewhere around 250-300 million pageviews and had an editorial budget near $2 million. Then Jamie Mottram had to go and post all of these details on a Yahoo corporate blog.

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That’s impressive growth, especially of late. It should be noted that Yahoo has launched other verticals of blogs so it’s hard to tell exactly how much of this traffic is from sports although I’d guess the current % is likely around 70%. All of this success led me to these 2 questions surrounding Mottram and his success at Yahoo.

1) Given AOL butchered FanHouse and Yahoo is rolling now, how much of an impact do you think Mottram has has had on both company’s stocks if any. It’s not hard to imagine FanHouse having this level of success if Mottram would have stayed but on the flip side who knows what Yahoo Sports would be like without his leadership. 

2) What company would suffer the most if Mottram left Yahoo, Bankoff left SB Nation, or Bill Simmons left ESPN. I know it’s easy to say ESPN would be fine, but without Simmons, their ambassador of cool, they lose a lot in regards to their new online venture, podcasts, and things like 30 for 30. What say you?

- Also hot of the press is news that Ken Fuchs will join Yahoo to help manage sports. Who is he and what will he be doing? Read more here

- Finally we’ll close with Bleacher Report. Of late they’ve been seemingly very active on Twitter, industry publications, and sites like mine in beating the drum that content quality is the new focus. I have no doubt that indeed it’s a priority for the company, but unfortunately they’ve suffered a very public setback as an insensitive story about the Japanese Tsunami and Earthquake was published on the site. The company was quick to respond with a statement and donation but the damage was done as the masses who decry the site and have been stymied by the content quality initiative found this as low hanging fruit to pile on the site.

Obviously this was a major setback for Bleacher Report and they were quick to scramble and take responsibility for the mistake. This time around it was not only the content that irked B/R detractors but the fact that someone internally moved the story to the very public and trafficked front page. That realization didn’t sit well with many and I’m sure didn’t go over well internally. In fact, I’d say it was a borderline fire-able offense depending on how the mistake was made and who made it. 

One of the more interesting things is that I believe I saw King Kaufman mention on Twitter that “eliminating the bad” is now part of his job at Bleacher Report. In the past he’s said developing writers was his focus and not the filtering of poor quality content. 

If you look at Bleacher Report at a high level, I think their mission going forward is pretty clear in regards to quality. Take the top 1/3 content producers and increase production from these folks. Pay them, bring in paid writers, whatever.  The middle third probably still has a place on the site, but that tier of content needs to improve and that’s no easy task as improving content is so damn granular. 

The bottom third just needs to be lopped off and I think they’re doing that but that’s hard too because you have to really have a keen eye for content and possess a very diverse knowledge of sports.

Recently, I traveled to meet some folks at a traditional media company. You know the guys who have tv channels with 3 letters. In my meeting they asked to position Bloguin relative to other companies like B/R, Yardbarker, and SB Nation. I followed up with a slide with a quadrant (taken from Gartner’s famous ‘magic quadrant” ) which had a x axis of quantity and scope of content. The more content your company had the further you were to the right. 

On the Y Axis, you had quality. The higher caliber quality your company had the higher up you were on the chart. I think we all know that Bleacher Report is further to the right but lower than SB Nation meaning they have more content but its generally not as good as SB Nation. That said, they’re looking to move upwards and SB Nation is looking to move to the right meaning they’re looking to add more content as i’ve seen them adding sites and secondary contributors, some of them being very young (a characteristic many used to attack to Bleacher Report’s writers). 

What I am getting it as that both companies to some degree are looking to move towards each other. SB Nation wants B/R levels of content but is probably going to walk a fine line in terms of sacrificing quality. B/R on the other hand wants quality but will probably have to sacrifice quantity and scope of coverage if they want to meet their stated goal of improving content.

While the two companies seem to have a lot of friction, in the end they’re trying to get to the same place (on my chart at least) although there are striking differences in models and culture. B/R has a lead in quantity and SBN has the lead in quality. I’ve heard that B/R’s latest valuation was actually a hair higher than SBN’s so it seems that investors prefer quantity over quality at this point in time. However it remains to be seen who will have the saucier exit and with the more prestigious company.  Definitely something that I think all industry folks are keeping an eye and probably have already picked a horse in the race.

If B/R has similar high profile content snafus along the way and is unable to change the perception of their content or even adopt a new content model, they may have a tough time exiting the market. As always, time will tell.

Thanks for stopping by and reading all my drivel. Have a couple things in the works but things are really beginning to heat up for Bloguin. Might not be around for awhile so enjoy the Madness (Go Bucks!) and “peace be the journey” (From Cool Runnings).

Ben Koo

About Ben Koo

Copying and pasting my Twitter bio. I'm also refusing (for now) to write this in the third person. This is me - CEO of @Bloguin, GM at @AwfulAnnouncing, world's greatest chinese jew, proud Buckeye, funny dude, and sports and digital media zealot.

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