Today, I'm on a panel at Blogs with Balls 4, the leading sports new media event series in the country. My panel is titled "Beyond the Big 3," but really, the concept of the Big "3" is really a Big 2, with a ton of competition for that third slot in the mind of sports fans, especially affluent and tech-savvy fans.
The NBA's lockout furthers the ascendency in digital media of hockey, soccer, NASCAR, college sports, the UFC, extreme sports, and on and on. Sports fans' appetite for sports content is insatiable, NBA lockout or no NBA lockout.
The contender to the #3 position behind football and baseball, with stats from Google Ad Planner, are strong and growing:
*Hockey: The NHL's website leads the NBA in page views and has 63% more users proportionately among users with HHI of $75K+.
*Soccer: The aggregate uniques and page views of the EPL team and league sites range from 1.5-2x of NBA.com's traffic, adjusted for seasonality.
*NASCAR: NASCAR.com has 35% more page views, 19% more monthly visitors, and 60% higher engagement on-site than NBA.com visitors, along with demos that actually beat NBA.com in users proportionately with HHI of $75K+.
Here's a sample of the topics we're discussing tomorrow on the panel, with my take on each. If you read this beforehand, let me know and I'll defer the remaider of my time to Twittter. The topics are courtesy of the panel disussion, led by Jay Busbee of Yahoo! Sports.
*How do sites catering outside the Big 3 balance appealing to the niche audience (the hardcores) with appealing to casual readers?
*We appeal to the broad audience interested in all our sports in the same way we appeal to fans of the Big 2 — frequent news and opinion, covering our teams and the big trends in our sports. Casual fans of sports outside the Big 2 want the same variety of breadth and depth in coverage, so we instruct our writers to write in both styles based on the importance of the news event.
*What techniques you use to "outflank" writers who cover the Big 3?
*I think the folks at Paul Brown Stadium and the New Sombrero would encourage more reporters and more access, but anyway. Writers for niche sports write like writers for sports with broad appeal. Baseball writers cover the gamut from stories about the day's National Anthem singer to wonky coverage of some OPS/VORP/ETC hybrid. It's the same for writers outside the Big 2 — they want to reach a broad audience, yet still satisfy the dedicated core.
*How have (or have not) sports outside the Big 3 harnessed digital media to broaden their reach?
*The NHL (and MLB) lead the way in progressive approaches to social media and to content syndication. In particular, the folks at Neulion (the NHL's video player) have built the best streaming video player in the business. Throughout the preseason, the NHL and its teams have worked to give fans as much access as possible through online game streams, fan forums, and dedicated social media teams.
A few elite EPL teams have taken the charge online as well, with Manchester United, Man City, and (my bias showing) Liverpool leading the way in getting fans involved. The EPL lacks a centralized site with team "site" templates and standardized technology, however, so the evolution of digital media league-wide is behind the Big 2 and the NHL.
*Specific examples: The Vancouver Canucks' appeal over social media to fans to unite after the Stanley Cup riots; the NJ Devils' blogger headquarters during games; Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis' interaction over his blog TedsTake with fans about the Caps' direction following the season.
*What kinds of stories do you see as having mass appeal beyond your core constituency?
*Good stories will win regardless. Interesting stories will win regardless. In Boston, the Bruins reclaimed Boston as a hockey town because the players worked hard, were genuine, and made the city believe. They brought the Stanley Cup to children's hospitals and nightclubs, and both venues were equally genuine and well-received by fans. Hockey and NASCAR in particular maintain their competitive edge year-round. The Bruins sent away a round of drinks that Ryan Reynolds (a Canucks fan and movie…star?) ordered for them in the offseason. There's no end to their season.
*Do your individual sports (or covering a smaller-scale sport) allow for a faster rise to the top of the journalistic pile than the Big 3?
*The answer to this question is market-based, not sport-based. A new reporter can get to a prominent role quickly by covering minor league baseball, the Nationwide Series, and pro basketball for any team with light blue in its color scheme. I'd advise new reporters to just get started, work hard, build a portfolio, and keep moving up markets. More importantly, focus on becoming a good reporter instead of a wonk — anyone can be a wonk and opine unendingly, but the rigor of reporting is coveted and will make the new reporter stand out.