Content vs Metrics, Sports Edition

This is a tale of two sports Journalism outfits. The first largely deals in informative if exceedingly tame sports commentary while the other is a follows a template of clickbait and general emptiness which makes it generally worthless, to the point I only knew it existed yesterday. The first one just announced massive layoffs and is going through a "contraction".

The first outfit is Will Leitch's Sports on Earth,  formerly a joint venture between USA Today and Major League Baseball's media arm which is now just a venture of Major League Baseball's media arm, because USA Today's parent company is finally coming around to the idea that USA Today has been dying for most of its history.1 Typical pieces they traffic in include meta-explorations of catastrophic injuries among NBA stars, somewhat lulzy hit pieces in which FIFA corruption is measured using NFL's as a unit, heartwarming stories about Dean Smith's ongoing cognitive decline, and why Mike Matheny, hater of Twitter vaginas,2  seems to only be able to fail upwards given the talent apparatus John Mozeliak has surrounded him with. The typical Sports on Earth post is a bit informative, a bit useful, and occasionally unintentionally lulzy.

The second site is SportsGrid, as site I never knew existed before spotting a link to this bunch of supposing on why Sports on Earth got hit with the downsizing. A quick perusal of sports grid reveals much of their content is lifted Instagram photos, inconsequential drama, clothed tits,3 and clickbait of the form "You won't believe what this Basketball camp is doing for inner city youth". In their view Sports on Earth's downfall is that it trafficked in information instead of such things. Sports Journalism as they describe it in their take down of Sports on Earth:

Here’s another example: We have a policy here at the site when traffic is slow. It’s called “See what Paulina Gretzky is up to.” This is a practice that the site has had for years, since well before I arrived as the Weekend Editor in 2012. Go to Paulina’s Instagram page, grab some photos, make a slideshow. And you know what? It works every time. A massive success.

This has to be the definition of low standards, and it is something anyone can do. By all traffic metrics except Quantcast,4 which Sports Grid uses and Sports on Earth doesn't… Their traffic seems to be comparable. SimilarWeb shows Sports on Earth to be a bit more popular, while Alexa shows the reverse, and both of these numbers are absolutely meaningless.5

The sites both operate on different, nearly opposite business models. A quick look at Sports Grid reveals pages which appear to be covered in the most jarring sort of advertising where "suggested content" blends in with recommended articles from the same source, whether it is actually covered in ads I have trouble discerning thanks to my advertising blind spot. Sports on Earth however conspicuously lacks advertisements. It's game is providing content to Major League Baseball's media arm and USA Today that they can feature, or in the case of USA Today repackage. It's why ESPN has Grantland, a site which is almost entirely read by sports writers and aspiring sports writers. The existence of this thing they sponsor strengthens their brand and their ability for their actual product to monetize. It is a model that is exactly as strong as the people sponsoring it are committed to it. Since USA Today is walking away from Sports on Earth, its future is exactly as strong as Major League Baseball finds its contribution to their brand.

There is more than a small bit of irony in Sports Grid's criticism of Sports on Earth though, as Will Leitch's first online sports journalism outfit was Deadspin.6 Deadspin traffics a bit in tits, ass, and drama like Sports Grid while including a substantial amount of long form reporting which would be perfectly at home on Sports on Earth or Grantland. With Deadspin's nice long reads on subjects like the genius of Dizzy Dean and stunts that end up with things like Comcast airing their version of the Cubs mascot featuring cock and balls the at least make an attempt endearing people to their outlet with clickbait. Since Sports Grid and Deadspin both use Quantcast dragging up the two shows the difference in traffic to be in Deadspin's favor by more than an order of magnitude.7 Then there's the time they bought a baseball Hall of Fame ballot which they turned over to voting for their readers. Deadspin's business model is predicated on being click whores just as much as Sports Grid, except for the part where they are actually better at it and manage to produce some interesting content.

Sites are always rising and falling on the Web though. Alta Vista and Google. Friendster, Myspace, Facebook, and Twitter. Who knows what is going to happen to Sports Journalism on the web, but I'm still going to read more content with information than I'm going to browse multipage galleries lifted off of Instagram.

  1. USA Today has the great misfortune of having been born in 1982 when this Internet thing was already in its formative years. The premise of the thing was being a News Paper with national circulation without any references to New York or places in New York in its name. Its entire market consisted largely of people in hotels and people just passing through town who needed something to read during breakfast, but didn't care for all of the stuff in the local paper of a place they didn't identify with.  

  2. mircea_popescu: "Matheny told two reporters this morning that he spoke privately to Martinez and that he addressed the team again about their actions on social media this morning."
    mircea_popescu: matheny needs to be out of a job.
    mircea_popescu: this sort of irresponsible behaviour on his part is intolerable by a major.
    mircea_popescu: anyway, if i owned the cardinals he'd be fired.

    Because on a long enough timeline every one of the world's evils is discussed in #bitcoin-assets.  

  3. It's like these people don't consider that the internet has actual porn.   

  4. By the way cut the Quantcast thing on here, ended up consulting the numbers never.  

  5. This is also not simply because these numbers are estimates of dubious reliability.  

  6. Largely notable as the readable Gawker Media blog.  

  7. Then again Deadspin is much older, but who really knows what traffic quants think or value?  

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