A Blog for Baseball Fans Builds a League of Sites
By DANIEL TERDIMAN
Published: April 18, 2005
When Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A's, traded the team's two most popular pitchers last December, fans howled in disgust. A month later, Mr. Beane gave a lengthy interview to Athletics Nation, a Web log devoted to the team, explaining the deals. Afterward, the site's moderator, Tyler Bleszinski, polled his readers, asking if they now approved of Mr. Beane's trades. Fully 93 percent said yes.
Mr. Beane, the central figure in Michael Lewis's 2004 book "Moneyball," had given interviews to the site before. "The reason why I would opt to go do the interviews with them is that it's been a great forum to get the actual message across rather than having it filtered through someone else," Mr. Beane said. "There may be seven newspaper reporters covering one team, and they may be more interested in covering something first than covering something right."
Athletics Nation (www.athleticsnation.com
) is the flagship property of SportsBlogs, a series of sports Web sites that is the brainchild of Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, the founder of the left-leaning political blog Daily Kos (www.dailykos.com)
. Daily Kos, which Mr. Moulitsas began in 2002, has succeeded in part because the site allows readers not only to respond to postings but also to start their own interactive diaries.
After achieving enough success with Kos that he says he is able to live in costly Berkeley, Calif., entirely off its ad revenue, Mr. Moulitsas, 33, began to think about how the structure of the site could easily extend beyond politics.
"I realized that blogs were really effective for partisan audiences. One of them is sports. Sports is huge - where you've got your Red Sox and Yankees situation - and religion is another," said Mr. Moulitsas. "But in religion, people kill each other, so I decided I'd rather stay away from religion."
SportsBlogs is not the first case of an individual trying to branch out into ownership of a series of blogs. Over the last couple of years, Nick Denton has been gradually constructing his Gawker Media network, making waves every few months by starting new blogs tackling issues like New York gossip, pornography, tech gadgets, cars and more.
But Mr. Moulitsas said he thought SportsBlogs was a different kind of blog network.
"There are some parallels" to other blog series, he said. "But none of them are building community. At the end of the day, our company is going to sink or swim on how well we can build community."
In late 2003, Mr. Moulitsas convinced Mr. Bleszinski, who also works in public relations but who had long wanted to write about the A's, to start Athletics Nation to see if a baseball blog modeled on the structure of Daily Kos would click. The site soon attracted an audience of more than 10,000 unique visitors daily. "When I saw how successful Athletics Nation had become, it confirmed that there really was a market out there," Mr. Moulitsas said. "Tyler had no idea he was my guinea pig."
The two men, along with three partners, began scouting for writers they felt could create and maintain respectable sports blogs. Before long, they had recruited 17 writers, each of whom entered into an agreement under which SportsBlogs own the 17 sites but splits the ad revenue.
"Right now, they are all baseball, but we're eager to expand to all the big sports," said Mr. Moulitsas. "We want to do stuff like Nascar, tennis and cycling. But these things don't grow on trees. You have to build them."
Getting SportsBlogs started took an investment of about $20,000, most of which came from Daily Kos profits. And because each new site has low set-up costs, pressure on the writers to reach specific traffic or revenue milestones is minimal.
Still, SportsBlogs sites such as Minor League Ball, Lookout Landing (for Seattle Mariners fans), McCovey Chronicles (San Francisco Giants), Pinstripe Alley (Yankees) and Amazin' Avenue (Mets) are thriving. Minor League Ball, for example, gets about 3,000 unique visitors daily.
According to Mr. Moulitsas, the SportsBlogs sites are currently bringing in just under $3,000 in revenue a month in total. But the sites are only a couple of months old, and he said that no significant revenue was projected until summer.
"The fact that we have any income right now is shocking to me," he said.
And while some newspaper sportswriters might worry that those blog visitors come at their expense, others said that they felt there was nothing to fear.
"I think they're coming at it from a completely different point of view, which I think is great," said Susan Slusser, who writes about the A's for The San Francisco Chronicle. "They've got the fan viewpoint, first and foremost, and they can be slanted, and they can be emotional, which is not what the beat writers are doing."
Of course, some might argue that such blogs are essentially mouthpieces for teams like the A's, but Mr. Bleszinski argues there's nothing wrong with that.
"I'm a fan," he said. "I never claimed to be anything more than a fan. Anybody who comes there to read an unbiased opinion, they're at the wrong site."