USA Today is setting sail in sports with a new captain. His name is Morgan.
Beginning Nov. 1, USA Today’s sports content, mobile sports applications and sports social media will be shaped by former Yahoo! executive Dave Morgan, who helped build the Yahoo! search engine and online portal into the No. 1 sports destination in the country.
On Monday, Morgan was named senior vice president and editor-in-chief of USA Today Sports Media Group.
In hiring Morgan, USA Today Sports Media Group gains a charismatic leader. When he left Yahoo!, Morgan was so popular that several top writers changed their Twitter avatar to a photo of Morgan, according to a Mediabistro report.
USA Today Sports Media Group President Tom Beusse made the announcement, and it is — indeed — a big job. USA Sports Media was created by Gannett Co. Inc. in January to shepherd not only the online efforts of the nationwide USA Today newspaper, but 82 daily newspapers, 23 broadcast televisions stations and the stand-alone portals HighSchoolSports.com and BQNT.com.
Statements made in conjunction with the appointment, and Morgan’s pedigree, indicate USA Today Sports Media Group will push in new directions designed to capitalize on the sports social media boom.
Previously, Morgan was executive editor of Yahoo! North American Audience, where he built Yahoo! Sports into the No. 1 online sports destination. Morgan left Yahoo! in May, underscoring the brain drain of executive talent from the company, according to a report in SportsBusiness Daily.
In recent comments to the TEDx Penn Quarter, former AOL Sports head Jimmy Lynn credited Yahoo! for remaining as the No. 1 sports destination by relying on fantasy sports, when it could have easily lost its focus as sports social media broadened.
In addition to a fantasy focus, Morgan has a news background, including setting a website record of 40 million unique visitors for coverage of the Winter Olympic games in Vancouver.
The unanswered question is whether Morgan has enough savvy in the development of mobile applications to drive USA Sports Media toward meaningful content for smartphones, iPhones and iPads, which is considered the wave of the future for sports fans and publishers alike.
Changing “Virtually Everything”
Without a doubt, Morgan will bring change to Gannett’s USA Today Sports Media Group. A former executive at the Los Angeles Times, Morgan told The Associated Press Sports Editors in 2008 the following:
“I was posed this question: what would I do differently if I went back to newspapers now that I have been in the web world?,” Morgan wrote.
Morgan’s appointment comes during turbulent times in sports media. Rival new online media/sports social media properties are enjoying increased success, and seem to have little trouble raising millions in venture capital.
For example, SBNation and bleacher report have gone from start-ups to rank among the top 10 most-trafficked online sports destinations in the last three years. Yahoo! Sports, ESPN, Fox Sports, CBS Sports and others are increasingly hard pressed to stay ahead of newfangled competitors.
Flat out, USA Today Sports Media is an also-ran among competitors, which Morgan will have to shore up to be taken seriously in the brave new world of mobile sports content.
USA Today Sports Media Group’s Beusse said Morgan will take responsibility for fully developing the potential of its sports business, including charting strategy.
Lazarus: A 2nd in Command with Connections
Along with Morgan, USA Today Sports Media Group named Peter Lazarus as senior vice president and head of multimedia sales. Lazarus came from Univision Communications Inc., where he oversaw advertising operations for the Univision, TeleFutura and Galavision networks.
In naming a sales executive in the same announcement as Morgan, Gannett signals that it sees partnership as key to building a sports social media content powerhouse.
Prior to Univision, Lazarus was senior vice president of sales at the sports management agency IMG Sports and Entertainment. It is likely that Lazarus will use his IMG connections to forge alliances between USA Today Sports Media Group and athletes. For example, USA Today could use its newspapers to promote contests that encourage people to follow an athlete’s twitter account, where products the athlete uses are endorsed.
What to Watch
Creation of the Sports Media group in January is consistent with widespread consolidation underway at old-media stalwart Gannett, which is concentrating on shared national services as a means to make money with print newspapers. MobileSportsReport.com will be watching Morgan’s appointment closely to see whether Morgan and Lazarus can marshal the resources necessary to create a broad social media network that captivates national audiences, as well as meaningful corporate-sanctioned applications that allow individual newspapers and television stations to maintain market share in their local communities.
In addition, Morgan and Lazarus will need to re-invigorate a sports staff shaken by years of layoffs and weak dot.com leadership, and identify leaders on local newspaper sports desks ready to step up. In addition, it is likely some Yahoo! sports staffers will be anxious to rejoin their popular former leader at Gannett. With Gannett facing stiffer competition with each passing day, it is safe to say Morgan and Lazarus have their work cut out.