Sunday Sermon: Can Athlete Sites Learn to ‘Feed the Beast’ with Content?

One of the recurring themes we are running into here at Mobile Sports Report is the content startup that wants to bring athletes and fans closer together. It’s a great shared idea, since up-close, personal views, thoughts and slices from top atheletes’ lives are what really drive the new connected fan. More than Twitter, more than Facebook is what these new sites promise. Sounds good and fun.

To me, the real question is not whether some of these sites can get launched, noticed and subscribed to. The big test comes a month or two down the line, after the initial fun and excitement wears off and you wake up to realize you now own a creation that demands constant attention, and new red meat in its bowl each dawn. In the editorial business we call it “feeding the beast.” If you don’t have fresh, new content on a daily basis, readers quickly notice and tune you out. For the athlete sites, I think feeding the beast will become the biggest hurdle to success.

I got to thinking about the Beast when I was talking to the founders of the new athlete/fan site JockTalk last week. Former baseball big leaguer Shawn Green and his entrepreneur partner Brendon Kensel were extremely enthusiastic about their yet-to-launch site, talking about all the ways they were going to use social media and the web to bring athletes and fans closer together, and to bring exposure and excitement to important related activities, like athlete charity efforts. I’ll be excited to see how it all works when the company comes out of beta, hopefully soon.

I was impressed by the lineup of star athletes JockTalk has signed up — but immediately knew that based on the company’s proposed business model where athletes will be compensated based on how much they participate — that the list of very active athletes is probably going to quickly get shorter. The problem with running a content site of any type is that you need good, fresh stuff in a neverending stream. Even for people who write for a living and like to write, it’s hard to wake up every day and be creative. The hunger of the beast is never ending and many times you just give up. That’s why so many blogs or Facebook pages start out with a lot of activity and then one day just stop. Real life intervenes, or work, or family. And that fun content creation stuff falls by the side.

For athlete sites it might not be as stressful generating “news” — fans might be interested in just a report of how long it took a sports star to drive to work, or what they did at their workout. But athletes have two other things working against them becoming great, consistent content creators: the fact that they (probably) already are set financially thanks to their work contracts; and the fact that if they are a star they may spend an inordinate amount of time giving interviews, TV shots, etc., eating up the time that they might be using to create their own content. Who wants to go write about a game when you’ve just spent an hour with reporters dissecting every play? Hard to imagine that happening regularly.

Doing a blog on JockTalk might seem like a lot of fun — at first. Some athletes seem to be a natural at the whole social media-interaction thing, so maybe there will be enough of them to keep the JockTalk arena hopping with conversation. One reason we like the Gridiron Grunts idea so much has to do with its ease of interaction: Since Grunts is right now all voice-based, an athlete just needs to pick up his phone, connect with the app and leave a voice message with his thought of the day, or the week. That’s a good low barrier to entry that should help keep the Gridiron Grunts beast fed.

But without the write-or-starve mentality that drives a lot of professional writers or the true undying passion and lots of idle free time that drives lots of sports fanatics, top athletes at some point really don’t need to become constant content creators, so my guess is that it’s going to be a big challenge to keep them engaged. There is already a developing backlash against athletes (and other celebrities) who use associates or assistants to write their tweets and Facebook posts. The greater Internet audience is actually pretty savvy and can pick these fake efforts up in no time at all. So I don’t think a surrogate strategy will suffice. You’re going to need the stuff from the horse’s mouth. Which is what all these new sites say they will deliver.

I like the idea behind efforts like JockTalk, and hope that it and others like it succeed in bringing fans closer to all the athletes out there, and not just the top stars who are on SportsCenter every night. Certainly the technology and the expansion of always-on access makes it possible in a way that wasn’t available even a few years ago.

But feeding the beast is something that technology hasn’t really yet figured out an easy answer to. Maybe that’s because there is no easy way out, other than to deliver your best effort, either via writing, talking or video clips. For athlete sites to succeed, the beast will need to be fed. It will be interesting to see if this hunger is something the startups understand.


  1. It’s in fact very complex in this active life to listen news on TV, thus I only use world wide web for that reason, and obtain the latest news.

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