Grunts of the Week: Saints WR Nick Toon Talks About Team’s 1st Win

Our second installment of “Grunts of the Week,” video messages from NFL players courtesy of the new Gridiron Grunts app, which lets you hear from pro players via your phone. In the segment above Saints WR Nick Toon gives QB Drew Brees a shout-out after New Orleans’ first victory of the year.

Below, Chicago Bears safety Major Wright talks about having “a lot of juice, a lot of energy” as he heads early to practice, and shows off his Gator gear prior to Florida’s big win over LSU. Download the Gridiron Grunts app for more.

Gridiron Grunts’ ‘Grunts of the Week’ — New Feature for MSR Readers

Welcome to a new feature for MSR readers — a video take from the second-year sports app Gridiron Grunts, which we profiled earlier this year. After starting out last season with voice only, the “grunts” — recorded messages directly from pro athletes’ phones — are now branching out into video, and the great folks who run Gridiron Grunts are going to make some available here for MSR viewers all season long. According to the Grunts web page right now all Grunt content is free, while the company finalizes its pricing scheme for premium “channels” of grunts.

The clip above is a neat compilation video of collected grunts from last week, including a very savvy one by the Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch. Watch this space every week for more Grunts, or better yet download the app and get grunting on your phone.

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.

JockTalk Gets Pub, Plans to Enter Crowded Sports Social Network Field

Since we haven’t yet talked to the folks behind JockTalk it’s hard to surmise exactly how their proposed sports social media network is going to be better than anything out there today. We read some of the stories, we get the basic idea — create a space for athletes and fans to hang out, and monetize on the traffic — but so far we have seen nothing in any of the stories in the media rounds the company has made that sets JockTalk apart from the crowd.

The idea that athletes should find a better place to monetize their social media presence other than just Twitter or Facebook isn’t exactly new. Here at MSR we have been closely tracking three such efforts, including PlayUp (which regularly hosts pro player “hangout” rooms online), Viva Vision and Gridiron Grunts. The leaders of Viva Vision, ex-NFLers Joe Tafoya and Kerry Carter, have been especially vocal about seeking to help individual players build their own online interaction centers, either for profit, charity or exposure. The Viva team is working on a prototype app for Dallas Mavericks star Jason Terry that is comprehensive, with lots of multimedia hooks and commerce opportunities.

And the Gridiron Grunts team, led by ex-NFLers Jeb Terry and Ryan Nece, already have an extensive crew of “grunters” contributing in a unique fashion, by simply calling in their takes on their phones so that fans can listen in a like fashion.

If JockTalk is able to create some kind of top-athlete commons that attracts a lot of traffic, it might be able to grab some space in the market. But from a fan standpoint when it comes to aggregation we like the approach taken by Bleacher Report, which curates the best content from anywhere on the web and presents it segregated by teams, which is how we think most fans still follow sports. So good luck to JockTalk, which we are excited to see. But do note that this game has already started.