North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

What is Yahoo! Sports doing that TSN isn’t?

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When the CFL sold the exclusive broadcast rights to TSN in late 2006, it made the network the undisputed leader for Canadian football coverage. After all, they had all the games. What else was anybody going to do?

And for the longest time, nobody else did anything. Sure, both The Score and Sportsnet reported on the CFL, just as they did for the other leagues, but neither really went out of their way. The Score has a NFL show, but left the CFL alone. Sportsnet has a CFL columnist, but that’s about it.

After all, it’s TSN’s game, isn’t it?

Leave it to Yahoo to take up the challenge.

On the fifth of this month, they launched The 55-Yard Line, a CFL-specific blog, their latest move in the sports media landscape and their seventeenth sports blog. It also shows they’re not afraid to take on their competitors and that they, unlike the networks, understand what their websites are capable of.

Their huge array of blogs offer an in-depth look at a variety of sports, from the major leagues to high school. From MMA to soccer. And each blog is run differently then the others: the way Ball Don’t Lie is put together is completely different then Puck Daddy or Dr. Saturday.

Why does that matter? It shows that Yahoo is letting their blogs grow organically and develop their own style, voice and audience – and as obvious as it sounds, it’s the audience that determines if a blog is successful.

Down in the states, ESPN found out that lesson the hard way a few years ago. When the network bought  NBA blog TrueHoop, it immediately boosted their online coverage of the NBA above that of all the major competitors. It came prepacked with a loyal readership and a smart and clever editor in Henry Abbott.

After all, Truehoop was, almost from it’s inception, the premier blog for NBA coverage. Indeed, it was winning awards almost right from it’s start. TrueHoop has since expanded to become the centre of ESPN’s online coverage of the NBA; nearly all the network’s NBA writers now contribute content.

ESPN followed the aquisition of TrueHoop by launching Hashmarks, a NFL blog edited by Matt Mosley. Hashmarks lived for a little while but was eventually reformatted into NFL Nation, a group of blogs devoted to each division. Why did Hashmarks fail while Truehoop thrived?

In a 2008 blog post, Dan Shanoff gave three reasons why: it didn’t fit into the NFL blog atmosphere, Matt Mosley’s inexperience in the blogging medium and – most importantly of all – it didn’t have the same credibility TrueHoop did.

Credibility and an audience are things that take time to establish. A daily blog (any, really) has to have readers a reason to check it every day. In it’s short time, Hashmarks was unable to create that kind of niche for itself. Had ESPN given the blog time to establish itself, it may have worked (their MLB blog, Sweet Spot seems to be doing okay). Maybe not.

Back to Canada. Up here, there’s three all-sports networks: The Score, TSN and Rogers Sportsnet. Each has different levels of web presence. TSN’s is the worst, while The Score has the highest profile. Sportsnet is somewhere in the middle, trending downward.

Aside from some entry-level stuff for it’s SportsCentre anchors, TSN offers two original blogs, but has both buried deep within it’s website. One, Tim Chisholm’s NBA blog, is one of the best reads on the site yet TSN does an awful job of promoting it; it’s rarely featured on the front page and it doesn’t have a RSS feed.

Meanwhile, Sportsnet has more blogs – their website lists 27 of them – but their updates are spurious at best. By my count, at least 16 are inactive. One was only updated once. While they have a web presence, it’s not a very strong one.

Leave it to the smallest network to have the strongest presence on the web.

For a network who airs a lot of poker, harness racing and wrestling, The Score has dominated online, with well-written blogs devoted to soccer, the NBA, the NHL, etc.  It’s not anywhere near as developed as Yahoo’s, but it’s the best of the big three. They even offer original podcasts, something even Yahoo! hasn’t attempted with regularity.

Their biggest move came early last year, when they brought in The Basketball Jones, probably the best sports podcast out there, and combined it with a strong stable of writers to create a great NBA blog. They took something not only credibile, but with a big (and international) audience and spun it off into a valuable web asset.

But it’s interesting to note that at least some of the Jones’ growth came at the hands of Yahoo – when Jones co-host J.E. Skeets-edited Ball Don’t Lie, he linked to the video edition of the podcast every day.

So, what does Yahoo do that TSN doesn’t? Besides offer a stronger web presence, they grab talent from elsewhere on the web and apply it, rather then try and retrain old media people who are coming from the worlds of newspapers or television.

It feels like those two things go a long way: they understand both how to write for the web and how people consume on the web. They realize people will read the blog over the day, not just in one burst. They get that people don’t just read by refreshing the webpage, but use RSS readers or social networks like Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook.

There’s a lesson here. The smaller companies, those who can’t complete with networks owned by the cable or satellite companies have adapted and excelled on the net, levelling the playing field, as it were.

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Written by M.

September 13, 2010 at 8:19 pm

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