Links: Dollars And Sense

by Lang Whitaker

Our man Rod Benson blogged on Yahoo!!!!!! yesterday, wondering if his blog was perhaps making NBA teams reluctant to sign him.

It’s an interesting conundrum. Rod’s blog is great exposure for him (who’d heard of Rod Benson a year ago?), promoting his name in front of not only readers and hoops fans but also scouts and GMs and coaches.

At the same time, I understand his concerns. Recently I was in an NBA locker room, talking with an NBA journeyman who I’d never met before but who was very entertaining and a great storyteller. I was sitting there in a locker room with him, listening to his hilarious stories about life playing in the NBA, and I told him he should write a blog (on SLAMonline, of course).

He didn’t even have to think about it. “No way,” he said. “Never. Sorry.”

When I asked why he was so dismissive of the idea, he said, basically, that his position in the NBA was too tenuous to risk alienating any GMs or owners who might be interested in handing him $1 million to sit on a bench for nine months.

And I get that. NBA bench players get paid an exorbitant amount of money to do very little work, and if you have the opportunity to be one of those lucky few, then maybe it’s worth internalizing your thoughts until you retire and, in the meantime, making serious bank. Paul Shirley blogged about his pro career for, and he publicly wondered if blogging was keeping him from finding an NBA job.

But to me, this seems like an unbelievably short-sided stance to take by NBA teams. Let’s say you’re a GM or owner of a team. (For our purposes, let’s use the Miami Heat, who apparently have no big men on their roster.)

You’ve got to sign at least a dozen players, plus you can carry a three-man group of inactive guys. So wouldn’t it make sense to use that 12th spot on a guy like Rod Benson? You pay him the minimum, and tell him if he wants to keep blogging that’s fine, but he has to do it on from now on. That way the owner not only gets added value from his player (in terms of online hits and web ad sales), but the owner also has the security of knowing that his web staff has the final say on what runs or doesn’t run, and they can essentially act as a filter and make sure the guy doesn’t say anything that will generate distrust. Or, worst case scenario, you let Rod keep his blog on Yahoo!!!!!!, with the caveat that he can’t post anything without your approval. Seems like a fair deal for both Rod and the team, which will get a ton of essentially free publicity.

What’s the downside there? None that I can see, and yet NBA teams are still slow to react and take advantage.

In this way, sports franchises remind me of the newspaper industry. Earlier today, sports columnist Jay Mariotti announced he was leaving the Chicago Sun-Times because sports journalism has become “entirely a Web site business.” According to The Big Lead, Mariotti also said, “Yahoo got something like 30 million hits during the Olympics. These places are for real. They’re legit. It’s just something we’re all going to have to come to grips with. Our fathers may read a newspaper over coffee, but I don’t know anyone under 40 who is picking up a newspaper and reading it.”

For those of you who don’t follow (or care) about such things, the newspaper industry is going through a tough time right now, causing much hand wringing on message boards. Overall sales are down, readership is down, ad sales are down, and papers are laying people off and offering buyouts left and right.

So if you’re a newspaper, and you already have this conduit in place to deliver content to readers, why wouldn’t you go out and hire a blogger who has already demonstrated an ability to not only develop and maintain a readership, but also write about a team in such a way that they become destination reading? As Ben asked me earlier today in the office, Shouldn’t every newspaper have the most popular blog for every team in their area?

Why don’t people under 40 don’t want to pick up a newspaper and read it? It’s pretty simple, actually: Because there’s nothing in there they want to pay to read!! Not only is the internet free, but the writing is usually far more relevant to that “under 40” audience.

I read the Atlanta Journal-Constitution online every day. They have two writers (my man Sekou Smith and David O’Brien) who, for years now, have each filed terrific blogs, usually daily, filled with behind the scenes info that usually doesn’t make it into the newspaper. Their blogs give me, a person who cares passionately about the teams they cover (the Hawks and Braves) a reason not only to visit a few times every day, but also, in turn, make me believe that if I buy the print edition of the AJC, I will get even more quality writing and information about these teams.

Still, I can think of plenty of other teams/cities where beat writers might carry the day-to-day weight of reporting on a team, but it’s still fallen mostly to internet writers to make it fun to follow that team and, more importantly, create some sort of dialogue between the readers and writer about that team.

This is something we deal with here at SLAM, also. We just finished SLAM issue 122 about an hour ago, but it’s going to be about a month before you see the finished product. Which is why exists, to not only build brand loyalty but to also keep the conversation going in between issues of SLAM.

The media landscape — specifically the sports media landscape — has undergone a drastic change over the last few years. As with all things in commerce, either you keep up or you fall behind.

In the meantime, Rod Benson just signed with the best team in France. And with him will go several million eyeballs. It’s the NBA’s loss, in more ways than one.