Sports blogging has always received a bad rap, framed as though all bloggers live (and rarely leave) their parents’ basement. That is no longer the case.
The NHL was the first sports organization to see the value in bloggers, realizing these writers could reach more fans than local newspapers that offered scant coverage usually assigned to inside pages. In Washington, for example, the Post focused far more on the Redskins, Wizards and baseball than on the Capitals. As a result, the Caps credentialed several bloggers early on.
Bloggers are gaining credibility across the sports landscape. Last week, the Dodgers fully credentialed TrueBlueLA, allowing them access to the clubhouse for interviews after games. For the past few years, the site’s primary blogger had been limited to the dugout and field before games and to the press box during games. Charlie Steiner, the Dodgers’ radio play-by-play announcer, supported the blog’s new status last Friday when he spoke at the Summit on Communication and Sport in nearby Peoria, saying this blogger worked professionally, diligently, and ethically.
Most blogs, though, do not report as thoroughly and professionally as either TrueBlueLA, On Frozen Blog, or The PensBlog. Nor are most bloggers passionate enough to work a website full-time. That’s not to say, one should not attempt to create a blog. At college newspapers, for example, sports blogs are essential in providing timely news on campus sports teams. Plus, aspiring sportswriters can learn a great deal by blogging even on a part-time basis.
But, in order, to create a successful fan blog, one needs to spend far more time on the venture, posting frequently and – more than anything – establishing one’s self more as a true fan than as a credible journalist. Those were some of the findings made by Eastern Illinois assistant professor Matt Gill, who presented research on NFL bloggers at the international sports summit in Peoria, Ill., last weekend. More than anything, Gill says, a blogger’s legitimacy is enhanced by revealing passionate, biased posts.
Fan blogs are intended to be more like fan magazines than sports journalism. You can read some at SB Nation, which promotes itself as “unapologetically biased.” These blogs take the fan-interaction typically found at a game or a sports bar and re-create it online during games, where fans comment on numerous threads. By far, game coverage should dwarf other posts and discussions. After all, games are the reason fans follow their respective teams. So make sure you blog before, during and after games, if you want to be considered authentic.
Early on, bloggers for sports fan sites need to reveal a deep connection to their respective team by telling a sincere, convincing story of fanhood, says Gill. After that, fan bloggers need to display that they follow the team as passionately as the most hard-core fans by revealing that they live and die with each play, by fully analyzing match-ups for each game, and by referencing team history. For example, bloggers could cite best players by position, could communicate a team’s defining moments, could relive a team’s peaks and valleys, or could commemorate past heroes.
In addition, a sports fan blogger needs to see the sports world through the a fan’s lens. All life is viewed through the perspective of being that team’s fan – although I’m not sure an fan blog could justify how Kentucky fans reacted this past weekend after the Wildcats defeated Louisville in the NCAA semifinal game, burning couches and cars. Joey Frederick, who joined the revelry in Lexington, said Saturday’s win warranted a party on campus. “We are the best team in America,” he said. “I think houses should burn.”
Bloggers for fan sites also need to identify and communicate the depth of antagonist relationships with other teams, such as those between the Cubs-Cardinals, Yankees-Red Sox, Bears-Packers, Florida-Georgia, and Kentucky-Louisville.
Interestingly, bloggers target the national media, believing the national media hates their team, meaning, essentially, that it’s OK to be biased, so long as one is biased in the proper way.
Finally, Gill says, sports fan bloggers need to convey eccentricity. Did the blogger try to jump a fence to see a major sports event? Or slog through the snow for several miles to watch a playoff football game? Real fans find a way to watch important games. Don’t forget to mention rituals, such as sitting on the right side of the couch when the New York Giants have the football and the left side when the G-men play defense. Readers of fan blogs will empathize.
Sports media constantly changes, expands and evolves faster than anyone can keep pace. Audiences are fragmenting as well, usually reading a variety of sources for sports information – mainstream media sites, fan sites, team sites, Twitter feeds, Facebook. Ultimately, the key is delivering news, offering interesting perspectives, and interacting with readers. But for fan sites, it appears one must also act more like a devoted fan.