MOUNT LAUREL, NEW JERSEY — An increasingly large player in the world of sports fan blogs, the Sports Gab Network has been one of several such news sites in the past couple of years to give many of the traditional online sports news sites a run for their money. The site was founded with just one contributor in 2006, when an NFL blog written from the perspective of a man on the street (and not a man in a press box) was still refreshingly novel. Since then, the site has gone from five hundred visitors in its first month to 600,000 unique visitors a month now according to the site’s own numbers, and the site itself has expanded from a single blog known as NFL Gridiron Gab to seventy-one individual blogs, including one for each NFL team in the league. Some of the sites contributors, both paid and unpaid, have made media appearances or had their work referenced in places as varied as Anderson Cooper 360 and Food & Wine magazine.
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The reason for the success, says co-founder Sujeet Patel, the site’s VP of marketing and business operations, is a consistent focus on the Sports Gab Network’s mission, which is fan-driven journalism. “When we first started, it was ESPN and Sports Illustrated and there wasn’t a ton of man-on-the-street stuff,” says Patel, a resident of Mount Laurel, N.J. “We did what we thought the people wanted, and we just started pulling in some insane amount of traffic.”
The site has been full-time employment for Patel, thirty-six, since 2007, when he quit a job doing Internet marketing for an online ticket broker. Two years later, Matt Loede, Patel’s co-founder and the site’s original contributor and VP of content, quit his day job in radio to work on the site. Now the two contract with about ten paid writers and use another dozen or so unpaid contributors, collectively generating up to fifty posts per day on the company’s network of blogs.
The goal, Patel says, is not only to maintain a fresh stream of new information for diehard fans, but also to cover stories that traditional news outlets wouldn’t ordinarily touch. That said, a widely covered story was one of the site’s first big breaks. In 2007, their NFL blog devoted a number of posts to dogfighting allegations against the quarterback Michael Vick, allegations which eventually sent Vick to federal prison. The dogfighting story had already been reported by a number of news organizations after a raid of Vick’s home in April 2007, but Patel says that Loede’s coverage of the issue—which began with a column a month after the raid—led to the site’s first big jump in traffic. Loede continued to pursue the issue in subsequent posts with a mix of reportage and opinion, and by the end the story landed one contributor on CNN while driving up the number of visitors to Sports Gab to the tune of more than 50,000 a month by the end of 2007, up from a tiny fraction of that a year prior. “It was absolutely chaotic,” Patel says. Traffic has grown exponentially from there to reach its current levels.
The site’s posts are a mix of aggregated content and original analysis, and contributors scour traditional media for news of their team before packaging it with their own spins and opinions. Good writing matters, but so does good editing and clean copy, which is loosely overseen by Loede but mainly left up to the writers themselves. The site finds its writers through a number of methods, but Patel says, “It’s hard to find good people, and it’s hard to keep them.” Patel declined to say how much writers were paid, adding only that he does not pay them per post, but rather on a contractual basis. Loede, thirty-five, was offered a book deal as a result of his work, and Patel says that is another carrot that he uses to attract new talent. “It was a way to show our writers that there’s more to this than what meets the eye,” he says. “Really, in this space, it’s more about the exposure you can get.”
For Patel and Loede, who have made their living off the site for years now, their ambitions for the Sports Gab Network are less about day-to-day survival and, like their writers, more about gaining further exposure. Ad revenues continue to increase. Patel declined to discuss specific revenue figures, but he did say that advertising revenue had risen steadily along with traffic. Patel has experimented with a variety of different ad networks and continues to accept advertisements from a number of them, including Google AdSense, which places national ads on their site. “We’ve bounced around from network to network, but we’ll generally deal with any ad network that pays us,” Patel says. In the future, Patel, who handles the business side of the site, also plans to pursue direct ad sales and sponsorships and has hired an ad salesperson to work on commission brokering those campaigns. For now, though, he says the site has been able to earn a consistent enough revenue off of the ad networks to remain comfortable.
Going forward, Patel says that the site plans to double down further on what he and Loede consider to be their main expertise, which is the NFL. Separate blogs covering individual professional baseball, hockey, basketball and wrestling have not taken off quite like their football coverage has, and Patel suspects that sports like baseball may have already reached a saturation point of coverage anyway. The site’s football coverage had a dubious brush with fame in 2010, when a lurid photo apparently sent by the quarterback Brett Favre began circulating. Jenn Sterger, the woman who Favre was accused of texting the photo to, had previously written for the Sports Gab Network before she worked as a television host for the New York Jets, where she met Favre. “Jenn Sterger did used to write for us,” Patel says. “She was looking for a platform where she wasn’t just a pretty face.”
Sports Gab Network Data
Name: Sports Gab Network
City: Mount Laurel
Principal Staff: Sujeet Patel, co-founder and VP of marketing and business operations; Matt Loede, co-founder and VP of content.
Affiliations: Google News, Google AdSense.
CMS: WordPress - OpenSource (.org)