PATASKALA, OHIO — Jason Priestas was a lonely Ohio State football fan when he moved to Chicago seven years ago with his wife. He was only a six hour drive from Columbus, but he felt like he was living on the opposite end of the globe. So, in August 2006, he did what many tech-savvy fans do: he started a blog. Five years and several million page views later, it has turned into something more than that, a continuously updated guide to the id of Buckeye Nation. It was a slow accumulation of momentum, says Priestas, the site’s founder and editor-in-chief, who still works a white-collar job in software development. “We had some early exposure on Deadspin,” Priestas says, referring in part to a July 2007 post about an eight-year-old football phenom. “But it was really a bunch of little posts adding up.”
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Like most blogs, those posts can vary from quick, one-sentence links to essays that run into the thousands of words. One recent post, an example of the former, made light of Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson’s hacked Twitter account, which was apparently hijacked by a jilted lover. But the posts can also turn more ambitious, like a May 2011 essay about then-head coach Jim Tressel, who was forced to resign after admitting to a number of NCAA violations. That post, which clocks in at nearly 3,000 words, starts with a rumination about the leukemia ward of a children’s hospital. It ended up becoming the site’s most popular post of all time, garnering more than 11,000 “likes” on Facebook. “It’s bittersweet because you have a crisis at your school, but it’s traffic gold,” Priestas says, adding that monthly unique visitor numbers, which ordinarily average around 40,000 according to Quantcast, nearly doubled. “June was our largest month ever.”
Aside from opinion and analytical pieces, Priestas says that the site does plenty of its own reporting, often scooping other, more traditional news outlets. Interviews with incoming recruits are an Eleven Warriors staple, but so is more typical beat writer coverage, like game recaps. Priestas says that while it is routine for Ohio State to invite the site’s writers to press events, game-day passes are harder to come by, though they have received more with each passing year. The university ordinarily restricts media access to its players, but Priestas says that recruits are fairly easy to contact—often through Facebook or Twitter—when they are just outside of the Ohio State’s grasp. “You can get them on both ends of school,” Priestas says.
More than access, however, Priestas says that discipline has helped the site grow readership more than anything else, since users can reliably expect content most every day of the year. “We don’t just write when we want to,” Priestas says. “If we outwork [other blogs], that helps.” Priestas also says that he’s not so worried about missing out on locker room press conferences, primarily because of media overlap. “There are eight other sites that can get video clips and quotes,” he says.
Business-wise, the site relies heavily on direct ads and sponsorships purchased by local businesses, while maintaining a second revenue stream through national ad networks. Priestas declines to reveal revenue numbers, but says that he could have survived on the profits at an earlier stage in life, before he got married. “We’re making enough money to the point that if we were twenty-two [years-old], we could do it,” he says.
Priestas, who remains in Chicago working a full-time job in software development, says that things were not always so profitable. “Our first month on Google AdSense we made $1.14,” he says. Many of the site’s part-time contributors remain unpaid, however, but Priestas says that he considers Eleven Warriors to still be in growth mode. “We actually pour 98 percent of the money back into the business,” he says.
None of the site’s thirteen paid writers or five business staff work full-time, but Priestas says that he can see that changing, possibly as soon as this year. The site has matured enough that its founder says that he would be “shocked” if they didn’t have a full-time beat writer by next year. He envisions hiring a young kid, he says, perhaps just graduated from journalism school; someone as hungry as he was in the beginning.
Eleven Warriors Data
Name: Eleven Warriors
Principal Staff: Jason Priestas, founder and editor-in-chief; Chris Lauderback, senior editor; Alex Gleitman, senior editor; Ramzy Nasrallah, director of business development; Johnny Ginter, senior editor.
Affiliations: Content: Google News, local radio, Football Writers Association of America. Business: Google AdSense
CMS: Drupal, Version 6.x, Custom System.