On these leading sites, professional sportswriters update fans on the latest news in baseball, football, basketball, hockey, tennis, and all the other sports. Sportswriters interview players and owners in clubhouses and offer the inside scoop on what the Cowboys, Celtics, Lakers, Yankees, and Boston Bruins are doing.
But there’s another site gaining momentum that doesn’t use professional sportswriters: Bleacher Report (http://bleacherreport.com/). Launched in 2006 in San Francisco by three sports enthusiasts, Bryan Goldberg, David Pinocchio, and David Needs, who were between 27 and 28 years old respectively, Bleacher Report relies on citizen journalists, more commonly known as fans.
Bleacher Report’s home page highlights the top pro sports that fans follow. It’s organized into the National Football League, College Football, Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League, Soccer, Tennis, Golf, Professional Wrestling, and a section called Swagger, which covers the most appealing women in sports and dating in sports.
The site’s video section includes a lively mix of questions and answers with stars such as leading NFL runner Adrian Petersen and forecasts from experts on who will win upcoming major sporting events.
Its final section, More, zeroes in on the lesser-followed sports, including poker, fishing, women’s college basketball, horse racing, cycling, humor, and sports and society. Sports and society includes a mix of articles such as “Five Biopics that Need to be Made” and “Do Referees Have a Hometown Bias?”
While journalists on both Sports Illustrated’s and ESPN’s sites interview players, managers, and owners, Bleacher Report’s team of sportswriters are amateurs who write their stories from a distance, not the clubhouse where athletes dress for a game.
But that doesn’t mean their stories aren’t lively, thoughtful, or inventive. Without access to interviewing athletes, however, they resort mostly to opinion and predictions.
Bleacher Report specializes in a subjective take on topics that the more traditional sports sites don’t cover. There’s no need to summarize what the Red Sox, Giants, or Yankees did last night since the local paper and newscast provide that.
Ironically, when Bleacher Report wants to report a news story, it republishes stories from other sites such as ESPN. When Dwight Howard, the star forward of the Orlando Magic in basketball, demanded a trade, Bleacher Report reprinted the ESPN story that interviewed Howard.
Bleacher Reports revels in employing non-professionals journalists, rather than trying to downplay that fact. Its website says that it establishes an “outlet for writers whose unique voices were routinely drowned out by cookie-cutter analysts and celebrity experts.”
Instead, it creates a “localized network for readers whose favorite teams were routinely under-covered by national wire services and mainstream news corporations.”
As local newspapers downsized because of declining revenue from shrinking classified ads lost to Craigslist, newspapers cut back on their sports sections. Bleacher Reports fill the gap by using local writers who may not travel with the team, but can follow the team on cable networks, use the Internet, and write articles.
Most of its articles revolve around gossip, rumors, trades, and what might happen in sports as opposed to what actually did happen. For example, some of Bleacher Report’s most well read articles include trade speculation in football and baseball, a mock draft of rookies that football teams will draft, and playoff predictions. Since none of these events has happened, its writers could speculate just like the ESPN or Sports Illustrated writers do.
But Bleacher Report can exaggerate. For example, it says it attracts 20 million unique visitors monthly according to Comscore, which operates like Nielsen and rates Internet traffic. But Andrew Lipsman, a spokesperson for Comscore, says that its November 2011 figures show that Bleacher Report attracted 9 million unique visitors. Lipsman says Bleacher Report may have used a different way to gauge unique visitors, which can inflate readership. That would be like Saturday Night Live offering its ratings using outdated data from its highest ratings in the 1980’s when Belushi and Ackroyd performed.
One example of a Bleacher Report baseball story was Matt Trueblood’s “10 Biggest Traitors in MLB History.” He pinpoints the Benedict Arnolds of baseball, the stars who left their team to sign with arch rivals. For example, he mentions Roger Clemens who left the Boston Red Sox and eventually signed with the dreaded New York Yankees, Tug McGraw, who moved from the New York Mets to the Philadelphia Phillies, and Johnny Damon, who was another Red Sox-to-Yankee convert.
Was there anything newsworthy in Trueblood’s story? No. Most baseball enthusiasts know that Clemens signed with the Yankees after the Red Sox, so what was the point exactly? The story had a catchy headline, emphasized a Top 10 list a la David Letterman’s little routine, and was packaged to appeal to true fans who wanted to read about their favorite or least-favorite players who spurned their original teams.
In a certain way, Bleacher Report offers an alternative to sports sites that emphasize news. This site appeals to true fans, the kind of people who get emotionally involved with their teams--depressed when they lose and elated when they win, and talk about how “we” did last night as if they were a part of their team and not just passive observers. In fact, Bleacher Report offers targeted newsletters that specialize in specific teams, so fans of the Orioles, Eagles, or Kings can obtain the latest updates about them.
Only the true hockey fan will read the article on “18 Hideous Hockey Uniforms.” It wouldn’t appeal to the masses. Then again, some fans love to read about how the logo on an old New York Islanders uniform looked like the fisherman on the Gorton’s fish sticks package. The Islanders put that uniform to rest.
Gary M. Stern is a freelance writer based in New York City.