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Yesterday Darren Rovell tweeted some eye-popping numbers about the traffic generated by Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit magazine and gallery. In particular, Rovell tweeted that SI.com would receive 45 million page views and an additional 7 million video views. After seeing Natalie Gulbis and Alex Morgan in bodypaint, that could be a low estimate. Combined that figure adds up to 52 million page views — video views have higher rates, but we’ll count a video as a page for purposes of our tally here. For the average reader that 52 million number probably doesn’t mean much, but for me it was jaw-dropping.
Because based on working at FanHouse, CBS, and Deadspin — three of the largest sports sites on the Internet — and now running my own site and sifting through our data via Google analytics — data which I share with you guys on a regular basis for instance we do 3-4 million page views a month at OKTC and 600k unique visitors — it’s likely that one day of online swimsuit viewing will have more page views than just about any online sportswriter will from writing columns and articles for an entire year.
Think about this stat for a moment.
The 52 million number provides easy math, math that even I can’t mess up — basically it would require an individual sportswriter to average a million page views a week for an entire year. No vacation, no slacking off, no offseason or summer decline.
How many sportswriters producing original content break that barrier a year?
Maybe three or four in the entire country.
And it could be as few as two.
Thanks to Yahoo’s firehose of traffic and the topical, smart writing of national columnist Dan Wetzel — his Tom Brady piece did over 4 million by itself — and Adrian Wojnarowksi — the most talented sportswriter covering any individual sport today, those two guys lead the Yahoo pack and beat one day of SI swimsuit traffic with an entire year of columns. But Yahoo Sports is the most read sports site on the Internet. And those numbers require a firehose of traffic to get in front of as many eyeballs as possible. (If you aren’t familiar with the firehose terminology, it’s when your article goes up on the front page of a major portal site. Yahoo.com, AOL.com, MSN.com, and Google’s news site all rain down gobs of traffic on the sports stories featured on the front page of a site. Therefore, it’s a firehose of traffic. The same is true of ESPN.com, which effectively acts as its own portal now. Absent a firehose, millions of readers don’t rain down upon most writers).
Peter King at SI, writing the best about the most popular sport in America that has become virtually a year ’round beat might, and I stress might, put up over 52 million page views a year and Bill Simmons at ESPN.com might do it as well. I say might for Simmons because he doesn’t write that often. At three times a week every one of his columns would have to draw over 330k readers. That’s a massive number online and his Facebook and Twitter shares don’t suggest he averages that. (Mike Florio at NBC Sports probably does it too, but he’s more of a hybrid. It’s hard to break up his numbers on original writing versus a quick comment on someone else’s work).
Other than these four sportswriters no one else in the country does it. (I’m basing this on my knowledge of the numbers posted by writers at FanHouse, CBS Sports, and Deadspin — which is the only three of these sites that makes its numbers public.) No writer at any of these three places I’ve worked did it and I’m confident no one is doing it today at any of those places. (Though Gregg Doyel would be the closest to hitting that number at CBS. And if A.J. had posted more dick pics at Deadspin…) If you aren’t at a national site, trust me, you aren’t close. Often, writers have no idea how many readers they actually have because some editors still won’t even share traffic numbers with individual writers. That’s unfortunate because writers can learn a lot from how many people are interested in their columns and stories. That heartwarming piece on the back-up safety at Mississippi State you worked your ass off writing? Yeah, no one actually read it. It’s why editors who have spent years in print media are surprised at how poorly read many of their story ideas are when you can actually break out individual story metrics online.
Think about this for a moment, the most-read online sportswriters in the country writing all year won’t beat a single day of women in bikinis when it comes to page views. (Some of you are probably saying, “And they shouldn’t either, have you seen Natalie Gulbis topless? Her boobs are better than any sentences Joe Posnanski has ever written.”)
Yet, from an advertising perspective, both are reliant on the page view metric.
Does this make any sense?
Okay, so we all looked at the SI pictures, right?
How many of you can name a single advertiser that appeared on those pages?
Chances are, neither can you.
Yet there will be advertisers who are ecstatic about this number of page views they received from the SI swimsuit issue online. (My favorite example of the flaw in page views came when CBSSports.com posted an official apology from the managing editor for the site incorrectly reporting that Joe Paterno had died. And ran ads on the apology page. Someone paid for the apology! And was probably ecstatic over the page views too.)
When I saw these swimsuit numbers and thought about them in context with the written word it hit me, the online sports advertising market is completely broken. (The online advertising market probably is broken too, but I don’t spend much time on non-sports sites.) Every year page views explode — it’s why you see those stupid slideshows everywhere, the 25 biggest free agents, or the 50 worst college scandals, insert inane list here that has a sentence and a picture — yet the quality of the page view continues to diminish. So the quantity is killing the quality. Because the quality page views are getting bumped off in favor of the quantity of crap numbers. The system has been gamed and everyone is losing.
Page views don’t show passion, and they often discourage quality.
Advertisers pay a premium to reach the “Mad Men” audience in television because it’s an exclusive and intelligent audience, why shouldn’t they pay a premium to be associated with top writers and their audiences too? Right now everyone in online sports media is paid as if we’re all writing for the same audience, a knuckle-dragging mouth-breathing idiot that would shame even Alabama football fans.
My point is these page view metrics are crap numbers. You thought baseball had a steroids problem? It’s got nothing on the Internet’s page view problem. Just like steroids page views are a fundamentally broken metric that renders everything about the system valueless.
Want an advertising stat that will blow your mind?
Sports Illustrated charges $392,800 for a full-color full-page ad in SI.
You know why? Because theoretically that’s a quality buy. There are only so many ads that can exist in a print magazine. If you don’t buy it, your competitor might. And if you do buy it, your competitor can’t. It’s a limited quantity.
But online everyone gets tens of millions of ads for a fraction of the cost and the quantity is limitless.
But the quality of these impressions is crap.
Yet from one print ad SI can probably pay its entire online college football staff salaries for a year. Thanks to that quality and limited quantity companies will still drop nearly $400k on SI print ads without expecting any direct tangible return, yet these same companies won’t spend $40k online without expecting a direct return. So media sellers trot out the page views metric. Which is broken. And both the buyer and the seller are upset about it.
Advertisers have to spend their money online, but right now they’re focused on page views and other artificial metrics that make as much sense as firing a gun into the sky and hoping it hits Osama bin Laden.
Is there a better way in online sports writing?
I think so.
And it has very little to do with specific page view numbers.
Let’s take Peter King’s SI column as an example.
Gobs of NFL fans read this column, right? No one would or could dispute this fact.
Every time Peter King mentions Starbucks in his Monday Morning Quarterback column, it’s more valuable than multi-millions of advertising impressions.
Because readers SEE it and it connotes a feeling — Peter King likes Starbucks, maybe I should go buy Starbucks too. I need some caffeine. Does Peter King get paid by Starbucks or a hotel chain like Marriott now? I doubt it. Would it be more effective to embed products he already uses in his column and have the columns brought to you by those products than to sell random ads on his columns?
Individual writers need to be doing individual endorsements that are tailored to their sports. I don’t care if that’s the third rail, it’s a third rail that’s necessary in today’s writing environment. This, by the way, ties in even more with my contention that Twitter is the individual writer’s salvation. I’ll occasionally Tweet out a link to one of my advertisers. Thousands of you will click on that link. That’s more effective in terms of driving traffic to an actual site than 99% of Internet banner ads.
It’s simple, individual endorsements bring tangible results.
If you’re thinking, okay, Peter King is one of the most-read columnists on the Internet, what about the Buffalo Bills beat writer?
Simple, have the Buffalo Bills beat writer’s coverage brought to you by a specific brand. Explicitly. Don’t hide it.
Hell, if I was cobbling content provides together, why can’t General Motors go out and lock up the online auto ads for every NFL beat writer in the country. Have them drive the vehicles all season while they report on the NFL news.
At $100k per team, you could buy the exclusive vehicle beat coverage of every NFL team for $3.2 million — about the cost of a single Super Bowl ad.
If I was an online ad buyer, that would be an infinitely more intelligent way to get my brand in front of a large audience.
Either that, or every writer needs to just put pictures of hot girls at the top of his column and keep expanding the page view numbers.
When I was at Deadspin — one of the Internet’s first holy grails of page views — I remember having this conversation with A.J. Daulerio.
Me: “If you put a hot chick as the image on a story, tens of thousands of more people click on the story. No matter what the story is or whether they read it or not.”
A.J.: “Yeah, but we can’t do that all the time.”
Me: “Why not?”
A.J.: “We just can’t. Even if it works.”
See, even A.J. had his lines he wouldn’t cross.
I suppose somewhere down the road this might decrease overall page views, but I doubt it.
But it’s clear to me that more and more it’s not the quantity of the page view that advertisers should be considering, it’s the quality of the page view. That is, who is reading and where are they reading.
Do any major sites do demographic studies of individual columnists?
I doubt it.
If they did they could pitch individual brands on being associated with individual writers.
Continuing to pretend that what you do isn’t funded by advertisers is a joke. And readers are smart enough to know that too. Pretending otherwise is an insult in the 21st century.
It’s also leading to an escalating page view race that is actually diminishing the overall product in the process.
No one is winning.
And all of sports media is losing.
It’s time for a smarter, more intelligent way to value online sports content.