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The Rise of Mobile And What it Means For Sports Media

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In late February of 2011 we added a specific mobile site for Outkick the Coverage.

I could tell based on social media driving our readership — 60% of our traffic is social now, which is astoundingly large for a site — that many of you were reading on Twitter or Facebook and sharing our stories that way. Intuition, your feedback, and my own experience online told me that lots of our readership was mobile. The rise of mobile dovetailed with the way I consume most of the content I read. I haven’t been to a site front page in over a year. ESPN.com, CBSSports.com, Yahoo Sports, FoxSports.com, I barely have a conception of what any of these pages look like on direct entry. Odds are, many of you are the same way. 

Thirty percent of our overall traffic arrives on the front page, so less than one in three people come to outkickthecoverage.com first.

Personally, I read well over half of the stories I read — probably closer to 60% — on my iPhone. (We also have an iPad in the house, but our iPad registers Outkick as a typical desktop does. So if you’re reading on an iPad you’re probably not counting in our mobile numbers. I don’t read much on the iPad because my five year old is always playing Angry Birds on it and he steals it from me. Clearly, I rule the house with an iron fist.)

In fact, I probably read more actual print stories than I do read stories on a laptop. (I’ve never even owned a desktop computer). Which makes me in a dinosaur in that context. Yes, I still get the New York Times newspaper delivered to my house. Of course I write and do 90% of my Outkick work on a laptop, but I don’t spend much time reading here.

I’ll share more data as our two year anniversary with Outkick approaches next month, but our mobile traffic is up over 200% in 2013 vs. in 2012. (Non-mobile traffic is up 100% as well, but the trajectory of growth is clearly moving towards mobile. FYI, our traffic isn’t growing because we’re writing more stories, you guys are just reading the stories we do publish much more).  

Way back in late February of 2012 when we debuted the mobile site, we immediately saw substantial mobile readership and that readership has continued to grow. In the past thirty days 48% of our readership has been on mobile devices.

That’s a harbinger of a major swing in online media. 

Now, Outkick’s readership is younger, smarter, and wealthier than the demographics that read just about any other online sports media sites. Pat yourselves on the back, you’re a pretty intelligent crew. And you’re all probably very sexy and well-mannered and no one has ever broken up with any of you.

Your moms are right, everyone on earth does really love you. 

It’s remarkable, really.

You’re also the leaders of the Internet herd. 

Everything is moving to mobile. 

(By the way, I’m not trying to pretend that our mobile numbers are an amazing revelation, but I’ve been open with the Outkick data from the start. Many sites guard their data, I put ours out in the open. So I’m just telling you what I’m seeing from an online sports site that has somewhere between 500,000 and a million unique readers a month. If I’m seeing this, chances are my experience isn’t unique, lots of other sites either are or will be facing similar realities).

Sure, lots of y’all will continue to pretend to work while reading Outkick in your offices — quick, change the desktop screen! — but notwithstanding you work shirkers mobile will come to dominate more and more with each passing month. (Interesting aside, during the two week long Christmas-New Year’s overlap I could see for the first time how many of you weren’t at your offices because our mobile traffic skyrocketed. I put up a story that I knew would be popular and no one was reading on desktop on a random work day. I thought Google analytics was down and then switched over to mobile. Everyone was coming in on mobile devices. That was a big moment of truth for me. It’s not a surprise that on the weekends our mobile traffic soars — if I drove my wife crazy and wrote more often on the weekends out of season we’d have already broken through 50% mobile — but it’s always interesting to see how many of you are slackers out of the office. We’ve got our own Outkick NSA here, I can see where you guys are and I know what you’re doing). 

This can impact how I write for the site.

For instance, In a couple of weeks July 5th is a Friday. 

I already know that none of you will be working that day. If none of you are working, I don’t get the double shot of desktop and mobile readership. So what do I do with the mailbag? Do I put it up on Wednesday before July 4th because there might be more readers then? I don’t even think that makes sense because you guys will be taking that day off too. Nope, I’ll probably put it up on Friday, the day after the fourth, and lots of you will read it from your boats or your 4th of July picnics because you need a break from your families.

Now, this presents a really interesting question that many much larger sites and companies are already grappling with and some of you probably are asking.

Why should I care whether readers come in via desktop computers or mobile devices?

The answer is simple, because the money changes a great deal.  

Put succintly, how do you monetize mobile?

So far it’s much harder to monetize mobile.

For instance, on a simple level at OKTC, we have just one ad on our mobile site vs. two ads on our desktop site. So a mobile reader is worth half as much to me as a desktop reader. People are less likely to click on mobile ads too. Do they notice them less? That’s a good question too. By and large mobile ads cost less than traditional ads so right now the market is valuing them less than it does a desktop ad.

The market isn’t always right in the short term, but right now the market is telling us that mobile ads are less valuable. 

So we’ve traded print ad dollars for desktop quarters for mobile nickels.

That seems pretty ominous for online writers, right?

What’s more, mobile visitors stay on sites for shorter periods of time. My thesis on this is that desktop users are more likely to be killing time at work and time really isn’t of the essence when they start articles or visit sites. Whereas mobile users have shorter attention spans and their time restraints are more significant. As a simple illustration, how often do you find yourself checking your phone while standing in line? Often, right? Phones are our time killers now, we use them pretty much any time we have a spare minute or two. But how often do you click on a story and then not finish it because you reach the front of the line. Or the movie starts. Or the light changes. Or any number of other distractions that can take you away from the time you would have spent on a story on a desktop. 

The challenges of monetizing mobile help explain why everyone is diving into online video now, because the ad dollars are so much better with online video than they are with banner or mobile ads.

But you have to make sure that your online videos play well in mobile. And with the coming evolution in mobile readership you have to also make sure that people are willing to watch those videos that you’re producing on mobile devices.

Does your average sports fan want to watch anything other than actual games or highlights on his mobile phone? 

I don’t know. 

I’d love to see what the streaming numbers are for a show like Pardon the Interruption on ESPN. 

My guess is it’s infinitesimally small. That’s not a knock on PTI — a show I happen to love — it’s just a sign that mobile users don’t really care that much about sports videos featuring non-sports.  

My hypothesis could be wrong, but I doubt it.

I’m convinced the vast majority of mobile video is people watching something they would otherwise watch on their television, but they don’t have access to their television right now.

So actual sports may be fine.

But sports shows that aren’t sports?

I’m not so sure about that.  

So what’s the answer as everything moves to mobile? 

I don’t know.

No one does. 

In the meantime, if sites like Outkick are the canaries in the Internet coal mine — and we are — eventually most large sites will have over half their traffic from mobile devices too.

How high will that mobile percentage climb across the Internet?

Using our rate of growth, by next year we could easily be 60% mobile. The year after, 70%. Assuming that we’re a couple of years ahead of the sports media Internet curve, where does that mobile climb tap out?

And how sustainable are current business models with 70% mobile usership? 

Of course, part of me thinks this generation of mobile devices is just a holding point for five years from now. With the rise of Google Glass and the wearable Internet, will phones themselves that you actually have to carry be antiquated devices by the time my five and two year old kids are old enough to start clamoring for their own iPhones?

Perhaps. 

A wearable Internet offers the potential for a more advanced advertising experience, which could help to regain the primacy of writers and unique content producers. Wearable Internet ads might provide advertising revenue that starts to return to some of the halcyon days of print.

But so far all advances have meant the opposite, less money for individual ads.  

Which is why, ultimately, my advice to anyone trying to make a living writing in sports media today is simple and streamlined to three prongs: 1. be smart 2. be original 3. be funny. 

Basically, you have to entertain.

If you can do all three, you’ll thrive. If you can’t do any of the three, you have no future in the business, mobile or otherwise.

Because based on Outkick’s traffic, the mobile revolution is here, and it could change everything.  

Written by Clay Travis

OutKick founder, host and author. He's presently banned from appearing on both CNN and ESPN because he’s too honest for both.

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