If you haven't heard, there's a new intriguing entry to the ever growing sports content space with the recent launch of USA Today's For The Win. What is For The Win and what does the future hold for the evolving USA Today Sports Media Group? Director of Content Development and former Blogfather at Yahoo as well as AOL's Fanhouse, Jamie Mottram was good enough to share some insight into the new venture as well as some about the sports media space in general. Thanks to him for taking the time to answering these questions without the oversight and guidance of any PR suits.
Ben Koo: You’ve been at USA Today for about 9 months. How long has FTW been in development and what did you and your colleagues see in the general sports content space that led you to believe there was room for a new entry?
Jamie Mottram: I came in last August with the idea for FTW, and it was something we knew we wanted to do, but we didn’t break ground on it until 2013. From there it took about three months to brand, design, build, staff, etc.
We knew we wanted to create a sports news site focused on so-called social content and that it should work great across devices, especially phones. Not really revolutionary stuff, but we didn’t see anything else like that out there.
Koo: Any major content site needs to attract three different groups in writers, readers, and advertisers. How does FTW appeal to these three different groups? How is it different than the competition?
Mottram: FTW attracts writers because it isn’t a content factory farm. There’s no quota to fill or post count to hit or search query to match. Each story is intended to delight upon discovery, and to be enjoyable or informative or eye-opening enough to spark someone to pass it on. So we’re making artisanal stuff here, and that appeals to creative people.
Readers are attracted because there’s more or less a universal appeal to everything we publish. You don’t have to be a hockey fan to think hockey beards are awesome, or a football fan to have an opinion on the Jaguars’ new uniform. We try to filter everything that’s happening in and around sports to just the awesome stuff that will resonate with broad swaths of people.
Advertisers like it because it feeds their need to be part of the larger social experience. Sponsors want to get in with content like this and enjoy the viral nature of it as it cascades – along with their message -- across the social web. (Buzzword bingo activated!)
Koo: I’ve heard industry folks refer to the “Mottram Model” of sports blogs as the Y! Sports blog model has been adopted at many media companies. Do you feel that model has become over-saturated? How come USA Today went in this direction opposed to a twist on the Mottram model?
Mottram: I don’t really know what the Mottram Model is but enjoy that it may be a thing. Most big sports outlets do have sport-by-sport blogs now, as Yahoo does, and it seems to be working for them.
USA TODAY Sports saw a bigger and better opportunity with social news, hence FTW. If others start following us into that space, then that’s a very clear indicator of a very good outcome.
I should also say, this is just the first iteration of FTW. We have bigger plans and a grander ambition for it that hasn’t really hinted at yet (until now, I guess).
Koo: I feel like USA Today Sports has been active not only overhauling its editorial vision but also its design, UI, and technology features. Are there specifics for FTW or USA Today as a whole that you’re particularly fond of on that front?
Mottram: The responsive design of FTW is pretty elegant, and it looks and works great on the phone. We’re already seeing something like two-thirds of our traffic coming via mobile, so that couldn’t be more important.
Koo: It seems like an exciting time for you guys. Between yourself, Dave Morgan, Mark Pesavento, Matthew Graham, and Chris Chase, there is a strong backbone of former Yahoo folks. You also have added veterans like Alana Nguyen and Dan Shanoff. In addition there are also quite a lot of open job listings for the USA Today Sports Media group. With all that said just how bullish are you that the USA Today Sports Media group can climb the Comscore rankings and how essemtial will FTW be to that growth?
Mottram: It’s a great team, and there are a number of others in addition to those you mentioned that make it great. I’ll shoutout two by name: USA TODAY Sports managing editor Mary Byrne and FTW editor Mike Foss. The former we call “the best sports editor in America” and the latter is shepherding this new social news team to great heights right out of the gate.
As for comScore, I don’t pay much attention to that, because a lot of it is out of our control, but I think FTW does wonders for broadening our audience and increasing our unique user base.
Koo: There has been a lot churn at Yahoo at the CEO level and within the sports group. Do you think that has negatively affected Yahoo Sports or will it going forward?
Mottram: I don’t know about that, but they seem to be doing well over there.
Koo: One other question about a previous employer. Do you have any thoughts or insight into what the future holds for FanHouse, now that Sporting News who is licensing the brand has entered into a curious partnership with The Perform Group?
Mottram: FanHouse is long gone, as far as I’m concerned, so I no longer correct people for lowercasing the H.
Koo: Yahoo recently partnered with NBC and Bleacher Report is now owned by Turner Networks. Meanwhile the rest of the big players in sports media are mostly network brands and those who are not aligned with a network like SI or Sporting News have seemed to have been outpaced by the competition. Can Gannett/USA Today gain ground without having a television partner?
Mottram: God I hope so. I like the position we’re in, which is to say we’re growing and we aren’t beholden to any big league or TV deal. It allows us to focus on truly serving fans better than some other places do.
Koo: Last year your group purchased Big Lead Sports, which includes The Big Lead and a network of affiliates and other owned and operated properties. How has that move helped or hurt your guys’ efforts? Can we expect more synergy to take root going forward?
Mottram: BLS has a lot of valuable assets, and what they bring to USA TODAY Sports Media Group is breadth and depth of content, diverse audiences and additional revenue. We need to bring it all together more cohesively, though, and that’s a priority for us this year.
Koo: Curious minds want to know. 3 sports media personalities you’re quite fond of and 3 you wish would mull a career change.
Mottram: Three I’m fond of:
1. SB Nation superstar editor Chris Mottram (He’s my brother, you know.)
2. Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic anchor Michael Jenkins (The best sports TV guy in the D.C. market for too long.)
3. Verne Lundquist (I’m kind of infatuated with Verne Lundquist.)
I’d rather not suggest career changes for others, though I wish Shoals and MJD would come back to us.
Koo: You’re very popular with the sports blogging community as a lot of folks got their foot in the door in the industry by working with you. Given we have a lot of bloggers who read our site, what advice do you have for that bright eyed basement dwelling writer who wants to become a national writer/blogger for a mainstream media company?
Mottram: There’s no silver bullet, so try as hard as you can, and it’ll either happen or it won’t.
Koo: Give our readers the elevator pitch as to why FTW deserves to be in their rotation of national sports sites they visit regularly.
Mottram: Use FTW and you’ll know about cool sports stuff before your friends do.