The rise of the internet fad, such as it is, presents a challenge to the viability of traditional print media. Nowhere in the world of sports media is that clearer than with Sports Illustrated, the onetime king of the written sports word.
SI hasn’t necessarily shied away from the Worldwide Web, but it hasn’t exactly been fleet-footed about it either. Here‘s the earliest archived version of SI.com, courtesy of the Wayback Machine:
That’s how it looked back on January 22, 2003. Not awful, but things didn’t exactly get much better from there. Here‘s April 21, 2009:
These images are a non-scientific way to illustrate that, today, SI.com is not exactly a valuable piece of online property. The numbers show that too:
There’s SI, way down there at the bottom, pulling only 1.4% of the online sports media market. Not great at a time when web property is as important and valuable as ever. Clay Travis tends toward hyperbole, but he’s been as aware of the development of the online sports media world as anyone, and I believe he’s correct when he wrote this about Sports Illustrated:
The alarming thing from a business perspective? If most of these sites lost their portal or major media sponsorships, the majority of traffic would effectively dry up and die overnight.
Which is what you’re seeing at Sports Illustrated as Time Warner moves in the direction of supporting Bleacher Report over SI.com. In fact, SI.com would probably have died as a major site if Peter King had decided to leave earlier this year. In fact, from a purely business perspective, Peter King staying at SI.com made no sense at all. He’s subsidizing the entire site right now. If King had taken his act solo, he would have probably made many more millions of dollars over the next decade. Instead, he took a guaranteed payment from SI.
Basically, Peter King kept SI.com afloat.
He’s talking about The MMQB, longtime NFL writer Peter King’s companion site, named for his Monday Morning Quarterback column, that, structurally, is to SI.com what Bill Simmons’ Grantland is to ESPN.com. King and his team of writers and videographers focus exclusively on the NFL, and while I’ve been critical of some of their driveby coverage of the Atlanta Falcons, in general, the site is very good. Visually, it has an elegant, Google+-inspired design, and the integrated graphics, video, and social media bolster strong textual content.
If the MMQB is your most valuable property, you’d think you’d take care to advertise it properly. At launch, King and SI encountered one hiccup: entering http://www.mmqb.com doesn’t take you to their MMQB. Instead, you land on the homepage of an office furniture industry trade publication:
It’s tough to see (my fault), but that’s a drop for The MMQB in last week’s Calvin Johnson cover story that sends readers to MMQB.com, the furniture site. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised Sports Illustrated occupies the bottom rung of the online sports media ladder.