Sports New Media’s ‘Bleacher Report Model’ Might Train Writers — But Still Pays Nothing

Sports New Media is sort of like the tech world’s version of “Jerry Maguire“. It’s a hybrid media management and a technology platform, that works with athletes, sports agents and teams to manage their social media activity, especially on Facebook. But it also has a strong suit in creating content for its many sports clients, much of it on social platforms. Now, you might think it would operate a low-rent, pile ’em high Demand Media model, but it’s now launched something quite different: a way to percolate new sports writers up the chain towards – in theory – a full-blown career. But perhaps controversially, it doesn’t plan to pay a cent for this content. Here’s how it works.

SNM has launched GiveMeSport – a content portal which, underneath, is powered by new sports writings going their their “GiveMeSport Academy”. This is SNM’s new programme to spin up sports content from wannabe sports writers. Set up 5 months ago, it parters with UK Universities and journalism colleges to help train budding sports writers who are into their 2nd and 3rd year of either being in the profession or trying to break into it. Of course, many fans who fancy themselves as sports hacks apply to this programme.

What the writers get is access to information they can blog about, access to some of their sporting heroes and press passes, plus they are published to a large audience on SNM’s platform. SNMs says they get on site training, mentoring, and eventually assignments with FIFA, UEFA and IMG.

But writers are not paid. As the phrase goes, it’s about “getting the clips”. As a writer, I’m personally not keen on this model, but unfortunately it appears to be the way the world is moving, and especially in the world of sport where people are often star-struck enough to simply work for free. Afterall, we are talking about a world where companies are creating algorithms to write news stories.

That said, SNM emphasises that they do try to get the applicant writers to the point where they can show they have published fast, accurate stories on a major platform and thus get a foot in the door of the actual media. Plus, they say, they have given 10 full-time sports writing positions to writers that have done well in their ‘academy’. So it’s clearly an effective hiring strategy as well.

An example might be this post on GiveMeSport: “Wayne Rooney ‘gutted’ to miss Manchester United pre-season tour” (by writer Mark Bollons, who’s profile page doesn’t link to his Twitter account BTW) which was liked on facebook by by 16,599 people.

So, the writer gets to flex their muscles, prove themselves and SNM get’s free content.

You get the drift.

In the GiveMeSport programme over 35,000 users registered their interest, some 10,000+ applied to join and 2,000 were accepted. That’s 2,000 free writers for SportsNewMedia.

CEO Nick Thain likens the model to that of the Bleacher Report which creates and curates content about trending sports and entertainment news and is a heavy user of bloggers in the space. The Bleacher Report was acquired by Turner Broadcasting in August 2012 for an undisclosed sum, reportedly near $200 million. At exit it used around 6,000 bloggers.

However, Thain points out, it took 5yrs for Bleacher to get to that level. H says GiveMeSport is on its way to achieving those levels inside the next year.

Thain says the dividends for both writers and SNM are paying off. Two of their writers (that’s 2 from the 2,000 actually writing) will get World Cup tickets and an all expenses paid trip to cover it. Presumably still for free… Meanwhile, GiveMeSport is hitting 18.2m visits in July up from 7.1m visits in February. It’s now publishing 200+ articles per day.

Thain says this is a “New model for Sports Journalism” where national newspapers will start to pick up their better writers. The jury is out on that of course. Many of the best sports writers cut their teeth via regional newspapers. Technically, there may be a new star on GiveMeSport, of course.

On the other side of the business, SNM’s social platform, Syocial, which works across web, iOS and Android, allows it to manage, moderate, analyse and publish to over 100 million fans across thousands of Facebook pages. At the same time, it picks up clients like Wayne Rooney to manage online directly.

Last year IMG, the global sports, fashion and media company acquired a minority equity stake in SNM (terms were not disclosed).

It’s also landed official relationships with UEFA, Sky Sports and the Football Association, among others, a supplier and manager of sports fan pages.

It remains to be seen whether GiveMeSport will be SNM’s ticket to a much bigger, scalable model. But on the numbers so far it’s looking good. BUt I hope one day they will switch to a model where writers do actually get paid.