Boxes of Ziti and a Chinese Hardware Store: How I Did Gambling on Sports

There’s an episode of The Sopranos called “The Happy Wanderer” where mob boss Tony Soprano’s daughter’s friend’s father (follow that?) wants in on Tony’s high-stakes executive poker game. A game that Frank Sinatra’s nephew flies in from Vegas to play. The guy, David Scatino, is a respected local businessman, but he has a gambling problem. Tony knows that, so he warns his nephew Christopher not to let Scatino play too far past his limits because Scatino is already in debt. After Tony falls asleep on the couch, Scatino keeps buying back in each time for $10,000 — everyone calls it “10 boxes of ziti” — and Christopher doesn’t stop him. Spoiler alert: Scatino loses a bunch and Tony finds out he already owes multiple boxes of ziti to other area mobsters. Tony & Co. … lean on the guy. I won’t elaborate further than saying it isn’t pleasant for Scatino.

I think my mom envisioned me as Scatino when I told her I started gambling.

I came home in early September from school for my cousin’s wedding and whenever it was mentioned, she stiffened a little and told me once our initial deposit eventually (inevitably) ran out that I should stop. She worried I’d develop into a degenerate gambler. I had gone to my first race track two months prior and lost a little bit of money there, about 30 bucks. I didn’t know horses. I didn’t even know how to read the big book they gave out. I barely understood the terms “box” and “trifecta” then; I don’t really now. (As I type this, I realize how stupid I must seem here.)

… Maybe her fears were justified.

But I really wanted to try something out. I’d spent the summer in New York City without a sustainable income and emerging from that desert to see the mirage of my bank account was disheartening. I’d talked to an uncle who liked to play the stock market and had been reasonably successful. He played conservative. Not getting rich, but his money was making baby money. That appealed to me.

I tried to convince my mother (and myself) that what I was doing wasn’t like the race track.

First, I decided I wouldn’t play the stock market or horses or cards. I didn’t know enough about any of those things to be comfortable risking money. I decided on sports (more on this later). Second, I went into with a partner. My roommate Alex felt similarly about wanting to make a little side money, knew about sports and played a rational foil to my sometimes-overly-optimistic ideas. Third, we researched betting sites and read 20-plus reviews to find the most reliable and user-friendly site. (Our decision to forgo Daily Fantasy Sports like Fan Duel and Draft Kings ended up paying off later when it was found employees of those sites cheated users.) Fourth, we put a hard cap on spending. The site we chose,, offered a 50 percent registering bonus for the beginning of the NFL season. Alex and I mutually invested, splitting a $50 buy-in. Bovada chipped in a $25 credit. We decided that if — no, when — we lost that $75, then we’d stop. Fifth, another reason why I wouldn’t end up like Scatino: No mob involvement.

The way I rationalized it: This was a relatively low sum of money, it’d be fun, I’d learn about gambling and, if we won, I’d have a little bit of money. (Also in the back of my mind: There’s an article here whether we win or lose.)

Our first weekend, we bet conservatively in five-dollar increments across five football spreads. We stuck to point spreads and over/unders for college football and NFL games, preferring those to risking it with the volatility of a regular season baseball game. We won three of five that first weekend, making four dollars and change. Joey and Kyle, our other two roommates, laughed at us for stressing about bets which inevitably yielded such small returns.

A bit of foreshadowing: Six days after I registered for allegedly-trustworthy Bovada, my credit card statements showed a purchase of $100 in supplies from a hardware store in a small, northern Chinese province.

Things went really well. We started winning more, betting in higher increments on fewer games. The confidence rose; we researched more, trying to find the lucrative lines. I downloaded a podcast called “Behind the Bets.” One weekend, we went 5-for-5. I even got the $100 refunded (shout-out TD Bank).

In four weeks, we doubled our initial deposit.

I felt like this (except that first scene; Alex and I are just roommates):

But you know where this is going. The fall-from-grace narrative is nearly as cliche as dorky-dude-gets-girl.

It started slowly. We miscommunicated, bet the wrong side of the USC-Stanford spread. We lost a little bit, and it was particularly frustrating because I had learned a small advantage from the podcast. But no worries, right? We were still in it, and still confident.

To compensate, we tried a parlay for the first time, meaning we’d need to get two bets correct to cash in. The higher risk offered a higher reward. While we were placing the bet, Bovada seemed to freeze for a second, so we double-clicked “Place bets” again. The site registered both clicks and suddenly 40 percent of our assets were on the line for one bet.

We won the first game of the parlay, but didn’t come close on the second. The first domino.

And then I realized something. The reason I didn’t bet on horses, cards or stock is that I knew I knew nothing.  I thought this made me better than other gamblers, my awareness of what I did and did not know. While I thought I was playing to my strengths I really just set myself up with faux-confidence. “I don’t just know the roster of my hometown team,” I rationalized. “I pay close attention to the four major sports. I read and watch a lot more than regular fans. I can be successful.”

My biggest mistake was thinking I knew anything at all.

It took about six weeks, with small and sporadic wins, but we ran our account down to nothing. It’s been eight weeks. I hadn’t opened up the Bovada account since then until today to write this story.

When I came home for Thanksgiving, my dad asked how the “wagering” was going (he was always nice about it in that way), and I told him.

Cue my mom, sideways look.

“So,” she said. Lengthy pause. “Have you put any more money in?”

I laughed it off. No, I was not fulfilling her prophecy of becoming David Scatino. If anything, I had realized that by thinking I was any cleverer than anyone else, I had proven just the opposite.

When I logged on to Bovada today, I saw something. With our last bet, we had apparently triggered some sort of bonus. We’d surpassed a spending threshold. Bovada comp’d us $10.

That’s a box of ziti to me.

Sam Fortier is a displaced New Englander living in New York. He likes baseball, crunchy peanut butter and the sound Kanye makes in his songs, which he thinks is spelled “HAAH.” He’s not a fan of grammatical error’s. You can read him here every Monday, follow him on Twitter @Sam4TR, or email him at 


An interview with Chris Hercik, Sports Illustrated’s Creative Director

As a class project, I was assigned to learn about the magazine industry and all its facets (editorial, advertising, creative) by profiling one national magazine. A subscriber since 2004, I picked SI. Here’s the second part of my three-part series from interviews with the people who create one the world’s best sports magazines — and why those same people want you stop thinking about it as just a magazine.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Here’s Chris Hercik:

On his job description as Sports Illustrated Creative Director…

I oversee the creative identity of the magazine. Any new products we put out, weekly products, the Swimsuit issue, commemorative issues that we do, the .com website or mobile or tablet products that we design or distribute and all the visual aesthetics of it. I want to make sure (all those things) have that Sports Illustrated look and feel that people have come to love about the pictures and the writing. It’s really: How do you bring that all together in a visual story?

On his day-to-day routine…

As much as I’m the creative director of Sports Illustrated, I’m also the VP of Time Inc., native. I have about half of my day being spent on corporate initiatives, working across brands and across titles to create advertising programs. But only a daily basis, coming in, (I’m) seeing where all the designs are at, checking the layouts, the cover. Right now we’re in the preview season. We start with the college football preview then the NFL preview then we’ll do the college basketball preview and then the NBA preview. You have to keep those trains running while getting the weekly tasks done. It comes down to time management, trying to figure out when to do a re-design of the magazine and how to fit that into the schedule … So a lot of it’s time management and juggling and making sure we keep the trains running but while still looking forward for new creative designs and bigger-picture ideas. As well as, the big picture thing you know that I work on is swimsuit, and that comes out in February so we’re going to start laying that out in the next month and that’s going to take a large portion of time as well.

On commemorative editions…

There’s a World Series commemorative that has to happen. There are two started right now—one for obviously the Royals and one for the Mets. We sort of stopped working on the Mets one for now (after the Mets went down 2-0) and then went a little harder on the Royals to get that done so if they win, it’s done and out the door the next day.

On redesigning the magazine…

I would like to (re-design) within the next month. (SI) needs to be freshened up and I think it needs to respond a little more to what’s going on in culture. The aesthetics need to keep pace. Five years ago you wouldn’t redesign a magazine but every three years. But now, with the way mobile is and the way the internet is, people expect something new and fresh and change more frequently. In reality I’d like to redesign a magazine almost yearly to keep it fresh and current, but that means starting over from scratch. The whole grid of the magazine with fonts and typefaces and look and feel. It’s always going to have the Sports Illustrated DNA, but we want it to look unique. We don’t want it to look like ESPN. But how do we redesign to keep it fresh and new and exciting while keeping the basics of Sports Illustrated?

On what he’d like to change in the redesign…

I’d take a look at the pacing of the magazine. What are the sections of the magazine? Do we need all of them? Are they all still relevant? Everybody loves “Leading Off.” Maybe “Leading Off” gets another photo and “Scorecard” gets one fewer page. The feature well maybe gets bigger, I don’t know. But I do think we need to re-examine the magazine and see what’s working and what’s not. Maybe we add more columns; maybe we add a different back page. I think everything’s fair game when you go into a redesign. Usually it’s just the visual aesthetics, but for this one I’ve been working with our managing editor Chris Stone on it to say, ‘What else can we do and what else needs to be redesigned?’

On the balance between creative design and basic information transfer…

First, all the Sports Illustrated properties need to visually hold together. Even if one’s digital and one’s print, when you come to a product, you should know that it looks like SI. Any SI property, when you look at it, should hold together as a single brand. … So when I approach it, I think: What is the best direction for SI to go? What are we trying to convey? Whether we’re more digital or whether we’re responding to favorite tweets. Things like, we used to have “Letters” (in a front-of-book section) and now we have “Tweets.”

On balancing advertisement and editorial needs in native advertising…

In both situations, what the advertiser is trying to reach and what editorial is trying to do is: They’re both trying to give the reader the best experience. We’re trying to give the reader something they didn’t know and insights they didn’t have before. We don’t have to hit them over the head with ads. You don’t have to do that. It can be a line under the advertiser in content. You don’t have to write an advertiser’s name into a piece of content for people to understand what you’re doing. Our readers are smarter than that. As long as we’re able to give them added value or added benefit, our audience will engage. (Advertisers) know if it comes from Sports Illustrated … then they see a four to six times lift in engagement. In other words: The combination of the two together makes the difference because Sports Illustrated is working together with a partner to create a special piece of content for you, the reader. We know you’re going to like it, we know you’re going to read it, and we know you’ll engage with it. The readers are like, ‘Oh yeah, this is great. They made this for me.’ It’s not the old advertorial scenario anymore; it’s very much tailored to a certain need.

On the Sports Illustrated style…

We’re not the big flashy Esquire or GQ— and I don’t mean that in any disrespect — where I think sometimes design takes over for a lack of content. We are the exact opposite. I know that at SI the two things that readers want are photography and journalism. I’m happy (for design) to be the third wheel on that. My job is to make sure that we tell a story. (The design) may not win an award, but we’re a weekly magazine and we need to get it out on time and get the reader the best experience. We have to make sure it’s well-organized, easy to navigate and easy to read. That’s what we’re trying to do. Could we do GQ and Esquire for SI? One hundred percent. I could have big pictures and little words — and that’s great for that audience. I love GQ and Esquire, I read them personally, but that’s a totally different mindset.  If you took GQ and Esquire and crossed it with The New Yorker then SI is somewhere in the middle. That’s the best analogy I have for it. We just need to make sure we frame and showcase our content and make it (easy on) our readers. That sometimes means sacrificing flashy design, or design for design’s sake, but that’s what SI is.

On what he looks for in ‘good’ design…

Two things in good design: Balance, balance on a page, and contrast. Things shouldn’t look and feel like they have the same weight. How you design a page emphasizes how someone reads through a page. If you put a block of text, a photo and a caption all at the same size then obviously it’s hard to choose which to (read first). Make the photo four times the size then your eye will go right to that. Using visual cues to be able to, as a reader is flowing, to pick out a photo or pull quote or caption. To have another bit of content. Or it’s also to — knowing our stories are longer — give reader’s some of what I like to call “visual sorbet.” It’s giving your eyes a break before you continue reading. It’s also entry points. We don’t do a ton of entry points. I wish we would do more because I think people enter pages at very different ways and I think that’s one thing I would change. We should have more entry points on a page and that starts with a good grid system because things look clean and organized. It’s not things jutting through copy and it’s one of those things that hard to explain but when you look at a good page and look at a bad page then you can just immediately tell what the difference is.

On the nitty gritty of what makes a magazine well-designed…

We spend a lot of time tracking, kerning, ledding, and all the buzzwords that, if you asked readers, they wouldn’t know. But they do know they have a very smooth experience. White space. That’s not something we do at SI very well because every time we have white space everybody wants to fill it and that’s fine. We fight that battle because it does give more content to the reader, but I’d like to open up our pages a little bit. … I hate spaces between ellipses by the way. I like them next to one another. I think it just looks odd. It’s one of those things, right? When you have them side by side you see: The ellipses together just looks better and to me that says the same thing. Whoever made the style about put the extra space, I’m like, ‘Why?’ and it’s like those things where you go with your gut. Our copy desk talks a lot about that and sometimes it’s just a thing where, it looks better. This isn’t rocket science.

On what he looks for in ‘entry points’…

Charts, infographics. I have a short attention span so it’s hard for me to get through a big piece. But with more entry points, I can read through a story without reading through a story and then when I have time I can sit down and read through that longer story. But I also want to have those entry points add stuff to that story that’s not necessarily there in the text. Added facts, added quotes, added photographs, added value without having to write it into the story yet you’re giving the reader more information. And when you look at a page you should be able to sort of enter a story at multiple different points and have some added information about a story at any given point.

On how to bring the elements of page design online…

Here is the bane of my existence. On, with any web site, it just doesn’t translate. Here’s my biggest beef with the web site: Every web site you go to, rather than having an indent with the paragraph, they have a line space. I’m like, ‘That’s great, but everything you read has no line space and an indent. Why do we have this when the normal way of reading (is with an indent)?’ And when you look online it starts to seem odd. That doesn’t translate one to one. You’re spending a lot of time working on very fixed templates. We spend a lot of time designing to a space, but a lot of mobile browsers and web browsers are different sizes. Different resolutions are different sizes. If you open or close your window then the widow you just cut is still there. You have to let a lot go for online. But the one thing you can do is, again, be simple and just use high-impact photography because it looks amazing. Don’t screw with the words. All too often, if you’re going to run a story, they have boxes that jut halfway in and I’m like, ‘I would clean up some of those things,’ but it’s tougher. For a medium to be agile, it’s the hardest thing to get stuff fixed or do stuff with. SI’s site has a million pages in it, so it’s not like you can change one thing and that’s it. Where we do have a little bit of freedom is at and you look at all of our longform templates that are really highly designed and customized, parallax, scrolling videos, that’s where we have the freedom to interject the aesthetics from a magazine into online. You just can’t do it every day. You just can’t do it on every page.

On his favorite covers in the over 700 he’s done or overseen at SI…

The one that will always rank up there will be the Boston marathon cover. The one we ran on the day of the bombing and the one that we ran a year later where 3,000 people came out to the start-finish line to gather for the Boston strong cover. That’s one of my all-time favorites. The 60th anniversary cover, where I had the idea to recreate our very first cover using Instagram photo pictures of all of our readers, those are always super cool. And then there are swimsuit issues. They are what they are, but some things, like Kate Upton on the bow of this ship in Antarctica? That stuff never happens. That’s a moment. You can go on through stories that I’m trying to think of. There’s a whole wall of them. … Another one is the first cover I ever did here at Sports Illustrated which was a high school athlete about 13 or 14 years ago that had really bad design and was ugly, but it was a kid sitting on his football helmet in the middle of a football field. It was all in sort of Sepia, but that was the first cover I ever designed for Sports Illustrated, which was really cool.

[At this point I noticed Wright Thompson’s mammoth “Saints and Sinners” cover story for ESPN the Mag on Hercik’s desk] …

On how closely pays attention to the design of competing magazines…

I mean, I look at the design. I like to see what they’re doing. I look to see how they’re dealing with similar subject matter. When we do our NBA preview, I look at them for what they’re doing for an NBA preview. Are they giving different stats? Are they featuring different people? It’s not the size, the color, the fonts. It’s, ‘How’re they dealing with similar weekly topics?’ They have their sort of, ‘Zoom’ is their photo section. Like what’re they doing? Ours are always great action photos, but what did they get that we didn’t get? Are we missing something? Then of course covers. I just like to see how they treated a subject. I wish I just had that paper and that size format, too.

On the style of paper Sports Illustrated uses (XXX) compared to ESPN the Mag (XXX)…

As a weekly it kills us to be on the paper stock that we’re on. We did an exercise we printed it out at that size and everything just looked so much better. But everybody looks at it for different reasons, but I just want to know that we’re on the same plane. Like if we’re going in a similar direction and one of us isn’t going crazy, then I feel like, ‘OK, we’re on the same page.’ But if we start changing up something and they’re not then I’m like, ‘OK, we’re doing something really good or we’re making a really bad choice.’ You look at it and you try to get as much information as possible in the end and looking at what they’re doing and who they’re featuring.

On what helped him most get to Sports Illustrated…

Well, it’s funny. I was a graphic design and advertising major in college (at Moravian). None of those classes were magazine classes. The professor at the time, Jamie Franky, was into magazines. I couldn’t remember how he actually got into them, but on Friday afternoons he would hold a computer class for anyone who wanted to come and learn how to use InDesign — well, back then it was Quark — but Quark, layouts and how magazines worked. I was like, ‘Well, I’m sort of interested,’ so I went. And only two other people went and the three of us and him. Today, two of us are creative directors at national magazines.

On what makes him love magazine design specifically…

I liked the arts, but I loved structure more. Like, I have to have structure. What magazines and newspapers at the time did was give structure to what I like to do, (which is) to tell a story through a very linear process. Art is great. You can look at it through many different ways and interpret it, but magazine design is very straight-forward. Something just clicked. I really liked the process. I love photography. I like looking at photos. How does that accentuate design? I like going through the process of creating it. How do we go from in my head, from the moment we have an idea and I can see it in my head, through the actual photoshoot and the layout? But then we have to go to the photoshoot and actually create it. Sometimes that doesn’t match up with what’s in my head. It’s hard to sometimes explain what I see. But it’s one of those things that, with anything I do even today, I still have to keep my hands dirty in magazines because I like designing a cover or a page here or a page there. I just really am passionate about design. Especially — I don’t want to say print even — but storytelling. Let’s put it that way.

On his biggest challenge…

With anything, I know how I would do it if I were doing it, you know? Sometimes I can do something in 15 minutes but I don’t have the time, so someone else has to do it. Like, sometimes it’s hard to explain what I’m thinking without just doing it myself. If I’m sitting here telling you about it, I could’ve just had it done if we just worked on it together. A lot of it is, ‘Do I do it? Do I not do it?’ Do I do it myself or do I delegate? And then when I delegate, it’s not what (I was) thinking. I tell Brad (Smith), our photo editor, how I want something to look but then it comes back and it’s not exactly what I was thinking. But I can’t be on every shoot. I can’t be everywhere. It’s on me to give as much direction and clarity as possible. It’s also hiring the right people who think like you. I have a great group of people here who share the same visual aesthetic and can pick up a lot of the stuff when I’m up running around the company.

On the ideas he brought from previous jobs…

The first job I ever got was at the Eastern Pennsylvania Business Journal. Three of us from our class had to go in — because we all applied for the same job — and we had to do a test where we create an ad. I got the job. Six months later they told me why I got the job. (My boss) is like, ‘In the same time everyone else did one ad, you did three ads.’ … For me it was just such a natural iteration. Like, ‘This one’s done,’ so I would save that version and create multiple versions. (The first job) was sort of learning and honing the skills of good design. Really asking why a lot — to the point where I sort of pissed off my creative director a lot. I really wanted to know everything he knew. When I interviewed (at Sports Illustrated), it was about being able to do a layout quickly, competently within 24 to 48 hours. Monthly (publications) have days to work on layouts. We have hours. He needed to be able to have an aesthetic and a sensibility that could get you 80 percent of the way there and then he would give his input and then that would finish it off.

On how he got hired at Sports Illustrated…

The interview process for here was a portfolio, which I got lucky enough to send in a portfolio right at a time when they were hiring which I didn’t know. I sent in my portfolio on a Wednesday, got a call on Friday and hired on Saturday.

On what his creative team is like at SI…

Eight people. … We used to have 16 in the art department, so we’re down to half. We design the magazine and then the tablet issue on Tuesday, so really the magazine starts Tuesday afternoon with some pages. Everybody’s off on Wednesday. Then Thursday and Friday everybody’s in here again and then Monday we close the issue. Maybe it’s about 40 to 45 pages of edit so you got about eight people, not counting me because I only do the cover. So seven people basically doing a story or a section each in the magazine. It’s not like you just design it and it’s done. You have design it, go through the process, art-check it. You have to put it through and design the digital edition which comes out the next day. And not just that, you have to start designing the NBA preview which comes out the next day, it’s starting a commemorative and a lot of it is time management and managing workflow.

On what he would write down first if writing a book about creative design…

Think about the reader first. All too often you get caught up in how I would view the page or what looks cool or interesting, but you have to think: There are 3.1 million people who’re going to read this. I think starting with the reader in mind as the ultimate guide would be the advice I could give. Also, photography, to me, is underutilized because we just don’t have the space. The tablet edition is beautiful because we have an unlimited amount of pages because we can run as many (photos) as we want and whatever size we want. There’s no paper so everything’s white.

On the challenges of printing…

The biggest one is space. Today we’re 60 pages and we used to be 160 pages. So, how do you do more in fewer pages? If you just cut stuff out of the issue then you still want the reader to feel like they’re getting their value but you want to make sure you’re covering enough sports. In the end, it’s supposed to be an enjoyable experience. Someone’s investing some time in your publication and you want to make sure it still lives up to their expectations. So my piece of advice is: If you’re getting this magazine, what would you want to see and how would you want to read? … It’s tough because those things (like the sections “Hot or Not,” “Pop Culture grid” or “Sign of the Apocalypse”) are franchises and staples that people have come to enjoy but you just don’t have space for them. Pop culture grid was awesome, but it’s: How do you get time with three athletes every week? Sometimes it was more than that. That’s where sometimes it’s a big expense… but I’m with you on the pop culture grid.

On when Rick Reilly left…

… That’s the evolution of the brand. I love Reilly. I thought he was synonymous with the brand of SI at the time and he just had a different vision and unfortunately …  I miss those big personalities. Not that we don’t have any big personalities now, but someone with that big humor bone. You know what I mean? The Onion, CollegeHumor, you know… (Reilly) was sort of the pioneer or the genesis of that sort of stuff. I still wish he was doing his thing, just for less money.

On the differences between weeklies and monthlies…

They’re really different. Yet, in a way, I believe that weeklies are the new monthlies. We still don’t compete with the news cycle so you still treat a weekly like a monthly. You have to approach it from what I think SI does well is that you have to treat it like premium. You don’t write off Game 2 of the World Series because everyone’s watched it, read all the social on it and then saw the highlights and then saw the second highlights about it. What we need to do is an insightful piece about how we have a different take on the World Series. Whether that’s Game 7 or Game 1, or whether it’s over. We need a take you want to read about the World Series. We have to approach the magazine with a new aesthetic. We need to approach this and timely — I mean, we still need to be relevant; we shouldn’t put something on the cover in the offseason, though I probably would (in some cases) disagree with my own statement — because if it’s a good story then it’s a good story. We just put Muhammad Ali on the cover for the legacy award and that was an amazing event and we got to meet him, but it had no relevance to anything happening right now other than we were giving him the award. But it was a great story. I felt like we were a monthly. I loved it. Thought it was great.

On the differences between working for each…

I would go crazy at a monthly right now. Knowing that something I do won’t be out for another 20 more days and then knowing when it comes out it’s 40 days after you discussed it—and I worked for a monthly, I loved it—but like right now I’d be like, ‘Oh my God. I can’t do it.’ Right now I leave on Monday and I come in Tuesday and it’s on my desk. I get to see immediately. It fits in with today’s world of immediate gratification but as far as design goes, Time Inc. has a portfolio of brands that are iconic. To look back as only the sixth creative director in Sports Illustrated history and to have designed…14 times 50 covers, whatever that turns out to be…it’s an honor. It’s a sh*t-load of covers, I know that. If I only had to do 12 a year that’d be so easy, but we do 50 and that’s not even covering regionals, special issues and so we put out close to 70 covers per year and I think that’s really cool to know that four million people see your work. Sometimes when you get this close you need to take a step back and say, ‘I design Sports Illustrated.’ It’s one of the coolest things you can say you do.


An interview with Danny Lee, Sports Illustrated’s New York Executive Advertising Sales Director

As a class project, I was assigned to learn about the magazine industry and all its facets (editorial, advertising, creative) by profiling one national magazine. A subscriber since 2004, I picked SI. Here’s the second part of my three-part series from interviews with the people who create one the world’s best sports magazines — and why those same people want you stop thinking about it as just a magazine.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Here’s Danny Lee:

On his job as the New York executive advertising sales director…

I’ll start at the top. There are several different sides of a publishing, but the two main halves are editorial and advertising … My side of the business is headed up by the publisher of Sports Illustrated, Brendan Ripp. His job is to head all of sales and marketing from the business side of Sports Illustrated. All the dollars that come in from ad revenue and partnerships fall under his umbrella. Under Brendan, he has a VP of sales who’s responsible for national sales. Underneath the VP of sales, there are regional directors which handle different regions of the country. And Sports Illustrated is broken up into New York, which is me, Boston, we have a Chicago executive director, Atlanta, Detroit, San Francisco and LA. We’re all reporting to the heads of sales. I always equate it to different levels of officers in the army. My area is the New York area, which is where 40 percent of the ad revenue for all of Sports Illustrated comes in. The New York territory covers Richmond, Virginia through Hartford, Connecticut. The reason we’re such a big part of percentage of overall ad revenue is that New York City is the center for ad agencies in the United States. Well, the world, really. Madison Avenue is synonymous with advertising. Most of the major agencies have headquarters here in New York City.

On his day-to-day schedule…

I manage 10 sales people here in New York, each of the 10 sellers handle a specific territory and are responsible for selling print and digital advertising. The goal for me is: How do I maximize the ad revenue that SI’s getting from advertising? (It’s thinking about) print, digital and event sponsorships, experiential, day in, day out. ‘How do we lift more business from our competitors? How do we get a bigger share of what’s being spent and how do we go to market with the best ideas from Sports Illustrated to attract more partnerships with big companies?’ That’s what Sports Illustrated is from the business side.

On Sports Illustrated’s audience…

I sell an audience of men that are sports fans. These men consume lots. Whether it’s cans of beer they drink, number of potato chips they eat, the number of cars they buy. We do very well in the pharmaceutical space because sometimes we have, uh, a large audience of men that’re 45-plus that start to need certain types of pharmaceuticals. We do really well in anything guys want to buy or that guys make the purchasing decisions for. It’s really a good target for Sports Illustrated to go after.

On how some advertisers approach Sports Illustrated…

The job of the advertiser is to come up with the strategies. I’m looking for advertisers that want to reach men. Take Volkswagen cars. The ad agency is located here in New York City and the clients are located in Washington, D.C. They’re launching a new car in the springtime — I’m just making this up, but let’s say they’re launching a new car in the springtime — and they’re primary target is men 35 to 55 with children. Those guys will look at their product and design their product geared specifically toward a target consumer. So if you want to design Porsche 911 Turbo’s, you have to gear it toward men who make a lot of money, right? If you don’t make a lot of money, you can’t afford a Porsche 911 Turbo. So if you’re Porsche, you don’t want to run ads in magazines that aren’t run by the really rich. It’s basic ad targeting and that’s determined by the clients themselves and their ad agencies. They have stats that help them come up with strategies. And after they have that product and strategy, then they start to contact vendors like Sports Illustrated. They say, ‘Hey, we have a Volkswagen Passat Turbo. We think the style, the price-point, the sportiness of the car, because it’s the sports version of it, we think it’s going to appeal to men. It launches in February. Danny from Sports Illustrated, what ideas do you have, or what big platforms do you have that we could build around in February for this launch?

On how Sports Illustrated approaches advertisers…

I need to know that they make a product that men are interested in because then men would be an important target for them. It doesn’t make any sense for me to call Tampax Tampons because those tampon companies would never advertise in Sports Illustrated. … I’d never go to them, they’d never come to me because it’s just a miss. They’d laugh at me. But Johnnie Walker scotch, a male drink targeted at 45-plus scotch drinkers, especially affluent ones as well? That makes a lot of sense for me to reach out to them and say, ‘Hey, I was wondering what you guys are planning to do in 2016. Are sports going to be a part of that mix? If so, which sports? And how do we get involved in that mix?’ We’re always reaching out to anyone who has a valid product that could be targeting men.

On some recent examples of big advertisement deals Sports Illustrated has done…

DirecTV does a huge buy with us every football season. They do it in the NFL preview issue and they do a high-impact unit. They’ll do something really big and splashy early in the football season — use our football issue that comes out right before the season starts — they want to get men subscribing to DirecTV for the Sunday Ticket package, watch any game you want, wherever you want, right? That’s what DirecTV pays the NFL for the rights to. And they turn that around and try to get lots of male subscribers to buy in right before football season. They’ll also come to us and do a high-impact unit usually during swimsuit time too. This year, they did the largest cover execution ever (done in Time, Inc. history) with a 15-page folded up poster with mockup covers of the alter egos of Andrew Luck, Tony Romo, Peyton Manning and Eli Manning on a big Sports Illustrated cover. Total execution was 19 pages. (We) planned that with DirecTV for about four months. It came down to need, timing and our relationship with the clients. We know they like to use us for high-impact units a couple times per year; we collaborated on great ideas about four months before the issue was scheduled to come out. They helped us with the ideas for what we wanted to do. Our two teams collaborated together and said, ‘How do we pull this off?’

On the number of advertisements Sports Illustrated usually sells…

There’s no such thing as selling too many ads because that just means there’s more editorial pages. We like the book to be as thick as possible. There’s always a little variation (in the book), but you always want to be at a 1:1 (advertisement to editorial page) ratio. But the Managing Editor makes that decision on an issue-to-issue basis. There are a certain number of edit pieces we can write per issue. He’s got to think about what his readers really want to read. That’s what makes the best Sports Illustrated issue from the editorial perspective.

On how Sports Illustrated tracks the performance on advertisements…

We do research studies. In magazines, they’re called starch. They’ll get a group of panelists to do research and interview subscribers and find out which ads readers recall the best. There’s a bunch of different metrics, but “recall” is a really important one. An advertiser, going into the swimsuit issue, can say, ‘How did my ad perform? How did we starch?’ And starch is a comparison of how all the ads did to a standpoint ranked from one to last. If you’re advertising in high starch, you did a great job in creating an effective ad that was memorable. Each advertiser gets to see their own starch results and research studies vary in respondents from 500 and up, depending on how much people want to invest in their studies.

On part one of how an advertisement comes together…

The client that brings the agency what they want to accomplish, what the products are, what the selling points are, and what they want to do with the year. The strategy group comes up with the overall strategy. They send back the plan to the clients and say, ‘Here’s how we help X, Y, Z companies sell more.’ So how do you improve that plan and show that it’s improved? It goes through a lot of revisions. The clients have a lot input, like, ‘Do we like more TV, digital or print?’ What’re their priorities? After that, a strategy plan is finalized, the agency hands it over to the media group which consults a group of television buyers, digital buyers and print buyers.

On part two, the media group…

(The media group) take that plan and try to initiate a buying recommendation. Looking at (the client’s) media plan and going, ‘What’re we going to buy based on what you told us you were interested in? And how much do you want to spend? What’s your overall budget? Then they’ll consider that plan and send out proposals, alerting all vendors that there’s an opportunity to be involved with this plan. This is usually called a brief.

On part three, Sports Illustrated’s four steps to succeess…

We take this brief and say, ‘OK. Companies X, Y, Z are promoting their widgets which come out in February 2016.’ We’re interested in ideas that align with March Madness and that are mostly digital but can also be done in print. We’re also interested in family opportunities that can be done at events. Then we narrow and consider for which we’ll submit an idea. My job at Sports Illustrated, as a sales guy, is one, to have a great relationship with X, Y, Z companies and their widget clients and their buyers, so they always think about Sports Illustrated. Two, I want to make sure they’re up to speed with everything Sports Illustrated does, because if it’s something they can do, then they have us at the top of their mind. If I’m maintaining those relationships and doing my job, then they’re aware of what we have here and we can bring that up to them. Three, I want them to want to buy something from us more because that brings us closer as an allied resource and four I want to build an idea that makes sense for them.

On part four, the relationship…

And it goes back to the relationship. If I get their brief and I have any questions, and I have a good relationship with them, I can call them up and say, ‘Hey, here’s what we were thinking of doing. Does this fit into your bigger scheme?’ And I get a lot of positive feedback for how we build our idea. And the idea here is that they present us with this big, shiny, round hole and I want to take all of our Sports Illustrated assets, everything they told me they’re trying to accomplish, what the product is, when it’s coming out and I want to build a nice peg that fits that hole perfectly.

On what makes a great sales person and how to stay great…

Great sales people are great listeners. We want to have a great working relationship with people and develop a sense of trust that they’re going to get the best in customer service from Sports Illustrated. And me as a professional, as a Sports Illustrated operative, I want to make sure that the programs they invest in at Sports Illustrated perform at the best of our ability so there’s never any disappointment. I want them to think of the ideas they bought from Danny Lee at Sports Illustrated as absolute home runs. So it’s a lot of things from great customer service to investing in programs that are smart and well thought out and well-executed from our side. Satisfied customers means repeat business.

On the best lesson he’s learned working in advertising sales…

You always want to work for a great property with a great brand name. As much as you can create close business relationships, it’s easier to get meetings and be invited to the table if you work for a major player. You always want to try and represent the strongest properties.

On whether or not there’s been a moment where he’s felt ‘at the top’ of the representing strong properties…

No, not really because business is tough these days. If you work in the print media space then your percentage has declined and you’re looking to grow in the digital space. The percentage of the budget where advertisers are spending in print is declining a little bit every year. Working for Sports Illustrated 25 years ago, you were coming from a place of absolute powerhouse strength. You could literally wait for advertisers to come to you. Today you have to go out and get advertisers and be collaborative and proactive with great ideas.

On advertisement spending between print and digital…

Seventy-five percent of Sports Illustrated’s ad revenue comes from print and 25 percent from digital. I have no doubt that five years from now it’ll be a 50-50 split and it’ll be 75-25 split the other way down the road.

On how The Comeback, a Sports Illustrated series partnering with WebMD, came together…

It was an editorial-driven property first. The idea came from collaboration with WebMD and editorial to create the series and then we took it on the outside and Cialis ended up being the advertiser associated with the program.

On the first thing he’d write down if writing an article about the media industry…

With advancing technology comes great change. Beyond the magazine business — how people consume media in general and that advertising is based wholly on reach — is that advertisers just want to reach consumers. Whatever they sell, cars, potato chips, industrial supplies, whatever it is: Advertisers want people to buy their product.

On how advertising, and media in general, has changed and how it’s about to shift again…

Think about the timeline of media … think back to the ‘40s and ‘50s with radio and black-and-white TV was coming into the mix. (Think back to) magazine’s greatest strength, the printed word many years ago. Then you get to the introduction of cable television 40 years ago when ESPN and HBO and a lot of others started to come into fruition. I don’t think, when it was introduced, that American consumers would pay money for cable television. But then they did and people began consuming cable television as their main media. Then, 20 years ago, the Internet started gaining a lot of momentum and Americans consumed their media there with AOL and other portals. Without a doubt — with mobile devices making so many other businesses obsolete — the cable TV model is changing. It’ll give way to other consumers, like yourself, going over the top. I saw a stat last week that said only 10 percent of college graduates are subscribing to cable. Ninety percent are consuming content either mobile or over the top, meaning internet and WiFi. So what does that mean for cable TV five or 10 years down the road? … We’re about to see a dramatic shift. The kids coming out of school are becoming tomorrow’s younger consumer and the next day’s middle-aged guys. They’re not subscribing to cable TV. I think we’re going to be in a mobile world very, very quickly. Last weekend, the first football game was streamed on Yahoo! That was the beginning of what will be a landslide of the mobile delivery of live sports. There’s a lot there that comes with technology changing the world.

On the key to the future…

Video. I heard a major player at a university say, “For the last 100 years we’ve been telling our best stories through the printed word as the vehicle, but tomorrow video will be our vehicle. That will be the way people tell stories.

You can read part one with Chris Stone, SI’s Managing Editor, here.

Sam Fortier is a displaced New Englander living in New York. He likes baseball, crunchy peanut butter and the sound Kanye makes in his songs, which he thinks is spelled “HAAH.” He’s not a fan of grammatical error’s. You can read him here every Monday, follow him on Twitter @Sam4TR, or email him at 

An interview with Chris Stone, Sports Illustrated’s Managing Editor

As a class project, I was assigned to learn about the magazine industry and all its facets (editorial, advertising, creative) by profiling one national magazine. A subscriber since 2004, I picked SI. Here’s the first part of my three-part series from interviews with the people who create one the world’s best sports magazines — and why those same people want you stop thinking about it as just a magazine.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Here’s Chris Stone:

On the challenges and goals of his job as Managing Editor…

… I spend a lot of my time figuring out how we’re going to convert our legacy, our tradition and what’s made us SI for 60 years on to new platforms. In some ways, the larger of my two jobs is making sure that we’re reaching people in the way (we have) for a long time because we have a lot more competition now than when I first got here in 1992. I’m not talking about just converting stories that ran in the magazine on to a website. That’s easy. There’s nothing to that. It’s creating the experience of Sports Illustrated, which traditionally was a weekly experience, into a daily experience, an hourly experience, into a real-time experience. If you’re engaging with Sports Illustrated, whether through or iPad or mobile or PC, we just want people to feel like they’re getting Sports Illustrated-level content whenever they want it, which means throughout the week rather than once-per-week appointment viewing.

On balancing the tradition of SI’s print issue with the need for constant content and quality…

We were a weekly magazine because once upon a time that was the most efficient way to disseminate our stories, our journalism, our content. But now that we have the ability to give it to people all the time, why wouldn’t we? We don’t want it to feel like, ‘OK. There’s this magazine that’s one thing and then here’s all our other, non-magazine content.’ We don’t want people to be so caught up in delivery systems. We don’t want people to make those distinctions anymore. And I understand why they still would … But you want people to feel like the quality, the experience, what they’ve been used to on a weekly basis for 61 years that now they’re getting it much more frequently than that in 2015. That’s what we’re trying to create across the entire franchise. You don’t have to wait for it to come to you every Wednesday or Thursday, but when it does come to you every Wednesday or Thursday, we still want it to feel special. But we want to fill in all those days in between with Tom Verducci and Peter King and Seth Davis and Grant Wahl.

On what Sports Illustrated does best…

Tell stories. Tell stories that nobody else tells.

On making decisions with web traffic potential in mind…

Unlike print, and TV to a fair degree, you can measure reader and engagement so precisely that now it’s essential to our business. Traffic is the first thing that’s discussed when they’re selling the website to generate revenue against it. You could walk by any office here at any point in the day and there’s a good chance you’ll see someone at least passively monitoring traffic patterns. When we make investments going forward, we’re thinking: ‘What kind of audience does this generate for us?’ Just because of the ability to access precise data and at the insistence of our advertisers, for one, to know that data, it’s something that we closely monitor.

On the iPad edition…

It’s beautiful. I love it. I just wish we had more scale with that. I don’t know that people use the iPad for once-per-week appointment viewing. Honestly I think the iPad was more designed to replace and compete with television than it was to compete with, or create, new forms of publishing. The New York Times and The New Yorker are doing a great job with it (as well). It’s a great mobile experience. It just hasn’t gotten to the scale we thought it’d be at when we first designed the app.

On bringing SI’s best writers to its readers more often…

We once had no choice. We could only give you (our best writers) once per week. So we gave it to you once per week and we became accustomed to that. But now we don’t have to do that anymore. We can give them to you hundreds of days per year and several times per day. Take two of our most-well known writers, Tom Verducci and Peter King. Especially Peter. When they’re producing, they’re producing far more words — and images; they do a lot of video, both of them — they’re producing far more content digitally in the course of the year than they are in the magazine. The reason they’re (on is because we can give you Tom Verducci and Peter King more than once per week. We can give you them every day at certain points in the year. If you had a choice between Tom Verducci once per week and Tom Verducci every day — especially now that we’re in October — which would you choose?

On the possibility of Sports Illustrated going online-only…

We don’t know if that’s going to be in 10 years or 20 years or 50 years, but we do know it’s going to happen. (Online is) how people consume it. It’s a blind man question. As long as a large audience still wants the magazine, we’re going to publish the magazine. But we’re going to be very aggressive in converting the print product into a digital product because we know that day is going to happen. … We’re already operating under this (online-only) thought. We try to give people the SI experience every day (online) … But it’s going to be the same stories and the same quality. As long as that holds true, this won’t be something that we dread.

On staying in print…

For now, there remains a considerable demand for the Sports Illustrated, paid print product so you’d be silly to just say, ‘Let’s just go all digital now.’ Think about it. If Deadspin knew that it could push out a paid print product — and I’m just using Deadspin as an example of a digital news franchise — if they could push out a paid print product that generated them millions in incremental revenue then of course they would do it. But they’re starting from a digital place. We’re starting from a place where we have this print product that’s existed for a long time and there’s a demand for it and the infrastructure is in place to create it. So we’re going to keep doing it. But if you’re asking me from a business standpoint, we’re just following a very aggressive 21st-Century media model, but we’re also trying to maximize efficiency of that model. I hate to sound like a CFO, but you know what I’m saying.

On focusing on quality rather than delivery…

That’s what we work toward here because we have more quality stories, photos and journalism than we know what to do with. That would never fit into a weekly magazine. We’re taking advantages of the platforms and opportunities to tell our stories on a more regular basis. It’s not an attempt to become younger or hipper or become demo-obsessed, you know? I think quality is demo-agnostic. I look at something like (ESPN’s documentary series) “30 for 30.” It’s a history story. It’s something that happened 15, 20, 30 years ago, but my 14-year-old son loves watching them. If you ask him what he thought of history, he’d probably say, “Ew,” but that’s a classic example of something that works across demos. You’re not just trying to reach 18- to 34-year-olds. You’re going to hit everybody with quality. And that’s what we want to do.

On preparing for, and transitioning into, the future…

You’ve done something one way for a long time and done it really, really well. You don’t just abandon it, but you find that right balance of, ‘OK, even as we’ve accepted the future of Sports Illustrated isn’t going to be built on the back of print, but print is still immensely valuable to a lot of people, so how do we develop a modern Sports Illustrated without compromising on what’s made us who we are?’ … We still have three million subscribers. When I got to Sports Illustrated in 1992, we had 3.2 (million). I like to hold things. I still have subscriptions to multiple magazines, but … it’s a decidedly different era of media. (Your generation) expects, and is accustomed to, things a different way. (So we) find room between new franchises that don’t necessarily work so well in the pages of the magazine. The way we can leverage video, like Extra Mustard, which is popular online. That’s hard to convert to a print platform. We’re creating verticals digitally, with Monday Morning Quarterback most notably and now Campus Rush. We do Planet Fútbol, which is soccer and global. You can’t get Sports Illustrated abroad so you have to work hard to find it. There’s opportunities to expand ourselves and stretch ourselves out. And that’s how I spend my time now, not thinking of Sports Illustrated as a weekly, but as a daily, hourly, up-to-the-minute experience.

On how SI broke LeBron James’ return to Cleveland

We have a great NBA writer (Lee Jenkins) who was determined to tell the story of this decision in a new way. He believed that when he came to me in April 2014 that it was first a possibility that we could get LeBron to do “The Decision” a second time around in Sports Illustrated. I was skeptical. In part because I didn’t think (LeBron would) want to revisit anything with the word “Decision” associated with it because of the backlash at his announcement in 2010 in Miami. Number two is like, he made that announcement on television, which is still the most powerful medium out there, in front of a national audience. Here he was going to tell the story, well, through our magazine or through our website. Those are both considerable forces, but at the same time they’re not television. But it was more thinking that he just didn’t want to go through this process again. He was criticized for it and we kept at him. When (Jenkins) told me, it was July 5 I want to say, and he said, “I think this thing is going to happen.” And he’d arranged it with LeBron’s camp that, “You get to tell your story.” There was all this speculation in the media, but nobody knew. There were a lot of anonymous sources citing reasons why he would or wouldn’t make a certain decision. But the one thing nobody had, aside from where he was going, was why he would go to Cleveland or why he would not. That afforded us to get the most comprehensive story possible. That was built on a relationship. That was built on the fact that Lee is a great, great reporter who has trust because he tells it straight and he doesn’t burn them. He knows when to criticize. Most people that work with him feel like they’re being treated fairly and I think that’s the way LeBron felt. And obviously our relationship with LeBron goes way back to 2000 and 2002 when we first put him on our cover. It’s something that means something to him. It’s an organization he trusts, so we got the story. And it felt amazing. Of course it feels amazing. You have something everybody else wants. There aren’t too many of those stories out there, so when you get one, you don’t forget any time soon. The other thing you realize is that, after a few days, everyone’s already moved on. They’re on to the next thing. You only get to soak it up for a little while.


I pay attention to everything (ESPN does). Very close attention. We have to. We’re competing for the same stories. I don’t watch as much (ESPN) as I used to, but I get (ESPN the Mag) so I’ll try to read every one, to some degree … because one thing that Sports Illustrated gave up a long time ago is that we don’t have a monopoly on all the good stories out there. And that goes beyond ESPN and even traditional media. Even the very best stories are told in new media on something like a Deadspin or a Vox or SB Nation or individual blogs. There’s more good sports writing and there’s more good sports storytelling than there’s ever been. Then again, because of the volume, there’s also more bad sports writing than there has ever been. I think that not every one of our stories is great, but I think our ratio is pretty strong. But like I said, we don’t have a monopoly. I see stories in other places all the time and I say, “Boy, I really wish we had that story.”

On which recent stories he wishes Sports Illustrated had…

An ESPN story recently was the Fainaru brothers on Chris Borland. That was a great story. Sometimes you see a story and you say, (“I wish we had that”) — and it happens a lot more now than it used to. There are so many good writers out there who are taking advantage of the opportunities and are leveraging all these platforms.

On his unsolicited, written apology to SI readers about the Manti Te’o hoax…

Now we’re going back. Listen, we got the story wrong. Whether or not there were other people who got it wrong—I don’t really care. I care about us and who we’re reaching. You can’t say: Well, everybody else made this mistake and that makes me feel good. It was a cover story. We got duped like everybody else and I felt that we needed to own that fact. Would it have felt worse if we were the only ones who were duped? Sure. But the point is … we couldn’t view it in the context of how many other people made the mistake. When readers come to SI, they expect that they can believe (the stories). But this is a story that we got wrong, and it’s OK. It’s not something we gnashed our teeth over for a long time afterward. But when something like this happens, you apologize and move on. I don’t think I overly apologized there. Readers pay money to read Sports Illustrated. To get readers to pay for any content these days is a big deal. They put their trust us and it was a small violation of trust. I don’t want to overstate it. You acknowledge it, apologize and move on. I haven’t thought of Te’o a whole helluva lot since then.

On creating Sports Illustrated’s voice….

You want to give the reader a lot of different voices. If you’re looking for a common denominator, you want to be smart and thoughtful, but there’s a danger where every writer starts to sound the same. If you isolated their voices, you’d say, “Oh, this is really good,” but when there’s five of the same people who write the exact same way, then I think it detracts from the magazine or Web site. You want balance in the magazine. … You don’t want to sound like you’re in an echo chamber.

On hiring writers…

(Our) last hire was Greg Bishop. He’s a Syracuse guy too. What I like about Greg — and he’s a very good writer who’s still finding his voice — is that he always looks in interesting corners for stories. Almost every story he turns in, I’m surprised by something in that story. I don’t come away from a story saying, “Yeah, this is well-written, but I felt like I knew all this.” With Greg, he’s really good at probing those corners where most people don’t look. And Lee Jenkins, among all writers, I think is the very best at that. But that’s what I’m looking for: People who’re going to tell me something that I don’t already know and tell it in a way that I hadn’t really thought about. Reporting itself is the most important skill. You’ll find your voice as a writer, but what gives great stories their shape and their depth is their reporting.

On curiosity…

Read Tom Verducci’s story that he did about Pete Rose this summer. Just there’s a curiosity that Tom had. He stretched himself on that story. He didn’t say, “Oh, I have access and I’m going to sit in the car with Pete Rose and he’s going to say some interesting things.” Really, when he went to those small towns between Vegas and southern California, there was a real curiosity that he tied into the story in a very natural way. You can’t teach (curiosity). Scott Price, his byline is S.L. Price, but he has that same curiosity about people. It’s not just enough to get the person. It’s important to mine something fresh from these people.

On what he wanted to change when he became the ninth Managing Editor in SI’s history in 2009…

I didn’t want people to think of the magazine as the varsity and the .com as the JV. There was a notion that all of the best stories, and all of the best talent, would funnel into the magazine alone. We’re going to create a great magazine, and I never questioned our ability to do that, but I believe that if a story works right away that we should put it up online because it’s topical. And because, why hold it any longer? We should put it up. We should be, to some degree, platform-agnostic. I think (when I took over) we were still thinking that what we judged or labeled as the best stories that magazine gets first dibs on them.  We should just be creating great stories consistently, weekly, and those will just fill the magazine every week. And we do fill the magazine easily every week. But it goes back to taking some of your biggest personalities—your faces of the franchise—like Peter King, Verducci and Grant Wahl and saying, “We want these people in front of our consumers as frequently as possible.” And it’s been reflected. Verducci produces 15 to 20 gold stories for us each year in the magazine and that’s great, but he also produces dozens of other great stories online throughout the rest of the year. And that’s the way it should be. Those guys are the model for what we all want Sports Illustrated to look like.

Sam Fortier is a displaced New Englander living in New York. He likes baseball, crunchy peanut butter and the sound Kanye makes in his songs, which he thinks is spelled “HAAH.” He’s not a fan of grammatical error’s. You can read him here every Monday, follow him on Twitter @Sam4TR, or email him at 

Summer Recap 2015

Sunday, when I returned to Syracuse from Maine, I stepped off the bus and felt thoroughly too cold. It was jarring. When I left Friday, Syracuse was balmy, too hot even. A sweltering 93 degrees on day. This was more my speed. I know this Syracuse.

But putting on sweatpants for a trek downtown signaled to me that summer is over. I’d been ignoring the signs for weeks, but I now I have to give up.

So in homage to summer, here are some of the adventures I traveled on since May:

It all started when I got the Esquire gig.

Before I left campus, I had to illegally stream a boring boxing match and found out why boxing is dead. In more realizations before New York, I tracked Bill Simmons’ saga right after leaving ESPN for Part I and then in Part II the one month later fallout was dissected.

Then I got to New York and THINGS STARTED HAPPENING.

I saw Bartolo Colon, Least Likeliest Major Leaguer to Hit a Double, hit a double.

I saw an unbelievable baseball game in Yankee Stadium featuring a crazy comeback in the ninth inning that a friend of mine wanted to skedaddle early from.

After that, history in Belmont Park as American Pharoah raced to the Triple Crown. I was totally under dressed and under duress.

Coney Island, Brooklyn, a train ride away, was the site of summer’s greatest moment: The Hot Dog Eating Contest, and the summer’s greatest man: George Shea.

I also got time this summer to write a story about Strafford, New Hampshire’s own, Bobby Wegner, he of the 7-foot-8 stature.

Then I started wandering around Harlem. First, I went to historic basketball court, Rucker Park.

Then I realized Harlem represents the struggle baseball and basketball are having for national attention.

It struck me, through my friend Joey, that relationships are like saving baseball games…everyone will blow some every once in a while, just have the confidence to come back out and pitch.

Lastly, and most dreadfully, I spent a lot of time at Citi Field and sort of fell in love with the New York Mets. I’m sorry, everyone.

Then I came home. And after subjecting me to a summer of dreadful offense and atrocious pitching, the Red Sox did a nice thing for me.

(End note: This is a list of me getting very lucky and being in the right place at the right time. I feel #blessed to have been able to do all this. Thanks so much to my family and my friend Sam Blum, who made many of these adventures possible.)

Sam Fortier is a displaced New Englander living in New York. He likes baseball, crunchy peanut butter and the sound Kanye makes in his songs, which he thinks is spelled “HAAH.” He’s not a fan of grammatical error’s. You can read him here every Monday, follow him on Twitter @Sam4TR, or email him at 

Uncomfortable Thoughts While Watching Football

With the 40th pick in our fantasy football draft, my friend Andy selected New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman.

The pick received some nods, most figure Edelman will be good. He plays for our hometown New England, which is a bonus to cheer for in fantasy.

But I couldn’t shake one thought.

Last year’s Super Bowl has one of the most-played football highlights in history. Malcolm Butler, a former practice squad guy, intercepting superstar Russell Wilson to seal a Patriots victory. But it’s a few plays prior which loops in my mind.

Third-and-14 from deep in New England territory, about 11 minutes to go in the 2014 season. Patriots down by two scores. Tom Brady hits Edelman deep down the middle for a 21-yard, season-saving first down.

Also on that play: Edelman is annihilated by Seattle Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor. I’m pretty sure he’s concussed. He looks woozy running and can’t maintain balance as he tries to stand. (The Associated Press reported he underwent concussion protocol testing after that drive and passed. Sure.)

Back to my porch and Andy’s drafting of Edelman. Though, that could’ve been any fantasy draft with any group of friends. Still, the thought I had is this:

My friends and I, like so many football fans across the nation, salivate at how many touchdowns someone will score. Yet we hardly consider, “That’s the guy who got concussed last year.”

I didn’t want to be “That Guy,” so I didn’t say anything, but I couldn’t shake the thought.

I thought of all the stories I’d read, or seen in documentaries on TV. About players who’d slowly lost their bodies and minds and freedom.

I know about Steelers legend Mike Webster. I know about Bears great Dave Duerson. About Vikings player Fred McNeill, highschooler Owen Thomas, Hall of Famer Junior Seau. About the countless other players who dealt with their pain alone and away from the media, that there are most likely many more players who lost so much to the game of football.

About every NFL star and high school scrub with concussion-related CTE mentioned in the NFL-damning book, League of Denial. I know that 76 of 79 deceased NFL players studied by Dr. Ann McKee, one of the central characters in the League of Denial, had CTE. I know LeBron James, possibly the world’s greatest athlete, won’t let his kid’s play football.

Yet I’m impatient with giddy anticipation for the Patriots to kickoff the 2015 NFL season on Thursday.

This sport that I love so much and devote time—way too much time—to is inherently dangerous. Football has brought me so much: Things to write about, time with my mother, unexpected time and bonding with my sister, a sport to love, heroes, villains, joy, frustration, pride, sorrow, the best (and most unpredictable) reality TV ever.

Yet it’s a parasite.

As I sit on the couch watching football, where the only injury I can sustain is pulling a muscle by leaning over to scoop a chip into dip, men are risking lives for livelihood on the screen before me. It feels strangely like a 21st-century, High Definition version of gladiator fights. Except in gladiator fights injuries are easily seen in red pools. The most devastating football injuries aren’t seen at all.

Most Sundays I don’t think about concussions. On those that I do, I rationalize it. That guy, whoever he is on the field, is roughly my age but he’s making a minimum of $435,000 per year while I try to make a living by writing for free and deepening debt in college.

I marginalize, and I am not proud of it.

Part of me argues that, since we know so much now about CTE and concussions that the players accept that responsibility and that risk when they step onto the football field. I think of Chris Borland, the 24-year-old former 49ers linebacker who walked away from an NFL career and multimillions in fear of brain injury. I’ve tried to think of it from his perspective: He trained his entire life to become one of the nine children out of every 10,000 to make the NFL. Borland left money, fame, his entire life’s work out of fear. So if everyone else knows about it, they should quit too if they’re worried.

But it’s not that simple. Whether pride, or drive, or financial necessity keeps them in the game, some players need the sport. It’s not fair to simply expect them to stop.

I wonder if marginalization, or at least the ability to forget about the implication of each hit, is a necessary skill for football fans. If a sport like that can survive.

Then I think about those who didn’t even make it to the NFL. The men who had football taken from them by brain injuries before they could even make that $435,000 minimum salary. Like Tyler Marona, who left Syracuse because they wouldn’t let him play football anymore.

I think of the future. At 50, there is a greater likelihood I’ll have my health than any NFL player does. But I don’t like that thought process. Watching Jamaal Charles take a hand off is harder that way.

Maybe it’s easier for me to think about concussions as a case study and statistics because I don’t really know the names I listed above. I learned of them by reading, but I can’t remember highlights, or how I felt when they played.

What if I read that story one day and it’s not Duerson or McNeill? What if it’s Richard Sherman or Russell Wilson or JJ Watt? What if it’s the men that I admire so, the men who absorb these savage hits, and they’re like the men I read about now? Do I feel guilty for paying to see them play and therefore supporting the structure which allowed their minds to fail?

What if, one day, it’s Julian Edelman? What happens then? Does guilt taint pride when I think of that Super Bowl?

This is uncomfortable. I love football. I don’t like thinking about it like this, but I wrote this post looking for something to take comfort in, a rational that explains why I feel guilty for cheering. Something that would make me feel better about watching football and quiet the uneasiness I feel when I’m not wrapped up in the drama. When I’m watching football and I’m just seeing brains hitting one another and men in wheelchairs and men who forget their wives’ names and cannot physically play with their children.

I didn’t find that comfort. I don’t think I ever will.

Yet on Thursday when the Patriots play, and every subsequent Sunday or Monday night, I’ll try to push those thoughts from my head as I sit to watch football.

Sam Fortier is a displaced New Englander living in New York. He likes baseball, crunchy peanut butter and the sound Kanye makes in his songs, which he thinks is spelled “HAAH.” He’s not a fan of grammatical error’s. You can read him here every Monday, follow him on Twitter @Sam4TR, or email him at 

Is Baseball Dying? Observations from Harlem, and the Internet.

It’s Wednesday night and the sun is setting in Harlem.

I’m on my way to Rucker Park to watch some basketball. Walking with sunglasses on and ear buds in, trying to interact with people as little as possible, a basketball hits my leg. I look up. I’m standing at the intersection of 155th Street and Bradhurst Avenue, just inside Washington Heights territory. A small kid in a white ribbed tank top sprints toward me, scoops up the ball without looking up and runs back to the mob of kids on the playground.

There are, by rough guesstimate, 60 kids on the playground. There are basketballs being chucked from all over, maybe eight or nine balls being shot. It seems like a strange cross-section of the childhood games “500” and “Tackle the Ballcarrier” as the kids try to snag a rebound and shoot the ball before being hit by other kids.

Directly adjacent to the basketball court is two baseball fields.

There isn’t a single person on either of them.


That image became imprinted on my mind.

A basketball court—its lines barely containing the teeming, writhing mass of children fighting for just a few basketballs—sitting directly beside an empty baseball field. It seemed to me a split-pane visual representation of how baseball, “America’s national pastime,” is dying and basketball, the sport with the gargantuan new TV deal, is taking over.

But I kept thinking, “Did I catch the park on a bad day? Is that a fair representation of how things are?”

So I went back.


It’s Saturday afternoon and the sun is burning hot high in the sky in Harlem.

There’s a tournament on the basketball court now. Two dozen kids who appear to be too young to play dribble balls on the sidelines. On one of the baseball fields, a man in a white ribbed tank top and Dominican Republic World Baseball Classic cap is hitting grounders down the third base line to a small boy.

Por favor, inténtalo. Sólo tartar,” the older man spits. “Please try. Just try.”

Later, repeatedly, he says, “Sé serio. Be serious.”

My rudimentary Spanish catches half that, but “Papi,” the man leaning against the fence and watching this defensive drill, translates the rest. Papi won’t tell me his real name—he’s involved in a “legal process” which would make “the use of his name undesirable”—but says he lived on Floor 11 of the apartment building across the street for nearly 20 years before he recently moved down a few dozen blocks into the Sugar Hill neighborhood.

“Hardly never,” he says about people coming out to the baseball fields in the summertime. “Maybe six or eight times a year people play ballgames there, but [sic] not hardly. Not even catch.”

Papi isn’t the only one who sees children abandoning the game. The Wall Street Journal wrote about how “the casual young player is vanishing.” The New York Times columnist asked if the game was over. The New Yorker wrote baseball’s obituary, too. Deadspin, in true Deadspin fashion, wrote “What’s Wrong With Baseball?” It’s so common to hear the “baseball-is-dying” narrative is dying, and that it’s due to the old white men fans, that Chris Rock wrote an on-color joke about it.

A 2014 Harris Poll found that baseball is the favorite sport of 14 percent of its responders. Granted it was second behind the NFL (35 percent), but it finished just above college football (11 percent). The Week went as far as to say that baseball’s decline in popularity correlates with the crumbling of American Character.

NBC baseball guy Craig Calcaterra points out that defining Who We Are in this day and age by one pursuit, especially sports, is foolish. He also points out that worrying about baseball’s health is productive if you want to be nostalgic, or if you’re a writer with a Very Important Social Commentary Point.

For every obit baseball gets, there’s a clever thinkpiece refuting that claim (oftentimes from Calcaterra himself). There’s talk of baseball team’s valuations rising and the Forbes article which, on its own line in the story, in bold, read: Don’t Be Stupid, Fan Interest Isn’t Measured By Participation.

But it’s true. Participation is down nine percent. I can read it online from The Washington Post and I can see it in front of me. But I can’t get anyone to confirm to me that the ballfield is empty most of the time, more than just the two days that I’ve been there. Papi’s testimony is the best I can get. Seventeen other people declined to be interviewed for this story.

“Big Al” Williams, whose older son plays for a Bronx team in basketball the tournament and who came down to watch, says he doesn’t often venture into Harlem, but that his son’s friends  mostly play baseball in Harlem at Riverside Park, a few blocks away.

So maybe I’m at the wrong park. But the point still holds: Kids aren’t coming out to play baseball.

I thank Papi for his time, for regaling me with stories about the neighborhood which are all hilarious, but highly questionable in accuracy and unprintable in decency.

It’s been three hours. I’m leaving with a narrative in mind. I see what’s happening here. Baseball is dying. People don’t care about it anymore.

I stash my notebook in the front pocket of my backpack and zip it up. I start to walk away when I see some blue-and-maroon shirts walking down the block. I check the time; it’s a quarter to 3 p.m.

It’s a baseball team. They’re going to practice.