Updates from Ann Arbor

As I wrote in my last post, I was heading to Ann Arbor, Michigan to cover the Syracuse field hockey team’s quest to win a national championship. And SU did just that Sunday, becoming the first women’s team in school history to win an NCAA national championship.

Throughout the weekend my beat partner Liam Sullivan and I kept fans appraised of what was happening. We co-bylined a preview of the national championship game after SU avenged its 2014 national championship loss by beat Connecticut 3-1 in the semifinal.

In the national championship, I freelanced a game story for Syracuse.com, the local paper, and wrote some other things for The Daily Orange. Those other things included how senior goalkeeper Jess Jecko made big saves down the stretch to secure the title and how senior captain Emma Russell leaves the program as possibly its best ever.

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 sam.fortier@yahoo.com. 

Heading to Ann Arbor

We take a break from our regularly-scheduled series to bring you some news. 

I, Sam Fortier, will be driving to Ann Arbor, Michigan this coming Thursday to cover the Syracuse field hockey NCAA tournament. You can follow me on Twitter @Sam4TR for the coverage as I’ll be bringing you game updates and stories throughout the weekend. 

It’s my first trip ever where an organization, The Daily Orange, is sending me to an event to cover. I’m excited for the weekend and I hope you’ll follow along. 

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 sam.fortier@yahoo.com. 

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 SI.com 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 SI.com) 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.

On ESPN…

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 sam.fortier@yahoo.com. 

Helmet cameras for NFL players leave me with questions

Thursday, before the San Francisco 49ers were trampled by the Seattle Seahawks, 49ers tight end Vernon Davis donned a camera helmet and caught passes. The camera gave fans a chance to see what their favorite NFL players see on an average pass play.

The helmet, made by SchuttVision, live-streamed his warm up to Fox’s national audience. Players had worn helmet cams like it before, but this was the first time an NFL player demonstrated the live streaming capability for a Sports Vision Innovation-designed device.

The camera, according to a public relations email sent on behalf of the company, has been tested with blows as hard as 11.2 meters per second, also known as the equivalent of hitting a brick wall at 23 mph, without breaking or stopping recording.

The camera has also been approved by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment for use by players in any position, and during both practice and game-play.

That leaves us with questions: When do cameras become widespread? When do we get the “helmet cam” as another regular camera angle shown each game day? Do we want to see what’s on it?

The camera will have to be turned on for us to find out.

Sports Executive of the Year: Jeff Long

I groaned and looked over at the girl in the lounge decked out in a red-and-gray sweatshirt, a creepily cartoonish Brutus the Buckeye staring at me.

Marcus Mariota — still with the Oregon Ducks then — picked himself up off the ground and futilely tried to get his Ducks to move forward, to pretend they still had a shot at the National Championship. They didn’t, as the Toledo, Ohio native and avid Buckeyes fan next to me in the lounge shouted. It was all Ohio State.

My freshman year, sitting in the Flint 3A lounge, seems forever ago and yesterday simultaneously. But whether it was yesterday or a million years ago, I will never forget the admiration for Cardale Jones and the Ohio State Buckeyes as the team toppled Oregon, forecasted to beat the snot out of OSU days before. I remember sitting at home with my mother, watching Ohio State-Alabama the week before as the Buckeyes — who barely made the playoffs as a controversial No. 4 team — neutralize the nation’s No. 1 squad. I remember the Bourbon Street Snapchats (OSU-Alabama was played in New Orleans) from a celebrating fan I knew from school.

That excitement and near-unbelievable storyline would have never been possible if it hadn’t been for the newly-instituted College Football Playoff. Instead of Ohio State sweeping in to take No. 4 from Texas Christian and Baylor, neither of which had lost a game or a player to merit moving them down after a win, there’d be a computer saying that (yawn) Alabama would play Oregon in the National Championship. I suppose I’m being unfair. The game wouldn’t have been a yawn, but in retrospect it would’ve because the best team in all of college football, the team on its third quarterback of the season after two Heisman hopefuls were hurt, wouldn’t have played.

The College Football Playoff made it all possible.

And the man that made that event possible was Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long. He should be the 2015 Sports Business Person of the Year.

As the chairman of the College Football Playoff, he’s the man I find directly responsible for bringing me the pure joy of watching four teams duke it out for the National Championship instead of two, for giving me an incredible storyline to tell for years, for giving me the redemption of Cardale Jones, who sent an unintelligent tweet and then made up for it. And when I say “me,” I think I represent every college football fan in the country. Sports fans as a whole even. Sports fans love sports for their unpredictable nature and their analogous look at real life. There are heroes and underdogs and surprise endings, much like the College Football Playoff.

Also, Long showed his smarts and lack of bias when he went with Ohio State, a Big Ten school, over TCU or Baylor, another southern school which faces South Eastern Conference teams, which Long is a part of.

There were more cheers than boos from the fans. In today’s day and age, shouldn’t that be enough? He gave us what we wanted, good sports and good stories. Give the man the medal.

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 sam.fortier@yahoo.com. 

What the new TV ratings poll tells us

The Sports Business Journal analyzed the television ratings of each Major League Baseball teams. Surprising upstarts like the Houston Astros increased its ratings six-fold while the television mess in Los Angeles led to bottom five finishes for the Dodgers and Angels. But the main focus of the article was about the boom in Kansas City for the Royals’ television rating. The team averaged a 12.33 rating as of last week, which is a 90 percent increase from 2014. The most newsworthy aspect of this is that, if the ratings keep rising, the Royals would be the highest rated baseball team since 2002 (baseball’s dying, remember?) when the Mariners pulled in a 13.2.

This, I think, is largely due to marketing, management and finance. The 2014 Royals were surprisingly good with young talent and likeable superstars and seemingly parlayed talent into good performance to fan enjoyment at the game to fan identification with the team to a higher, more active fan base. It all started with the management to bring stability to one of baseball’s worst clubs in the early 2000’s to commit to excellence and rebuild over the long haul, investing in large quantities of cheap, high-potential young players. With a stable, level-headed manager he led the management’s assets to success and marketing took it from there. Finance is just, as per usual, reaping the rewards and assuring that monetary gain today is invested wisely. But the crux is marketing and turning success into profit. Without the marketing, there’d be no rise in TV ratings and no more money in the bank.

The implication of the poll’s release is a positive one for baseball. Yes, Kansas City’s increase is great for baseball there, but it doesn’t indicate an industry-wide trend. St. Louis also rose 31 percent even though the team didn’t improve that much. (The Cardinals owned baseball’s best record, but are consistently good, so it’s not an unbelievable increase.) However, the Houston Astros rose nearly 500 percent, the Chicago Cubs more than doubled and six other teams rose by more than 50 percent. On the flip side, the bottom four teams only fell by about 30 percent, which shows that baseball is gaining ratings in the 2015 faster than they’re losing them.

While Sports Business Journal doesn’t directly discuss any strategy or approach taken by a single organization, I think it’s interesting that I am seeing the results of a hard-working organization, mostly the marketing department. I would say that Kansas City’s approach is obviously working. From watching MLB.tv a lot this season (and consistently tuning to Kansas City games) the team heavily markets players, which, normally is a no-no. Theoretically, marketing departments should shy away from marketing players, but the Royals are in a unique position. The team’s star players (Moustakas, Hosmer, Ventura, Finnegan, Santana) are all young and under club control for at least two season after this one. Barring a trade (which no is inconceivable), the Royals will have the same stars, the same core, heading into 2017, which will be more than long enough for the marketing team to have run its course. So while the Royals are in a unique place, its decision to buck convention and market its young stars is clearly paying dividends.