That is what Mark Trible, a former Flyers blogger, wrote to me on Twitter the day I announced that I sold my passion project, FlyersFaithful.com. What follows is a cautionary tale inspired by those words that will hopefully prevent others from heading down this path.
Four years ago, I started Flyers Faithful with the intention of providing a forum for some great writers I knew (though BroadStreetHockey.com beat me to the punch on one of the writers).
Not long thereafter, I saw one of my favorite Flyers blogs, FlyersGoalScoredBy.com, call it quits. A few other blogs followed suit. Some established writers, including Trible, stopped posting. One thing they had in common was that their sites were run by only a couple of people who were trying to compete with larger networks that had more resources, money, and writers at their disposal.
So, I shaped the model of Flyers Faithful in a way that I considered foolproof: build a deep base of writers, each with a different specialty or focus and a management tier consisting of a partner, two managing editors, and a copy editor. This allowed writers to contribute once per week on average, freeing them up from feeling overburdened and freeing management up to focus on constantly improving the site and staying one step ahead of the trends.
Meanwhile, I continued to scout other writers on various blogs and social media platforms. Why? Everyone has an expiration date. It is only a matter of time before an active writer loses interest, gets an offer from a bigger site, or gets a more demanding job.
It happens regularly to all sites and I made it a priority to always be prepared for such instances.
The model worked. We sustained growth year after year. We became credentialed to cover the Philadelphia Flyers, Adirondack Phantoms, Trenton Titans, Penn State and more. We took on a wonderful photographer and got her credentialed as well.
On top of that, the site became profitable. We were constantly contacted by various companies and advertising networks who wanted to buy ad space, sponsored content, etc. Soon, we had a bank account, business cards, and a registered LLC.
We were never on the level of Broad Street Hockey, Puck Daddy, Hockey Buzz, or Deadspin but we did alright for ourselves. We even branched out into a network of Philly sports blogs with a very promising Eagles blog.
At the same time, we put a focus on giving back. We routinely held events like pub quizzes, NHL ’94 tournaments, roller hockey tournaments, and ice hockey tournaments where we raised money for various worthwhile causes, like the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation.
Behind the scenes, though, things were breaking down for me. The bigger the site grew and the more self-sustaining it seemed, the more pressure it put on me.
Getting credentialed was a big step for us but organizing schedules and remaining in constant contact with teams’ PR divisions to ensure we had a spot in the press box was more time consuming than I imagined.
The burden of deciding what to do with the money we made weighed heavily on me. It was not enough to split up equitably to such a big group of writers and our overhead costs kept mounting. The more traffic we got, the more expensive our hosting plan became. I had spreadsheets upon spreadsheets to keep track of everything.
The fundraisers were fun but in high demand and often cost me money out of my own pocket to run when someone skipped out on their entry fee and it was inevitable that the pucks and balls I purchased for these tournaments were more likely to leave with the players than with me. Just think about that for a second: I lost money on trying to raise money. Last year alone, I believe I spent over $600 out of my own pocket to host these fundraisers and that figure does not even include the money I actually donated to the charities.
Our management team had meetings to discuss schedules, new ideas, event planning, and more. Then I went home and spent countless hours on the phone or running around to various establishments trying to convince them to sponsor our events.
At home, I spent plenty of time monitoring the traffic on competing blogs and comparing the metrics to ours.
On top of an already stressful full-time job, this became a second job.
A sea change was already taking place.
I no longer read my own site. I no longer enjoyed watching hockey games. I flat out refused to write. Eventually, I came to the realization that I wanted out.
When the next offer came along to buy the site — believe me, there were plenty before that one — I jumped at the chance and accepted chump change just to disassociate myself from the thing I previously cherished doing.
In the process, I sold out my friends and colleagues as indentured servants to another owner. I still live with that regret and probably always will (Yay, Italian Catholic guilt!). In hindsight, I should have just turned the site over to the writers themselves but I genuinely thought I was doing what was in their best interest at the time.
I wrote a blog post about the sale, thanking our readers and wishing the writers well. That is when Mark Trible replied to me with, “So you want to start a sports blog.”
I knew exactly what he meant and have wanted to write this piece to potential sports blog owners since then.
Blogs fold as quickly as they start. No matter how much you try to prepare for the future, you can become a victim of your own success as well as a victim of your own shortcomings. Sports blogs, especially in a city like Philadelphia, can be difficult to maintain and, just like the city’s athletes, can be put under a microscope.
You may be sitting there right now, mulling over various domain names and your own foolproof ideas on how to build up a sports site but be careful. To paraphrase, with great growth comes great burden. Unless you are a fledgling writer who definitely wants to go into the field of sports journalism, I caution you against going down this path. For every Dave Isaac who makes it to the bigs, there are 100 people like me who fall prey to their own naïve aspirations.