Welcome to the future.
We’re here because we’ve hit an important milestone in SB Nation’s history: this week we’re announcing the ongoing rollout of a year-long investment in our Team Brands. Many of you have been hearing bits and pieces of our overall plan and we’re finally ready to talk LOUDLY about where we’re going together.
Before we look forward, let’s look back: SB Nation began in 2005 with one Oakland A’s site and has grown into a network of over 280 resourced Team Brands, each devoted to serving a distinct and passionate fanbase, anchored by the national flagship SBNation.com. What launched as a platform meant to help fans blog has become one of the biggest networks devoted to sports – and the only one capable of reaching over 75 million fans while remaining independent from any TV or league partners.
At the beginning of 2018, as we entered our 13th year of publishing, I and the leaders at SB Nation set three big goals for our Team Brands:
- Solidify our foundation. Make sure we’re still resourcing, managing, and promoting the things that work.
- Provide clarity. Make sure everyone who participates with SB Nation Team Brands is clear about their role in our community – what we expect from y’all and what you can expect from us.
- Modernize how we support creators. We had a very basic infrastructure built around blogging. But we hadn’t looked at ALL the ways blogging has expanded or all the off-platform places sports fans are raising their voices.
Back in 2005, the one-size-fits-all approach to blogging that built our first site, Athletics Nation, worked well for launching other Team Brands too. It’s how we got to our unimaginable reality: fanning out with over 75 million people who come to us to connect with other authentic obsessives.
Last year, our parent company Vox Media made a large, multimillion dollar investment in SB Nation Team Brands to build on the success we have seen year over year. Our business and passionate fans have evolved, and it’s time our model does. But first, we needed to acknowledge two facts that seem obvious: Team Brands, like their fans, are not all the same, and fans want to do more than just blog these days.
By now we know that a Team Brand like Silver Screen and Roll, one with a rabid, huge fan community that can’t get enough of
LeBron Kuz what they’re bringing is a lot different than, say, the good people at Big Cat Country. That’s a community that’s just as passionate about their team (DUUUVALLLLLLLL!) but might have a less consistent appetite for all the content, all the time. The whole point of SB Nation, from our beginnings to now and into the future, is supporting and providing a platform for the creators who value what makes their community special.
So we developed an infrastructure that allows us to customize each budget for Team Brands. We’ve created ten different roles that go well beyond – BUT STILL INCLUDE – blogging that fans can sign on to do with us as paid independent contractors. Those functions encompass different writing contributions, leading a Team Brand, podcasting, posting to social channels, creating video, and moderating our communities.
By next week we’ll have rolled out new contracts to over 2200 contributors to team brands, including over 900 newbies, so that SB Nation can continue to empower fans who want to create something special for their community.
What’s come from this new infrastructure? In the past five months, we’ve launched 35 Team Brand podcasts – mostly around the NFL – and by this time next year we’ll have over 100. We’ve begun to experiment with massive, network-wide editorial projects that activate our local experts, such as FanPulse, an NFL-wide weekly survey of our superfans. FanPulse gives us a new and powerful way to show how fans feel about their squads. We’ve also started exploring new commerce lines on our team brands, hosting meetups for fans, and showcasing our creators on SB Nation Radio. And that’s just the start. We are pleased to offer these new options for contributors to engage with their community on and off the SB Nation platform in ways that they think will work for their specific brand.
Crucially, creating clear new contractor roles allows us at the mothership to make better resourcing decisions, allocating budget to each Team Brand based on a customized mix of roles that’ll power each community. There’s no algorithm to this. We’ll look at the resources based on factors that are important to what works about SB Nation: audience on- and off-platform; positive community engagement; contributor insights and preferences; whether a Team Brand has a particular specialty they’ve become known for or contributors who’re creating outsized followings – the list goes on. Everyone knows that there’s no algorithm for fandom. All of SB Nation thrives by being the best network that brings unique, ardent, engaged team communities together.
Alongside this new customized model, we’ve invested in supporting Team Brands by expanding the centralized SB Nation support team. We’ve more than doubled the number of full-time employees whose work is devoted to Team Brands. Among those roles are managers and coordinators who’ll help Team Brands recruit a diverse group of people to paid contractor roles, who’ll connect Team Brands to our parent company Vox Media’s resources (think podcast support), and who will continue to iterate and innovate on ways to improve our support and options for team brands.
Finally, we are launching an updated set of Community Guidelines today that takes into account everywhere we build community (i.e. IRL, on- and off-platform). Those guidelines also offer insight into how our fans can participate across our communities, including clearer language spelling out the trusted access some users have regarding our publishing platform. We love being able to offer up a space for fans to participate in these communities, but we also want to ensure that these fan creators understand they do so without any ongoing commitment.
This is a process that has, as you might imagine, taken a loooooong time to get to. And it’s demanded tremendous coordination between many people who work across Vox Media and lots of people who want to be part of SB Nation’s future.
I’m excited to keep building a network that, at its heart, shows how much good happens when fans connect. From rallying to fight pediatric cancer, to creating a whole new way to follow the college basketball season, to literally singing a fond farewell to Hue Jackson, to organizing a Denver Nuggets watch party in AUSTRALIA, to helping each other get over an MLS playoff loss, y’all are a constant reminder that sports are better together.
I can’t wait to see where we go from here.