As digital publishing tools evolve, it’s not unusual for websites to see gradual design tweaks and minor facelifts. But for SB Nation, which rolls out an extensive re-launch this morning, this is no facelift. This is full-scale reconstructive surgery.
Owned by Vox Media, the 7-year-old digital sports blogging network, with 322 individual sites, is catching up technologically with its sister property, The Verge, which has built an audience of 7 million unique monthly visitors in its first 11 months. The reboot will be technological and editorial, with prolific college sports blogger Spencer Hall being named SB Nation’s first editorial director.
Hall, who joined SB Nation in 2009 and runs the popular college football blog EDSBS.com (Every Day Should Be Saturday), will oversee SB’s main site while maintaining his blog and trying to showcase the work of the network’s thousands of writers. “I’ll take the 300 plus-sites and try to corral some kind of common vision and coordination between them, which is very daunting and sounds almost impossible, but as an Internet native writer and someone who’s been around SB Nation for a while, its something I think I have a pretty good handle on,” Hall told Adweek.
Following in the footsteps of web native properties like ESPN’s Grantland, SB Nation is making investments in long form feature writing, which will be run by Glenn Stout, editor of the "Best American Sports Writing” series. SB Nation plans to publish three or four long form pieces per week.
On the design and technical side, the re-launch is enormous. The site will boast a responsive design across desktop, mobile, and tablet platforms, which means the user experience and design will be largely uniform and intuitive across individual platforms. “It’s the biggest lean into adaptive, responsive design in the publishing industry that I’ve seen,” Vox Media CEO Jim Bankoff said.
To pull it off, the team worked for six months to consult with the individual network sites and build a cohesive narrative across 322 properties. The project was dubbed "SB United" and even included an extensive training program for each of the more than 1,600 writers and bloggers to become familiar with the Vox technology and platform. “We’re rolling out our advanced tools and putting high powered weaponry in the hands of everybody,” Vox vp of technology Trei Brundrett said. “The end result is that we’re going to have a really fast, impactful platform and a really beautiful experience for sports fans.”
While users will now find magazine-style layouts, rich media integration, and story streams across both individual sites and the SB network, advertisers will also see some new opportunities with promoted StoryStreams and custom ad integration for normally static banners and branded reskin advertisements that border the pages.
For reboots of this scale there are few precedents to draw on, and like any ambitious project, Vox and SB Nation run the risk of alienating a devoted audience (27 million monthly uniques) with changes. However, as a veteran of the site, Hall plans to work to keep focus on SB Nation’s bread and butter. “We are not going to stray from our core idea of focusing on the fan experience from every level. What we’re doing is continuing to unearth that in the community and building it forward. That’s what we need to do—manifest all this on a larger level with more formats.”