There's arguably more high-quality sports writing on the Web than ever before. But despite the high-minded pursuits of sites like The Classical, when it comes to digital sports success, distribution still rules.
Consider Sports on Earth. The smart, long-form, opinion-driven site was launched last summer with high-profile backing (Major League Baseball and USA Today) and several big-name writers. Yet according to comScore numbers, Sports on Earth drew just 153,000 visitors in December (sources close to the site argue the internal numbers are substantially higher). On top of that, this week one of the site's marquee writers, Joe Posnanski (he of the famed Joe Paterno biography) announced he'll be leaving the site for NBC Sports.
Then consider ThePostGame, Yahoo's attempt at a sports magazine. The site, launched with far less fanfare in early 2011, drew roughly 10.5 million visitors in December, well ahead of ESPN's far-more-celebrated Grantland, which saw just over 2 million visitors.
ThePostGame is no doubt bolstered by the still-impressive traffic funnel of its portal, Yahoo Sports, which according to comScore leads the pack in the sports category rakings. The site pulled in more than 40 million unique visitors in December 2012, slightly ahead of ESPN's 38.3 million. It seems that scores, stats and Fantasy Football still pack a wallop.
Still, the Web has been kind to sports media, democratizing industry coverage that once thrived on press box and locker room access and creating an important space for fans, as well as high-quality commentary and long-form feature writing. Consider Deadspin, which may have broken the biggest sports story of the year this month with its Manti Te'o scoop.
Which is why it may be troubling to smaller publications that the network is still king. Sites like Turner's recently acquired Bleacher Report, which in October posted 12 million visitors, prove that when it comes to growing an audience, nothing beats a wide network and scores of content (Bleacher boasts publishing more than 1,000 articles daily).