Brian Cook — a longtime University of Michigan sports fan — runs MGoBlog.com as a solo operation and brings in enough money to keep his blog up to speed with the likes of freshman quarterback Denard Robinson. Brian launched his site in December 2004 and has watched its audience grow to 100,000 unique visitors to date. Since taking on blogging as a full-time gig in mid-2006, he’s relied on the sports-based ad network Yardbarker for half of his monthly revenue. The rest comes from t-shirt sales, ticket links and reader donations, allowing him to fully dedicate his time to managing the site’s content and writing in-depth posts that sometimes hit the 10,000-word mark. We spoke to the Ann Arbor-based blogger yesterday about his business and his belief that traditional sports coverage needs more room for conversation among readers and fans.
What got you into sports blogging?
In college I had written for the school’s satire newspaper, their version of The Onion, and I had been looking for a job where I could keep writing after I left. I tried a few things that never panned out, and then it occurred to me that I spent a lot of my time following the Michigan football team. Whenever anybody ever asked me, I would rattle on for about 15 minutes, usually until their eyes glazed over. So, I figured there might be a better spot for that kind of knowledge other the disinterested ears of my friends. From there I started my blog and went about feeling my way.
What was your level of business and sales experience at that point?
Zero. And it’s pretty much stayed that way. Luckily I’m in a nice position, since MGoBlog is probably the number one college football blog in terms of traffic. When you’re in that position, the ad networks that want to get you in the fold will offer you certain CPM minimum guarantees — shares of the advertising dollars they make, as long as your site gets enough traffic. So, I’ve stayed with Yardbarker for the past couple of years, and that’s really helped me out. At this point, they’re still in the venture phase and don’t mind spending money to keep me.
And I’m able to supplement that with other revenue sources. One of the nice things about being a sports blogger is that there are ticket and betting companies that will pay you just to put text links up. I’ve also been selling t-shirts through the site, which have done very well. And then there are donations from fans, which bring in a couple of thousand dollars a year.
Have you ever thought about hiring a sales person to help expand your advertising reach?
Yes, I have, and I’ve thought about adding some freelance coders to help out as well. But it’s hard to tell if that would be worthwhile at this point. Before I get there my biggest priority is to expand the amount of traffic I’m getting. One day the site might hit a saturation point, and stop growing as quickly as it has been over the past few years. If that happens, then getting more mileage out of my traffic will probably become more important.
So, how do you keep Michigan sports fans coming to your site?
There’s a lot of advice out there. It’s always like write this or do this, and I kind of defy it. My signature post is something called Upon Further Review, which is a play-by-play break down of every play in every Michigan football game, which usually runs about 10,000 words per game. And I split that up into offense and defense. My strategy has always been to just kill a category. If you want analysis of a Michigan football game there’s nowhere else you can go.
A lot of newspaper sports writing strives for objectivity, and it holds itself a little bit aloof. And then when it tries to talk to about the intense emotions inspired by a game, it kind of falls flat. To the readers it’s like asking a virgin for his opinion on what an orgasm feels like.
The Ann Arbor News recently reported that it will become an online-only news source this month. What impact will that likely have on MGoBlog.com?
I don’t know how much of an impact it will actually have, because the kind of people who are still subscribing to The Ann Arbor News aren’t my core demographic. My core demographic is very male, very young, highly educated, and I would assume, highly internet-oriented. The kind of people who are affected by The Ann Arbor News becoming annarbor.com are generally less hardcore about their sports coverage.
But with the transition to the web, they are promising to link out a lot, so having more of a two-way relationship with the local news sites would help, probably just in terms of Google ranking and maybe some traffic. Right now I link to them and The Free Press fairly often, and I don’t think I’ve ever received a link from any of those sources. That seems a little unbalanced.
Click below to hear an audio clip from our interview with Brian Cook.