ThePostGame looks beyond Yahoo for growth

Digital sports vet David Katz has made a lot of bets over the years. But when he launched his biggest venture yet, ThePostGame, he went to Yahoo, where he formerly worked. The digital sports “magazine” would complement Yahoo’s sports news with contextually-rich features on the athletes and the game. In time, it grew to an audience of 15 million unique visitors on the power of the Yahoo portal.

But the Yahoo firehose has slowed to a trickle and ThePostGame’s traffic dwindled to under 5 million, while competitors like Bleacher Report and SB Nation are holding strong at 55 million and 47 million, respectively. So ThePostGame has decided to change its distribution approach. ThePostGame will no longer be exclusively distributed through Yahoo as Katz looks to other publishers as well as video networks and social media platforms to get more exposure for its content.

Katz wouldn’t name any partners yet but said he’s “very close” to signing some distribution deals.

“The Internet has evolved,” he said. “In the past couple of years, it was: ‘How can I do link exchanges to get my traffic up as fast as possible?’ Now, it’s: ‘How many people can we touch in a given month?’ It’s been an evolution for us from getting back to our site to one that’s more distributed.”

ThePostGame has been paving the way for its distribution transition, producing features that are designed to travel well on social networks, like recognizing events in sports history and athletes’ birthdays. ThePostGame also has created its own multichannel network on YouTube. Despite a decline in traffic to its own site, the publisher claims that through such activities, along with its email newsletters, it now reaches 40 million people per month.

ThePostGame playbook mirrors that of other publishers that are actively creating content designed expressly for consumption on platforms, even if it means they won’t get clicks back to the publisher’s site. The risk is that they give up some control of their brand’s presentation and ability to monetize their content.

Katz said he’s not concerned about the decline in traffic to ThePostGame’s own site or the risk of a distributed approach. “I’m OK with that,” he said. “My focus is, when I do an ad deal, am I able to deliver for the advertiser?”

To that end, along with the editorial content, ThePostGame is also taking a distributed approach to the sponsored content it creates for brands. It’s not new to such content, having done 250 projects for brands including Hyundai, Mobil 1 and the U.S. Postal Service that have run on ThePostGame and the brand’s own channels. Such deals account for more than half ThePostGame’s revenue.

Now it’s offering to create campaigns for brands that run completely independent of ThePostGame, under a new unit named TPG Studios. Along with announcing the new studio, ThePostGame said it has signed a deal with WPP to advise clients on branded content.

The question is whether the long-form journalism model ThePostGame was built on — “GQ meets Sports Illustrated meets the Huffington Post,” as Katz puts it — can work in a distributed world. Such content is expensive to do, and ThePostGame has avoided hiring journalism stars with big social followings to generate awareness for stories.

Chris Pirrone, general manager of digital at the USA Today Sports Media Group, said ThePostGame can bring value by providing something small sports sites can’t do themselves. “If it’s longer form, that’s interesting,” he said. “It’s expensive to produce that because it takes a long time to write that content. The question is, do you produce enough pageviews to make it work?”

Moreover, it’s hard to get lengthy articles to travel well on social media, said Ian Schafer, CEO of the agency Deep Focus. “If they move to a distributed model, they’ll probably have to pivot,” he said. “Long-form journalism doesn’t work so well in a distributed world. Sports is tough. What does well on platforms is really localized, regional sports news.”

Image via ThePostGame’s video series, “The Blade”

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