Tuesday, October 23, 2007

SI: Hire Deadspin's Leitch to Replace Reilly

Sports Illustrated needs to make a bold move to replace their most coveted talent, columnist Rick Reilly, who bolted for ESPN. The answer, more than mere replacement:

Hire Deadspin's Will Leitch.

I spent way too much time the past few days thinking about this wild story that Rick Reilly jumped from Sports Illustrated to ESPN. The sports-media implications are fascinating: SI's signature "name" leaving for... TV. (Although it sounds like his main focus will be simply replicating his column on the back page of ESPN the Magazine.)

Beyond the implications for ESPN, the reality is that SI needs a bold move. One is available:

SI should hire Deadspin's Will Leitch away from Gawker Media and give him the back-page column, the new lead voice of SI (including SI.com).

Rick Reilly's biggest problem: His relevance has declined precipitously, as was noted at The Big Lead. If you're over 35, you might still think of him as the multiple-time "Sports Writer of the Year" and the lead "identity" of SI. (Even if you think he has lost something off his fastball.) But as someone who is perilously close to the not-so-coveted "Over-35" demographic, I can say with authority: We are hardly the target audience.

If you're under 30, if you knew who Reilly was at all (and you probably don't know or, more likely, don't care), you know Reilly as the author of those columns that -- if they didn't have Reilly's byline -- you'd wonder why editors at SI were putting warmed-over Page 2 column ideas on their back page. (The nadir: Reilly's tortured "live-blog" of the NFL Draft, which nearly offset his campaign to raise money for malaria nets, which was inspired.)

On the other hand, Will Leitch couldn't be more relevant. He launched and writes the most influential proposition in sports, a blog that not only is the center of gravity for the entire sports blogosphere, but drives a healthy portion of sports newspaper, radio and TV conversation, too.

That's precisely the kind of impact that a brand like SI needs. It needs relevancy, not with its established and aging base of magazine readers who might enjoy Reilly, but with its unestablished and young base of cross-platform consumers who do enjoy Leitch.

Yet for all of Leitch's talents as a blogger, he's an even better essayist, as anyone who has read his column series on either the NCAA Tournament or the MLB playoffs knows. Things are about to get even bigger for Leitch: His new book, "God Save The Fan," comes out early next year. I've read it. It's mind-bogglingly good; enough to establish – or, to many of us, affirm – Leitch's position as THE leading voice of the sports fan today.

I don't usually think about life after Deadspin for Leitch, but I know it has to be there. Of the "what's next" opportunities I think he would be perfect for, taking over the back page of SI would be at the top of the list: Escorting SI from the plateau of the "Reilly Era" into lockstep with the "Deadspin Era."

What makes Leitch so unique for that role is that, for all of the "Underground" populism, he is a purist at heart. He cares about sports in a way that old school guys like Reilly -- who long ago drifted into cynicism cloaked under some kind of stab at "humor" -- simply can't grasp. It's why Reilly can't connect with younger consumers anymore. Leitch combines a reverence for what made SI great with a unique empathy for today's sports fans and a unique understanding of today's sports landscape. Consequently, he can uniquely bridge the gap between SI's older consumers and its younger ones, its bygone golden era and its future.

Most of all, it is precisely the bold step that SI needs to take to stay relevant. I appreciate the Dan Patrick deal last week, but the buzz lasted all of 36 hours before the leaked Reilly story trumped it. SI will never be (or beat) ESPN, nor should it try. As sports bloggers have picked up faster than their traditional counterparts, in sports media, direct competition is overrated -- the most important thing is to serve an audience uniquely (and, hopefully, profitably):

It is better for SI to stake out its own unique voice for the next era in sports and sports fandom; who better to represent that effort that the voice who single-handedly eclipsed SI (and everyone else in traditional sports media) to become the most powerful complement to ESPN among sports fans?

It's a very simple proposition for SI Group President Mark Ford, SI Digital President Jeff Price, SI Managing Editor Terry McDonnell and SI.com Managing Editor Paul Fichtenbaum:

Replace Reilly with relevancy. Putting Will Leitch on the back page of SI every week would be a breathtakingly bold move for SI and a spectacular victory for sports fans everywhere.

(Mega-Disclosure/Caveat: Leitch is a very good friend of mine. We play in two fantasy leagues together, virtually year-round, which in this day and age is as entangled as people can get. I write a weekly guest-post on Deadspin, for which Gawker Media pays me, and I have written other posts for Leitch before. I am a huge fan of his, personally and professionally, as should be obvious. All that said: This post was written entirely independent of Leitch. He didn't know about it, and I didn't tell him I was going to post it.

Also, though it might look like I'm crushing Reilly here, by all accounts he's a fine fellow, who has built a world-class reputation at the top of the sports-media world; still occasionally manages to turn a clever phrase; who consistently and admirably lends himself to extremely worthy causes; and who even is rumored to find his way into Baton Rouge press boxes with foxy arm candy, which anyone can't help but respect. While I am not unfairly skeptical whether he can move the ratings needle at ESPN to justify his rumored multi-million dollar annual deal, I am quite sure he will find much success and happiness there. I am always in favor of bold career moves, and his certainly qualifies. I wish him well.)

17 comments:

marcomarco said...

That may have been the ultimate slurp. Jenna Jameson would be proud.

RevScottDeMangeMD said...

I liked Reilly's columns every now and then, but I will never forgive him for on incident last year.

Do you all remember when Reilly wrote about a high school football player from Dayton, Ohio named Bobby Martin who had no legs and wasn't allowed to play in a game because he didn't have shoes on? Anyway, a columnist from the Dayton Daily News wrote several fantastic stories about this for a week straight. He even went to the OHSAA with the family to protest. Yet, Reilly didn't even give the columnist OR the newspaper credit. People all over the country then thought Reilly came up with the story.

Kind of shady if you ask me.

pv845 said...

Leitch is a tool, not a journalist, and he generally write crap. Look at the A-Rod article he wrote earlier this year. EVERY baseball analyst knew it was impossible for this to happen and Will and you ran with it like it was the word of God.

Leitch can't cut it and SI would make a horrible mistake hiring him.

Jingoist said...

If you ask me, this would be 2 steps backward for Leitch, plain and simple.

SI is headed the way of the dinosaur and would not even be on 1 leg right now if it were not for the annual Swimsuit Issue- which, in its own right, is being circled by vultures as well.

Personally, I think Will (or any famed sports blogger) is better served in their own medium (online) and maybe expand into traditional media via a non-sports-related vehicle- say, Maxim/FHM/Stuff. Because the readership of the demographic is more in these magazines' wheelhouses than SI will EVER be able to recoup.

Sinking ship theory people. SI is dead in the water, accept it and move on.

And it fits Leitch's professional mojo better anyway. Why suffer at the hands of "your father's media" when you have already blazed new trails in the blogosphere? Don't stop there, take it to new heights, not sink to new depths.

Whether those new heights are mainstream online sites, age 15-35 demographically targeted mags, or up and coming tech like cell phone/wi-fi/direct push media, or whatever has yet see the light of day, it's yet to be determined. But make no mistake, you have to move forward, not back.

Mike said...

Marco, I think you right ....geez

Rob I said...

Commenter jingoist said everything I was thinking. I only like Will when he pulls his hair out working 12 hours a day, not living the life of luxury writing a single weekly column. Maybe if Nick Denton drove a garbage truck full of money up to Will's apartment this could all be for naught.

Mike said...

The thing to fathom is not "life after Deadspin for Leitch" but "Life after Leitch for Deadspin". Where will all those nerds who frequent his site with so called "witty comments" congregate after he's long gone?

Dan, I think you are overstating Leitch's relevancy in the sports world. If I asked 100 people who are interested in sports who Will Leitch or Deadspin was, MAYBE 5 would have some idea.

The real question is, if you weren't riding Leitch's nuts in an attempt to bring you along for the ride when he finally makes it, would his personality, website, weekly columns, book, etc be half as good as you think they are?

Generik420 said...

Yawn... Is there a bulleted list of the highlights.. I couldn't bring myself to read past the first paragraph

Rick said...

I agree with what you said about Will, especially the purist part. That hits the nail on the head. He;s by far the least cynical of all the Gawker media editors I read. Plus, his work on the NY times blog has been outstanding this post season.

But SI would be a step back for him. I the next logical step would be to break off and start his own site a la the Engadget guy.

BIGSTAIN said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jim said...

Will (and Dan) already have lives beyond their current gigs writing for the Play email newsletter published by The New York Times, where I work. You can subscribe to it by going to http://nytimes.com/playemail

Dikembe Meiztombo said...

So, what does Will's dick taste like?

Lawdog1214 said...

Marco is exactly right.

Who the hell is Will Leitch and frankly who gives a flying fuck?

There are far more talented bloggers out there. He just happened to find the right people to suck his dick or he sucked the right peoples dick. Whichever you prefer.

GuyInTheCorner said...

We already discussed this idea when Dan made some crazy statement about how Will Lietch was more relevant in sports than Madden.

Here we go again...

SI has 23 million readers a week. Deadspin has less than 2 million readers a week. People have to pay for SI and Deadspin is free yet they still get 10 times the readership.

Nobody knows who Lietch is. You could say that he is good enough for the job so even if he isn't famous enough to take Rielly's spot he might deserve it.

Actually, I guess you can't. After that Cubs/Arod article it's hard to argue that he has credibility at this point.

I read Deadspin every day. The bottom line is that Will Lietch is still a nobody who is clearly unprofessional and would never get this job.

I don't even read SI, I get ESPNMag but I did like Rielly and Will Lietch is no Rick Rielly.

CMFost said...

nice try Dan you figure if Leitch goes to SI.com you can take over for him at deadspin, we see the method behind your madness.

SF said...

I am sorry Dan, but you have no right to bash Reilly like that. While your little caveat at the end may seemingly save your ass, it does not.

I have been a fan of yours since day 1; I have read every Quickie; every post you have made on this blog; and every guest blog post as well...

That being said, Reilly is lightyears ahead of you, and (I am 23 years old btw), I look forward to reading Reilly every week. You have done nothing but suck-up to other bloggers and bash the "mainstream media," but where the hell is your big career move. Sure Deadspin dude would be good for SI, thre is no denying that, but at least appreciate what figureheads like Reilly did for your occupation (instilling humor and wit into sports columns), thus making it possible that you have a job today...oh, i am sorry, you don't.

I will still read this blog everyday, because it is the best Daily Quickie around. But realize your place, and make a move, before bashing others that do.

Simon said...

I think people should be a bit more negative with their comments, I don't think I feel the venom yet.