Friday, October 23, 2009

Recap: Blogs With Balls 2.0 In Las Vegas

Bill Simmons was NOT at Blogs With Balls 2.0 in Las Vegas last week, but if you want to see my "Future of Simmons" post that has been getting some attention, click here. Anyway...

I was a bit inspired by Greg Wyshynski's post recapping Blogs With Balls 2.0, which happened last week in Las Vegas. I'm going to borrow the form to do my own recap:

*This was my first time in Las Vegas. Ever. (This is the last time I can really say that. I appreciate your patience as I beat that meme into oblivion.)

*I brought my wife. Contrary to popular belief, this made the entire trip much better. It is also important to understand that she is both far better-liked by the sports-blog group (ask any of them) AND far more fun than me, which is a lot of the reason she is far better-liked.

*Wow: Prime (in the Bellaggio) was one of the best steaks I have ever had.

*The Wynn was a good choice of where to stay. It's relatively small and relatively tame, both of which were qualities I liked. When I wanted "big" and "rowdy," I walked 10 minutes over to the Venetian or further down the Strip.

*I erroneously thought that Las Vegas was Mountain time, not Pacific time. Thus: My 7:30 a.m. Sporting News deadline was now 4:30 a.m., not 5:30 a.m. I cannot begin to explain how much more than a single hour that really is, when you're talking about that hour of the day. (Sorry: NIGHT.) It did, however, allow me the opportunity to cruise the casino at 3:30 when I would get up and get some coffee (casino cafe coffee: $4; ordering small coffee pot via room service: $25). No one told me that 3:30 is apparently prime time for the hookers who troll the casino looking for dates. They were not looking for the guy who just got up, undoubtedly.

*I did not realize how far apart everything was. As a New Yorker, my natural inclination is to walk everywhere if I think I can. I combine that with a terrible natural sense of direction. Thus, my walk from my hotel (The Wynn) to the LV Convention Center took 45 minutes.

*Standing in line to get my conference pass, I was approached by Jim, a rep for BwB sponsor Diageo Liquors, who told me that there was a bottle of Crown Royal waiting for me in the conference room. I briefly weighed the idea of having a nip before my panel. It was 10 a.m. (Pacific! Which means it was afternoon according to my East Coast body clock.)

*I ducked in and out of the first panel, because I was so nervous about moderating my own panel, which came next. I spent the hour beforehand pacing, checking to see if the panelists had arrived and reviewing my "notes," which was really an obsessively written out list of every possible combination of questions and issues possible, for each of the five panelists. My prep-time ratio was probably 4 to 1.

*I begin to see folks I know -- and folks I'm excited to meet. Ufford, Shoals, Blackistone, Amy K. Nelson (all on my panel). Ed Bunnell from (also on my panel). Josh Zerkle. Dan Levy. Matt Sebek from JoeSportsFan. Ron Wechsler from ESPN (who I only knew through Twitter). Jon Denunzio from the Washington Post. A bunch more would roll in through the course of the day: Daulerio, Skeets, The Brothers Mottram, Rob King, Spencer Hall, Jim Bankoff, Lang Whitaker, Sam Amick, Holly Anderson, Paul Melvin. Longtime email and Twitter correspondents like The Starter Wife. A ton more that I'm surely forgetting -- and I apologize for not name-checking every one of you, because seeing and meeting folks in person was my favorite part of the conference, by far. What a great group of people.

*My panel -- "The Future of Sports Media" -- was as unwieldly as expected. I focused on some key issues: Local, "Quality" -- the goal was to keep things moving and to give everyone a roughly equal level of "air time." Great diverse perspectives: Nelson from ESPN, Ufford from With Leather and KSK, Shoals from Free Darko and Sporting News, Ed Bunnell as our resident "exec," Blackistone from AOL and repping the "ex-newspaper" group. Beyond hearing from everyone, I really wanted a certain level of candid engagement, and everyone seemed very open to talking frankly about where things are... and where things are going. Truth be told, I'm going to have to leave it to someone else to recap the highlights of the panel, because I was so focused on managing a smooth experience, I didn't really write down a ton of notes. I know that I took advantage of the air-time, myself; that Shoals had at least one high-quality rant-ish moment (in a good way); that everyone was totally sensible (in a good, non-boring way); and that, at some point, I was credited for giving Shoals a smackdown when credit is due to Ufford. Again, it was less a smackdown than a fair disagreement -- what more do you want from your panels?

*The panel in the afternoon was about access between teams/leagues and bloggers. I asked a question about the evolution of "access" when teams and leagues are becoming their own content creators, at the same time traditional media outlets are under tremendous pressures to cut back on coverage -- if not pressure of extinction outright. I used an extreme example: The Sacramento Bee going out of business. The panelist was the Kings' PR guy; the Bee's Kings beat guy was in the audience. It was a light-hearted moment. Then he didn't really answer my question. The teams need local coverage -- I'm just not sure it needs to be from local newspapers. Maybe it's from ESPN Local. Maybe it's from hyper-local start-ups. Maybe it's from blogs. Maybe it's from the team itself, if they can create coverage that is credible enough.

*ESPN was very gracious to throw a party for the group on Thursday night. It was at ESPN Zone. We got to see a preview of the USFL "30 for 30" documentary (the judge my wife clerked for had a cameo, as the guy who presided over the NFL-USFL trial, which was fun for her to see). They gave us cards good for 2 hours of playing in the ESPN Zone game room. I played 3 straight games of Pop-a-Shot, then was too tired to do much more than sedentary driving-style games. Oh, and get my ass beat by my wife in air hockey. I'm telling you: She is infinitely cooler than I am. (Do I feel like attending the party compromises my ability to analyze ESPN's role in sports media? No, and I never get the sense that's what their aim is. In fact, one of the points I made to kick off my panel was that it's not that 2009 represented the moment when ESPN embraced all sorts of new-media innovations -- it's the year they decided to take a leadership position in those innovations. For a big company, that's a big deal -- and I can only presume that Rob King and Co. found the panels as interesting as the rest of us.)

*I made my first-ever sports-book bet on Thursday night: Cincy over South Florida. I was enabled by the presence of BwB attendee Zach Rosenfield from Accuscore (the only Jewish alum of the University of Oklahoma I have - or will - ever meet), who educated me more in 10 minutes on what I was trying to do than I had learned in the previous 36 years. Going into the weekend, it felt like the safest bet I would make all weekend -- it was. I bet $50. I won. (Shoulda bet $500.) I felt good about myself. Very good. The tiny pangs of gambleholicness were stirred, and I'm not saying that to mock people with gambling problems. I'm saying that because anyone making their first-ever bet who doesn't recognize those pangs is doomed to succumb to them, eventually.

*Friday morning, I was up again at 3:45 to file my Sporting News column. Yikes.

*The first morning session on Friday was an ESPN case study about how they are integrating social media. It was pretty interesting, particularly their "Section 140" initiative, which is about connecting interactivity to every live event. My follow-up tweet -- I didn't get to actually ask the question -- was about how it's not enough to bring 20,000 fans into a room to talk. That's a cacaphony. You've got to give me the filters to make sense of it. I don't want to hear a random perspective -- I want to hear the perspectives of my friends and others in my network. I want to be able to opt-in to the best perspectives, in the same way I choose to follow people on Twitter who I think have interesting things to say. I'm pretty sure that's where Section 140 will go -- if only because that's where it HAS to go. Regardless: More industry-leading innovation from ESPN.

*The next panel -- my last for the conference -- was a "State of the Union," featuring Spencer Hall, Daulerio, Jamie Mottram and JE Skeets. I got in a friendly quasi-argument with Ufford when I asked the panel to comment on the value of their massive distribution platforms as an essential element of their success: That you can't bootstrap your way to mass audience (and thus viability) without distribution, no matter how good your work might be. I lamentably made the statement "Ball Don't Lie wouldn't exist," which Ufford appropriately jumped on. I was sloppy and deserved the smack. What I meant to say was that while Skeets might be able to very easily create a very high-quality NBA blog, without Yahoo's distribution power, he wouldn't have the position of authority and influence he has now. That might seem self-evident, but I was trying to get the panel to help out the bloggers who don't have a big distribution channel with some advice. I'm not sure there IS any advice, beyond marketing yourself intelligently until you get a distribution deal of some kind with a high-traffic network. It's getting a link on Deadspin, but sustainable.

*There was an afternoon panel about cross-platform integration, featuring Rob King, Jim Bankoff, Jalen Rose and Lang Whitaker from SLAM (who I had never met before the conference but had always wanted to meet). I'm sorry I missed it -- at some point, I had to spend some quality daytime with my wife. Apparently, Rob name-checked my experiment -- I would have liked to have talked about that a little more. In fact, if I had really thought this through, I would have asked the BwB organizers from HHR Media if I could have had a breakout session where we talk through the ups and downs of that site so far.

*Friday night dinner: Bouchon. Highly recommended, both for food and atmosphere.

*Saturday, I spent the day in the sport book at the Wynn -- I put too much money on Texas at -3, hated the slog the game was, then walked away unsatisfied with my push (and my money back). I made a HORRIBLE bet on Ohio State to cover a 14-point spread at Purdue. I don't know what I was thinking. I bet on USC to cover (-10) at Notre Dame, which you can't fault me for. You CAN fault me for setting up parlays on Texas-Ohio State and Texas-USC. I did get Georgia Tech right, a "gut" pick that I compare my confidence about Cincinnati from Thursday night -- I should have bet more on that. Ironically, my best pick of the day was picking Northwestern to cover, which I was going to do no matter what, just out of alumni loyalty.

*My wife and I stuck around for the start of the Gators game. We stayed through halftime and wanted to bash our heads against the wall. It was also too noisy and too smokey and too hard to get drinks in the book -- although we were treated with amazing hospitality by the staff. (The head of the book -- an incredibly nice guy -- took the time to give me a tour on Friday morning, and it's a really neat operation to see behind the scenes.) Instead, we went over to the Venetian, where we could watch the rest of the Florida game in a suite with Spencer Hall and a crew of college football loyalists (including Holly Anderson and Janie Campbell, both of whom I was meeting for the first time and loved hanging out with). Sarah (aka The Starter Wife) put it best in a tweet when she said it was more fun watching me and my wife and Spencer watch the Gators than it was watching the Gators. Maybe that's because I was alternately feeling like I was going to throw up and throw myself out the window. It was a rare treat to get a chance to watch the game with that group.

*With a 9 pm cab to head to the airport, the rest of the afternoon was a blur. We gambled a bit -- aside from the sports book net loss of $20 or so, I lost a few more bucks wasting it on roulette. (I did, at one point, win twice in a row with two spins -- in a row, mind you -- on "15," where OBVIOUSLY I put down some money.) I missed out on the rest of the festivities with the BwB crew, unfortunately. Lamentably, I did not make it out for the whole "clown" thing.

*All in all, my first trip to Las Vegas was a rousing success. Great hotel. Ridiculous (if ridiculously expensive) food. Amazing weather. And terrific people there -- which made it much more fun than just going with only me and my wife, or even with a small group. This was a BIG group, with plenty to do. I wish I learned how to play craps, because that looks fun. I wish I had more guts to bet big on Cincy and Georgia Tech, leaving the "big" game (Texas-Okla) for everyone else.

*I hope we'll get a chance to continue all of these conversations about where sports media is going. There are a lot of good and important opinions -- not just from the "name" folks on the panels. If anything, we need a better way to keep track of all of these developments -- best practices, etc. Alana from Yardbarker started down this road -- I think she correctly ID'ed that it's a pretty chummy group, even if we're all competing for page views or mainstream writing gigs. We should be confident enough in our own individual projects to be willing to talk about what works best, what doesn't work and what the next iterations of sports media will be.

Special thanks to the BwB sponsors:,,, SB Nation, Sports Illustrated, Diageo Liquors and Carbon Poker. I appreciate their commitment to supporting emerging sports media and the folks who make it their job and/or passion. (Now, all of you: Got any consulting work for me?)

-- D.S.

1 comment:

Patrick said...

Dan, good recap. I was there and enjoyed the panel you moderated. Glad you owned up to the misplaced Skeets quote. Classic example of putting your foot in your mouth. But that's cool. It happens to all of us.