SBD/Issue 1/Special Report:
SBD's 10th Anniversary

From The Founder: Pollack Talks About The Early Days Of The Daily

The Sports Business Daily
Founder Jeffrey Pollack

JEFFREY POLLACK was 29 when he founded Digital Sports Network and its flagship publication, The Sports Business Daily, in February of ‘94. Pollack established the company and set up space in three small rooms in a townhouse in Falls Church, Virginia. The building was shared with Pollack’s partner in the venture, the American Political Network (APN), which published The Hotline, among other briefings. The Hotline was long considered a must-read in political circles for its comprehensive and concise coverage, which was the basis of Pollack’s vision for The Sports Business Daily. Shortly after moving into the cramped quarters, Pollack began hiring a staff and prototyping issues with his founding Editor-in-Chief STEPHEN BILAFER, who came over from The Hotline. A small editorial and marketing and sales team was established by mid-August, and the inaugural issue of The Daily was published on September 12, 1994. Bilafer remained with The Daily until ‘96, when he moved back home to Boston where he is now Chief of Staff to Massachusetts Attorney General TOM REILLY. Pollack sold the Digital Sports Network and The Daily to InterZine Productions in ‘96, but remained with the company when it was relocated from its Virginia offices to InterZine’s offices in South Norwalk, Connecticut. Pollack left The Daily and InterZine in ‘98 to become the NBA’s Strategic Communications Consultant during collective bargaining negotiations and then its VP/Marketing & Corporate Communications. He is now Managing Director of Broadcasting & New Media at NASCAR, a position he has held since ‘01. The Daily and its sister publication, The NBA Daily, were later acquired by Street & Smith’s Sports Group in ‘98 and relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina, where it is currently based with Street & Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal. The Daily recently caught up with Pollack at his offices in Century City, California, to discuss his vision for the first daily executive news briefing on the business of sports and the development of the publication.

The Orginal Logo

THE DAILY: When did you come up with the idea for The Daily?
POLLACK: My first career was in political consulting, and I worked for a firm that did a lot of corporate work. In 1992, we were working for one of the major leagues on a pretty high profile issue, and after that engagement I was flying back from L.A., and inspiration hit at 35,000 feet. I remember the moment precisely. I was sitting on the plane drinking Scotch and thumbing through Variety and Sports Illustrated. That is where the Scotch took effect and where I came up with the idea for a daily trade publication for the sports industry.

THE DAILY: Why did you see a need?
POLLACK: The work that I did in sports as a political consultant, that’s where I really started to see that sports was a business. On that airplane ride, I took it a step further and hypothesized that if sports is a business, it is really a subset of the entertainment industry, and as such, it probably should have its own daily trade publication like Variety. When I got back to New York, I went to a couple of newsstands and started asking around and talking to some people that I did know in the sports industry, and it became clear that the type of publication I was thinking of did not exist.

THE DAILY: The Daily has heavily covered the connection between sports and entertainment. What were you seeing in 1994 that lead you to believe that the nexus between the two was only going to increase?
POLLACK: I wish I could tell you the exact thought, other than recognizing that sports was a growing industry. It was increasingly connected to the Fortune 500. You had Disney taking a team from the silver screen and bringing it to life on the ice -- The Mighty Ducks -- and more corporations were looking at owning franchises, and the general buzz seemed to be pointing in the direction of sports as a big business. I think that sports had been a big business, it just wasn’t recognized really as a big business yet. Because I came from the world of political consulting and corporate communications, for me it was also about recognizing a void in the industry’s corporate communications infrastructure and wanting to fill that void. Sports is entertainment. It’s a form of entertainment. I think the lines that have traditionally cut between the two industries have increasingly blurred and will continue to become blurred.

THE DAILY: When you were studying this idea for a daily, and trying to sell the concept to people within the industry, what was the feedback you were getting?
POLLACK: Before we launched, most everyone said that it was doomed to fail. We were equated with The National and Sports Inc. -- two great, but failed publications. I kept encountering three warnings and three admonitions. One, there would never be enough news to fill a daily trade publication about the business of sports. Universally, people in the sports industry told me that there just was not enough content on a day-to-day basis. Two, they said even if there was enough content, no more than 100 to 200 people would ever have an interest in reading the publication because the industry wasn’t that big. And third, even if I could find those 200 people and find enough news to fill a daily publication; no one would ever pay me for it because people in the sports industry - executives in the sports industry - just did not pay for business information. Everything they needed to know they learned over the telephone or through their local newspaper.

THE DAILY: What other research did you do? Did you think people would pay for it?
POLLACK: There was a focus group that we conducted just before launch in New York City. We ignored the results, since most of the participants said they had no interest in the publication. As it ended up, most all of those focus group participants became paying subscribers! From the initial conversations I had in 1993, I decided to move ahead. I knew in my gut that what I was hearing was simply wrong, and that this publication would have an audience and that there would be enough content. Part of identifying the content was taking a different approach to the editorial mission. The publication was designed to be, and it still is, a “cover the coverage” publication. So I looked at every major daily newspaper over the course of a week and just about every paper had a least one story on a daily basis that was related to the business of sports. So all we had to do was start synthesizing those stories, and as a result we were able to come up with more than enough content to fill a daily publication.

THE DAILY: How did that “cover the coverage” model, which is so unique, really start?
POLLACK: Well, it was two things. Since I came from politics, I was very familiar with The Hotline (considered the bible of political insiders). DOUG BAILEY, who started (APN), was my partner in launching The Sports Business Daily. He had already cracked the code on creating daily executive briefings, and that is what we wanted The Sports Business Daily to be. Covering the coverage enabled us to put a cap on our overhead. We didn’t have the funding to go hire the number of reporters that we would need to gather news on an original basis. Part of it was recognizing that the wheel had already been invented and part of it was recognizing that we had limited start-up capital.

THE DAILY: And your model of distribution and pricing, were those were generated by The Hotline model?
POLLACK: Yes. We found at the time the sports industry was less wired than the political industry. So when we started The Daily, I would say that 80 to 90% of our subscribers took the publication by fax, and the rest by a dial-up computer bulletin board system. We then introduced email as a delivery option a couple of months in.

THE DAILY: What was the original price? Was there a concern of going out with a high-end price product?
POLLACK: The initial launch price was $925, with a surcharge for fax delivery. The sports industry had never seen a daily publication before, much less a publication priced as high as we were. But I believed that the content would sell itself, and executives with, if you will, a perceived need to know would pay a premium price for the publication. And we were right.

See tomorrow's issue of The Daily for part two of our conversation.

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