SBD/August 6, 2014/Media

USA Today Sports Group Abandons Sports On Earth Stake After Site Fails To Monetize

Leitch said the site will continue, but it will not be the same
USA Today Sports Media Group has exited out of Sports On Earth, the long-form sports journalism and commentary site it has operated in partnership with MLB Advanced Media. USA Today's departure was financially driven, according to industry sources, as despite an increasing audience and critical plaudits, the site has struggled more with regard to monetization. MLBAM will continue to own and operate the site, albeit on much smaller scale, and the end of USA Today's involvement has led to numerous job losses, including GM Steve Madden and lead editor Larry Burke. Lead writers Will Leitch and Mike Tanier remain involved. Sports On Earth was designed to be the initial element of a larger partnership between MLBAM and USA Today, and sources said that alliance remains, even as it has yet to produce any other products. Sports On Earth debuted two years ago, originally designed around Joe Posnanski, who has since left to join NBC Sports. The site more recently has focused on other writers including Leitch, Tanier and Patrick Hruby. The move by USA Today follows a Gannett move to split its publishing and broadcasting businesses into two separate companies. Leitch wrote on his personal Tumblr site, "(Yesterday was) a lousy day. Many people whose work I absolutely adore lost their gigs at Sports On Earth. ... This was a surprise to me to say the least.....Sports On Earth is going to continue, and I, along with the others staying, will do our best to do a great site, but it won't be the same, obviously" (Eric Fisher, Staff Writer).

EARTH ANGEL: AWFUL ANNOUNCING's Matt Yoder wrote the success of Grantland "was always going to lead to an explosion of sites placing an emphasis on an eclectic hub of longform sportswriting." To that end, Sports on Earth "achieved what it set out to do." One only has to "look at the roster of talented writers to see the fruits of SoE’s labors." A lineup including from Leitch, Tanier, Hruby, Leigh Montville and Wendy Thurm "wouldn’t be seen elsewhere, and they were all present at Sports On Earth." Although the website "didn’t reach the heights and mass appeal of Grantland, it certainly found its niche amongst the sports media intelligentsia." There was "rarely a day that went by when someone didn’t RT a Sports on Earth piece into my timeline as a beacon of great sportswriting" (, 8/5). The Charlotte Observer's Rick Bonnell wrote on his Twitter account: "Sportsonearth's demise is sad much the way The National's demise was. Content was never the problem. Monetizing it was." The Seattle Times' Geoff Baker: "When good sports writers, from internet or newspapers, lose jobs, it's everybody's loss." NFLPA Assistant Exec Dir of External Affairs George Atallah: "Good luck to the good people at Sports on Earth. Hope you all have a soft landing that gives you a platform to share stories."

POOR FORM? ESPN’s Keith Olbermann last night named USA Today Sports Media Group and MLBAM the world's worst people in sports for reportedly not letting Sports On Earth writers who were being let go know about the news before it leaked on Twitter. Olbermann said, "It boils down to this -- while they were getting assured that the site would continue, they were basically being picked off one by one after USA Today's announcement that they were ‘unwinding.’ I don’t care if you’ve been in the media for 30 minutes or 30 years, that's not the way you do it. There isn’t much you can do to make it easier for people when a sports journalism operation goes under. But making sure they know about it first? That is surprisingly valuable and surprisingly easy to do. ... Maybe now we know why the website didn't exist. Bad ownership” (“Olbermann,” ESPN2, 8/5).
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