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In a push to become the most blogger-friendly team in Major League Soccer — a league that already welcomes the blogosphere — the New England Revolution has reached out to independent Boston-area fan bloggers, offering media credentials and regular spots in the pressroom for the 2011 season.
In an e-mail to Boston-area bloggers, communications director Lizz Summers asked writers to “open lines of communication” with the organization to boost content on the team’s website, Facebook and Twitter pages. “We’re more than happy to give you full media access, but we just ask that you remain professional in your interactions while presenting yourself,” Summers wrote in the e-mail. “This is the number one area where we will impress on nontraditional media.”
The Revolution previously had no formal policy for independent bloggers. Summers reserved credentials for a handful of established blog sites, such as Examiner.com and AmericanSoccerNews.net, and occasionally awarded single-game credentials to independent bloggers, but only after vetting the applicant’s work.
“We usually took the organizational stance of the Patriots, and they don’t allow [fan bloggers],” Summers said. “We never did formal outreach to see how many people were writing about the team.”
According to Revolution COO Brian Biello, the rising influence and strong opinions of local blog sites changed the team’s stance. Biello said his communications team regularly reached out to independent bloggers to correct factual errors. Bringing bloggers into the media room, Biello said, is a way to combat the issue.
“I have no problem with opinion, but we want to make sure they’re crafting their opinions around fact and not assumption,” Biello said. “This is a vehicle where we can help them fact check.”
The NHL allows teams to set their own credential guidelines, and the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals both allow independent bloggers in the pressroom on a game-by-game basis. The Capitals request each blogger provide website traffic data and a summary of previous writing experience.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber hosts an annual “bloggers roundtable” at MLS Cup to discuss policies for its online writers, and the league allows clubs to set individual policies for offering credentials to online writers. Representatives from the San Jose Earthquakes, FC Dallas, Chivas USA and MLS Cup champion Colorado Rapids say they allow independent bloggers access to credentials on a case-by-case basis, but do not actively reach out to blogging communities and don’t give them regular spots in the pressroom.
Brian Smith, 27, operates the Revolution soccer blog TheDrugIsFootball.com, which nets roughly 1,500 monthly unique visitors and which he describes as “a blog that is very skeptical.” A machinist with no formal journalism training, Smith said he supports the Revolution’s outreach and will attend the Feb. 9 meeting.
“I’m not going to let them tell me what I can or can’t write,” Smith said. “Right now I have no access, so [credentials] can only make things more interesting for me.”
After meeting a key attendance benchmark that keeps the New Orleans Hornets’ arena lease intact, the team is now leveraging its sponsors for increased investment to help shore up the franchise.
On Jan. 18, Hornets President Hugh Weber and other front office executives held a state-of-the-franchise meeting for the team’s top 40 sponsors and pressed for multiyear extensions on current deals along with increased spending. The effort is part of the latest phase to improve the team’s financial stability after the NBA in December bought the Hornets from owner George Shinn for more than $300 million after he failed to find a buyer for the money-losing franchise.
The Hornets have more than 100 sponsors but the majority are small, annual deals, though team officials would not disclose specific sponsorship revenue.
NBAE / GETTY IMAGES
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (center) addresses the media about the Hornets meeting their attendance goals.
“The Hornets are asking us to step up a little further than what they are getting,” said Ewell Smith, executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Marketing and Promotion Board, which is in the first year of a three-year sponsorship deal with the team. “It’s smart on their part. We have learned that they are a business driver for the community.”
But Smith has not decided whether to increase spending with the team. “Right now we are seeing how it will go and we will consider it for next year,” he said. “We want to keep them here.”
The team announced on Jan. 24 that it had met an average attendance benchmark of 14,735 fans per game, which prevents the team from opting out of its lease at the New Orleans Arena for another year. But the Hornets face the same attendance benchmark next Jan. 31, a clause that raises questions about the team’s long-term future in New Orleans.
The Hornets have a season-ticket base of about 6,300. Along with the push for more corporate investment, the franchise is unveiling a season-ticket renewal campaign to build its season-ticket base to at least 10,000 as a hedge against next year’s attendance requirement.
The team also wants to change its lease with the state that allows for the opt-out clause should the franchise fail to meet its annual average attendance benchmark.
“We needed to get past the attendance threshold and part of phase two will be discussions to change the [lease] terms,” Weber said. “The annual deal isn’t good for anybody. Our feeling is to make [the attendance benchmark] more part of our business practice and not part of the lease.”