SBJ/September 19-25, 2011/Media

Miami story reset bar for investigative work online, Fuchs says

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Very little is ever placid or straightforward for Yahoo! and its high-profile sports vertical, Yahoo! Sports. For more than three years the king of U.S. sports websites in terms of raw monthly unique users, the company is continually dogged by rumors of corporate misdirection and executive exodus. Such drama culminated early this month with the firing of embattled Chief Executive Carol Bartz. But amid the corporate-level activity, Yahoo! Sports continues to win plaudits for its investigative journalism, most notably the recent exposé of the University of Miami and renegade booster Nevin Shapiro broken by reporter Charles Robinson. And the site recently added to a large collection of league deals with the creation of the nightly whiparound show “MLB.com Full Count” in partnership with MLB Advanced Media.

SHANA WITTENWYLER
Yahoo! Sports is turning its scale into engagement, says Ken Fuchs.
Ken Fuchs, vice president of the Yahoo! Media Network and a former Sports Illustrated and Time Inc. digital media executive, spoke recently with staff writer Eric Fisher, Fuchs’ first extended conversation about Yahoo! Sports with the media since taking the job six months ago.


At a high level, where do you see Yahoo! Sports going right now?

FUCHS: It’s been 41 months straight as of [last week] we’ve been No. 1 [in traffic]. It’s coming up on four years. There’s incredible momentum, and I think what’s really interesting is we’ve had this scale play of more than 50 million users for a while. And what we’ve started to do with the business is turn that into tremendous engagement across the site. That starts with the pillars of fantasy, investigative journalism, Rivals.com, video, and now we start to build on what we’ve done. There’s tremendous opportunity still, and we’re incredibly excited about the year we’ve had to year to date, and looking forward to next year and all the events coming up, like the Olympics. This is a story that goes beyond scale. The engagement story is one on which we’re just beginning to turn on the jets.

What did the Miami story, and some of your other investigative scoops, do for the site, particularly with regard to the Yahoo! Sports brand?

FUCHS: It’s one of a series of stories and products that we’ve rolled out that have really helped set Yahoo! Sports apart. If you look at the authenticity, the credibility, the thoroughness and the trustworthiness that we’ve generated through stories like this, it’s amazing. The Miami story generated thousands of media mentions, tens of thousands of Facebook likes, thousands of tweets. The penetration level of that story I believe was truly unmatched. You can see the reaction from our peers in terms of what we really accomplished with that story. You’re talking about an entire year spent investigating. The thoroughness of it. It also set a new bar for how you do investigative journalism online. You think about the story they told and then the product we built with all the player pages, almost a hundred player pages for every single person involved, all the multimedia we put in there. So you had to come to Yahoo! Sports to get that story, and not just have it repurposed elsewhere. You cannot tell that whole story through other mediums. It was a perfect intersection of how the Web can inform investigative journalism in really interesting ways.

You’ve been operating without any sort of full live game rights, unlike many of your key competitors such as ESPN, CBS and the league sites. Is that a detriment to you, and if so, how? Is that something you think Yahoo! Sports needs?

FUCHS: I don’t think so. I think we’ve proven that you don’t need full game rights necessarily. That doesn’t mean that ultimately we may not want to explore interesting products that are unique to Yahoo! users and enhance the experience. “MLB.com Full Count” is a great example of developing something new and innovative that brings the best of linear television to the Web in a way that you can’t do on TV. The ability to infuse a product with social media, real-time decision-making on where to go, user controls in a really highly caffeinated, engaging way on the Web is transformative. So there continue to be opportunities to do things that are different. And we have fabulous relationships with the leagues, and we’ll continue to work with them on ways to bring their content in front of our 50 million users.

What is the biggest misnomer or misunderstanding as to what Yahoo! Sports is, and what the Yahoo! Sports brand is?

FUCHS: It’s interesting to see how much [the brand] has changed in the time I’ve been in this space. Yahoo! has traditionally been known as an aggregator, and what we’ve done really well over the last several years is develop our original voice, the notion of “only on Yahoo! Sports.” What you see is that we are changing as to who we are, and it’s starting to pick up in terms of the recognition of that.

What have you seen lately with fantasy football? There’s a notion with many of your competitors that the NFL lockout was perhaps the best thing that ever happened to them because it compressed the offseason and ultimately heightened fan interest.

FUCHS: We saw 26 days of six-figure registrations. You get a sense of our scale on that. And overall, we grew 15 percent year over year on registrations. You look at the fact that we’re far and away the No. 1 player in the space in terms of scale, to grow double-digit percentages like that, to have that level of interest is absolutely phenomenal. Having that compressed time frame did renew the [fan] passion. You had free agency happening every single day. News happening every day. News that we were breaking. It all happened so quickly, but happened with such a force.
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