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May 17, 2016 | Issue 27
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the morning shakeout by mario fraioli
the morning shakeout
Just keep climbing, just keep climbing. For more adventures from on and off the trail, check out instagram.com/mariofraioli

Good morning! Here are a few things that caught my attention this past week:

Ignore the change you wish to see in track. 

“Track & Field, we want to put your news in front of new people, we want to look at your news in a new way, and all we’re asking is that you consider this, not for our sake, don’t worry about our sake, we’ll be fine. But for the sake of the thing you care about, do your research, try new sources, experiment with change. The chance that things will improve are high.” I enjoyed—and agreed—with many of the refreshing (albeit at times outlandish and irreverent) takes made by the folks at The Yonder Journal in their first attempt at trying to cover the sport of track and field at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Portland a few months ago. Admittedly, I’d never heard of The Yonder Journal before coming across this post over the weekend, but I think they did a bang-up job highlighting many of the sport’s current struggles. Here’s the CliffsNotes version: The staffers of The Yonder Journal, denied credentials to cover the world indoor championships in their hometown of Portland, go to the event anyway and are immediately inspired and awestruck by the performances of some of the world’s top athletes. An immediate appreciation for the drama of competition is developed. The potential to grow the sport’s fanbase is obvious to them. At the same time, the Yonder Journal accurately observes and experiences a sport that is resistant to change, afraid to share itself outside its insular circle of athletes and fans, and seemingly uninterested in the idea of widespread exposure and success. I touched on this a few issues back in Issue 19. “You hate new things and new ideas,” writes The Yonder Journal. “You’re basically Puritanism in the form of a sport.”

+ While we’re on the topic of issues that are plaguing the sport of track and field, check out this great explainer piece by Kelly O'Mara on the fight over Rule 40 and why fans should care about it heading into the Olympic Games in Rio. [Full disclosure: I assigned her the piece and led off the editing process.] On a somewhat related note, last week a judge tossed out RunGum’s lawsuit (note: RunGum is owned by two-time Olympian Nick Symmonds—more on him in a bit) against USATF and the USOC that fought to allow track and field athletes—all of whom work as independent contractors—the right to wear a non-shoe or apparel sponsor’s logo (such as RunGum’s) on their singlet at the U.S. Olympic Trials and other national championship events. Interestingly, that decision preceded yesterday’s news that the Philadelphia 76ers will be the first major U.S. sports team to have an advertisement on its uniform next season. The 2.5” x 2.5” patch is reportedly costing StubHub $5 million a year, all of which will go to the Sixers organization to do as they damn well please. Granted the differences between NBA players and "professional" track and field athletes’ situations are complex and varied [on a very fundamental level: professional league, teams and players union vs. standalone meets, independent contractors and lack of an athlete’s union], but can you imagine the revenue possibilities for an up-and-coming track star if he or she were allowed to open up advertising space on their singlet at the U.S. Olympic Trials (17 hours of which will be shown live on NBC)? Ironically, Symmonds himself made almost $22K auctioning off advertising space on his shoulder a couple weeks back (he’ll need to keep it covered up for most of his competitions, however). Now, given all of this tomfoolery, is it any wonder that people have a hard time taking the sport of track and field seriously?

Enjoying the views. 

I’ve written about Buzzfeed and its distributed content model here a few times (check out Issues 15 and 16) and reports of revenue misses aside, I continue to be fascinated by how the title goes about connecting with its audience. I recently came across this interesting article that provides a breakdown of the media juggernaut’s 7 billion (yes, that’s with a B) monthly views of its content. The most interesting metric to me is that 75 percent of those total monthly views are on platforms (FB, YouTube, Snapchat, etc.) other than Buzzfeed’s homepage or its own apps. "BuzzFeed revealed that 27% of its monthly views come from Facebook native video, followed by 23% on its own properties and apps, which execs said have about 200 million unique monthly viewers,” the article states. “Another 21% are via Snapchat, and 14% are on YouTube.” Think about that for a second. Now, clearly not all of these platforms are generating revenue but I think these metrics encapsulate current digital trends quite well, i.e., you’ve got to go where your audience is hanging out because they’re not coming to you anymore. It will be interesting to see if this strategy of “let’s try and be everywhere!” rather than “let’s focus on a few key places” pays off over the longterm—then again, that’s a view that’s hard to come by in this modern media landscape. 

Further/related reading: The Facebook Papers, Part 1 and Part 2. “What this (the launch of Instant Articles) really means is that Facebook has now added hosting and monetization to the list of capabilities it can handle for media companies,” writes Tony Haile, CEO of Chartbeat. “This leaves media companies with the one unique activity that contains the most risk and variation: Creating content. One can argue that this change will usher in a golden age where media companies can focus on the single activity they do best. Alternatively, one can argue that it means their utter disintermediation.”

That’s not a marathon, man. 

The New York Times' Man vs. Marathon piece highlighting Yannis Pitsiladis’ quest to help a runner break the 2-hour barrier made its way around the internet late last week while the printed version hit newsstands on Sunday. To summarize, Pitsiladis is a crazy scientist who is unnaturally obsessed with testing the limits of human performance at the expense of making a mockery of the marathon. The aim of his Sub2 Project, which he estimates will cost $30 million to bankroll, is to create athletes capable of breaking one of road racing’s most mystical barriers. Pitsiladis is not above manipulating the environment and conditions to improve the likelihood of running 1:59-something, suggesting a course by the Dead Sea, where oxygen is more readily available, and putting up wind screens and changing the start time if necessary. The only problem? The marathon is a foot race. You play the cards you’re dealt on the day. If a sub-2 hour marathon is going to happen, let it result from legitimate competition on an established course—not a $30 million dollar science experiment in the middle of nowhere.

That’s it for this week's newsletter. If you liked what you read here, please consider forwarding this email to your friends and family members or sharing the web link with your social media followers and fans. 

Thanks for reading, 

Mario

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