Yankee-blog farm system moves from SNY to ESPN

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Yankee Stadium. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
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A little more than six years ago, Jason Rosenberg started his Yankees-centric blog, "It Is About The Money, Stupid," with the goal of reaching ten readers he didn't know each day.

Now in its seventh year, the revamped IIATMS has seen traffic grow to more than 250,000 pageviews in December 2013, has garnered national attention, and found corporate partnerships with multiple media networks through the years, most recently with ESPN. Having maxed out as an individual startup fan blog, the site now also serves the highly useful role as a farm team for baseball writers.

But here, for all its success, is what the site it isn't: a means for anyone, including its owner, to earn a living.

"For me, putting something out there for anybody to see was just the biggest thrill," Rosenberg told me of the early IIATMS days in a phone interview last week. "And be able to install a stat tracker, and find out, oh my god, someone from Taiwan found my site! How, I didn't care. That was the real thrill."

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Rosenberg, a Syracuse graduate, works in the financial services industry  in numbers-driven positions. So the chance to put his thoughts into words instead, about his favorite team, proved irresistable to him.

What followed was a feverish 2008, one in which Rosenberg described a process of almost addiction to writing on the blog, multiple times per day. That drew the notice of people like Craig Calcaterra, then an independent blogger himself, and Rob Neyer, the sabermetrically inclined baseball writer then employed by ESPN.

So when 2009 came around, and Neyer was tasked by ESPN with building Sweetspot, a network of blogs, one affiliated with each MLB team, Rosenberg's enterprise was selected to be the representative of the Yankees.

"If I thought my first link from Neyer was the best, that was official blow my mind," Rosenberg explained. 

Traffic had jumped into the thousands by this point, and the fact that ESPN affiliation meant linking from the sports giant, addition to a host of drop-down boxes on the site, and the credibility that comes with the association all added to the site's readership.

What it didn't mean was any real revenue. ESPN pays its blog affiliates, then and now, in exposure, essentially. So the people associated with the site, Rosenberg included, are free to monetize it through ads, for instance. But that's not a way to do much more than pay the basic upkeep on things like hosting fees.

And yet Rosenberg had little problem adding writers to his stable, whether through active recruiting of commenters on the site, or through, eventually, a merger with The Yankee Analysts, another perceptive Yankee blog, last season.

It just wasn't, ironically, about the money for anyone.

"I started blogging about baseball in 2011 for Aerys Sports," Stacey Gotsulias, now co-editor in chief of the site, said in a phone interview. "And I had personal blogs for years—I had an old Yahoo! Geocities site that I started way back in 2000, but that was mostly just me complaining about my commute, complaining about things on TV, and complaining about the Yankees.

"It was always in the back of my mind to blog about baseball. ... So after I started writing for Aerys Sports, other people started noticing my baseball writing."

Gotsulias has a specific style, a mixture of analysis and personal connection to the game that stands out. It made for a perfect marriage with IIATMS, where Rosenberg had cultivated that mixture, but with increasing responsibilities at work, simply couldn't write regularly himself.

The site had started to generate some income, once 2012 rolled around. Neyer had moved on to SB Nation, and SNY approached Rosenberg about becoming the Yankees site for the network owned by the same group that owns the Mets.

That partnership, which lasted through 2012 and 2013, almost didn't happen. Rosenberg, on the recommendation of Neyer, decided to try for the Neyer-vacated position as editor for ESPN's SweetSpot Network of blogs. It was the first time in this process Rosenberg considered turning his avocation into his vocation.

"If ever I'm gonna go for it, this is the time I'm gonna go for it," Rosenberg said.

The job went, instead, to longtime ESPN editor David Schoenfield (full disclosure: I have written for David at Page 2), and Rosenberg instead signed on at SNY for "a couple hundred bucks a month," along with promises from SNY to further develop the site.

"They pitched me really well," Rosenberg said. "There was a chance they were going to include some video, some TV. I was thinking, how can we leverage their studio, create something different. SNY had just bought NYYFans.com, which was a forum. And I'm thinking, us on top of NYYFans forum, this is gonna be a firehose of eyeballs."

"And what they were pitching in terms of a strategy, was really making SNY a major New York sports destination, similar to ESPN New York. At the time, the idea of having some fixed income was a nice idea."

But the development never really happened. The money came without any strings, says Rosenberg, SNY leaving the site alone to do as it wished. But over two years, none of those studio opportunities happened. Even credentialing was a rare thing, just as it had been at ESPN.

And the traffic, due to the reduced level of interest in SNY and from SNY, suffered as a result.

"ESPN is a pretty good source of eyeballs," Rosenberg said. "SNY? Not so much."

So as 2013 ended, Rosenberg reached out to Gotsulias, who was splitting the small revenue from SNY, with a fascinating offer: did she think the site should return to ESPN? It would mean giving up even what little the site had paid her. And Gotsulias didn't hesitate to say yes.

"Nothing against SNY," Gotsulias said. "And they've been very good to us. They'd send us video clips from different shows, Geico Sportsnite and whatever. But I always felt like, because we were a Yankees site on a primarily Mets channel, I felt like we were the red-headed stepchild. And I feel like with ESPN, not everyone loves ESPN, but the name recognition is huge. Like I was telling my family at a family party two weeks ago, and they [responded], 'Wow!' And if I say SNY, they'd say, 'Eh.' Again, no offense to SNY, but, it's the name recognition that's big."

The biggest reason for that, for someone like Gotsulias, is the larger goal. Both she and Rosenberg acknowledge that there's a now well-trod path for talented baseball writers to move from smaller sites to bigger sites, ultimately finding full-time professional homes. It's what happened to Calcaterra, now at NBC, along with people like Aaron Gleeman, who made a similar jump from a site called TwinsGeek.com. 

So Gotsulias knows the likelihood is that IIATMS is less likely to someday be the Yankees of media outlets, and more like a stop in their farm system along the way, a Trenton Thunder for Yankees and baseball writing.

She's hoping to get credentialed this year, and the ESPN affiliation can help with that. She mentioned getting to Camden Yards in Baltimore, for instance. But it would have to be on her own dime. She's also writing Knicks recaps for The Knicks Wall, also unpaid. That's the economic reality of the blogosphere, even in 2014. 

Rosenberg, too, harbors no illusions about what the future will bring for his site. He's managed to make his way into an MLB press box, gotten his two sons the chance to meet major league players like Kyle Blanks of the Padres, and gotten closer to the game he loves for the past six years. But while things like expanded traffic are nice, Rosenberg sounds like someone at peace with IIATMS as an outlet, not a means to an end.

"I totally want this thing to keep going," Rosenberg said. "I take immense pride in the quality of work that goes out on a daily basis. ... My goal is to be their biggest cheerleader, and get them whatever they need to do the most they can with this little platform.

"If they want to take it, and launch themselves to Fangraphs next, to a major site, great, I'll be their biggest supporter the whole way. That would be the best compliment I could get, that people graduate from me and go elsewhere."