When I reflect on sports blog history, like SML did, I think most about what might have been. It's an intriguing aspect of great ideas that often, the pieces for the idea have been around for years. It's just that no one ever thought to put them together. I'm specifically intrigued by the competition to become the King of Sports Links, and how a gap in the market led to Deadspin becoming the current King. I must immediately apologize for any inaccuracies; there are few Wikipedia entries on the dates for most of these sites.
Contender #1: Bill Simmons. I don't know of any web-site that can truly challenge Bill Simmons as the founder of the Sports Links type blog. While I never saw his site when he was Boston Sports Guy, I did read his first words for ESPN.com. You may remember that he had his first intern, Jamie, putting out a fairly regular link column with some commentary. But Bill himself stayed away from the link game when he got to ESPN. Why? In a column, he stated that ESPN was nervous that they would link to something, and then the site author would switch it with, say, a link to a sexually explicit site. Then, in May 2005, Kevin Cott won the intern contest, and went on to publish...not much of anything. I forget exactly why, but little was done with links. When does Deadspin come along? May 2005 (I know Wikipedia says September, but there are earlier articles). The coincidence is intriguing to me. I have severe doubts whether Deadspin could have become King of Sports Links against a Page 2 Linking page of average or better strength.
Contender #2: The Sports Frog and Can't Stop the Bleeding. I have to be honest here: I don't know those sites well enough to talk about them. See SML's article.
Contender #3: slamonline.com and insidehoops.com . I don't know why, but I do believe that basketball has been a little more link-friendly than both baseball and football over the years. Both of these sites did a lot of linking to really interesting basketball stories, covering most of the major newspapers and team web-sites. To my knowledge, they were doing this at least since 2003, perhaps even before. And yet, I don't think people really know about either site. Both sites initially decided to feature forums rather than a comment section, which may have been a mistake. Also, I remember that slamonline.com used to publish a lot of reader letters and comments, but stopped doing that as much as time went on. It's my belief that if Slam would have hired those interns to help Lang Whitaker run the site in 2002 instead of years later, or if the posting would have been done throughout the day instead of one massive column, Slam could have become a links + letters column that would have been quite popular. One also wonders if you can be TOO good at linking. There were so many links to navigate through and read, it got to be too much after a while for me.
Contender #4: Anyone with a Blogspot or Xanga or Live Journal in 2004. I'm a little irate at how many people believe the blog game is recent. Look at SML's examples of previous sports bloggers. (I would add hoopstv.com, defunct since 2001? or so. Similar column styles to free darko and the starting five mixed together). You're telling me that no one could have copied Matt Drudge circa 1998 in sports? And actually, I got more comments running a blog in 2004 than I do today. So don't tell me the readers weren't there. They were.
So why did Deadspin become so popular? I think the key was that it was not a link site by itself, or a column writer by itself, or a monitored forumboard by itself. It essentially combined all three aspects into one package, in real time. And that helped it grow. A lot of the competitors above fell easily into two of the three categories, but struggled with the third. Deadspin so far has been able to handle all three categories. I also think that the rise of the search engine is a major factor in Deadspin's success. As search became better (and users became better at search), there was greater appreciation for links sites.
Anyway, I wrote Part 2 where I analyze what it would take to dethrone Deadspin, but I'm tired and so are you at this point. I'll post it next week.