By David Scott
Boston Sports Media Watch

As if to show just how serious they are about being an Internet player, WEEI.com today (8/18/08) announces the addition of Deadspin founder, Will Leitch, to its rapidly expanding line-up of writers. Leitch – tabbed as “The Outsider” – will write twice-monthly (every other Wednesday) for the site and offers up a “Hello, Boston” piece today. In short, Leitch told Scott’s Shots joining the WEEI.com team was an easy decision, as he had previously felt the power of ‘EEI and it shook him to his soul. Sort of.

“When I was on the book tour,” Leitch explained via email over the weekend, “I bet I did 8 to 10 radio interviews a day for the first three weeks. Only one of them earned any appreciable traction: WEEI.

“Every Boston friend I have is oddly meticulous about the station; they know who’s on at pretty much every hour, and can psychologically break down every broadcaster for biases, weaknesses and favorite in-break snack,” said Leitch. “It’s pretty difficult to find any community like that anywhere. Plus, you know, they asked.”

Doing the asking was Rob Bradford, the site’s content overlord as well as a featured writer. Bradford had never met nor spoken with Leitch, but he recognized the slightly deranged Midwesterner as one of the most important Internet sports voices of the decade and figured, “. . . you never know. Couldn’t hurt to ask,” said Bradford in an extensive phone interview on Friday. “The goal for WEEI.com is to get the best people, to be creative and to be ahead of the curve. Will has built his reputation with his creativity.

“He will provide an outsider’s view on Boston sports,” he said. “We sometimes lose ourselves in our own little world here. He’ll bring perspective as to how we’re being perceived from (beyond Route 495).”

Leitch, who left Deadspin this summer for a spot at New York Magazine, is also contributing to The Sporting News and working on another book “about baseball.” He is well aware of the sharpened fangs (and unique users) that will surely accompany his arrival at WEEI.com.

“Oh, I’m certainly not counting on any sort of acceptance. I honestly have no idea how this will work,” he said. “They’ve given me pretty free reign with it, but, from the get-go, I’m making it as clear as possible that I’m no expert in Boston sports. That’s why I hope it will be fun. I think when you’re in the middle of the maelstrom, it can be difficult to fathom how the rest of the world sees you.

“Right now, Boston is the most compelling sports city in America; it’s not even close,” he said. “I’m hoping to tap into that. Look at the Manny situation. When he started acting up, the rest of the planet was like, ‘Well, there he goes again. They’ll figure it out, like they always do.’

“Boston fans knew better; they knew the atmosphere had changed. That’s amazing to me. The city’s fandom is a palpable, breathing thing; it’s fascinating to watch,” said Leitch, 32. “I want to try to figure that out. I’ll probably fail. But hopefully it’ll be fun trying. And hey: I’ve been writing online for a long time. I can certainly take whatever criticism comes my way; I’m sure I’ll deserve just about all of it.”

With Leitch joining the ranks of Boston’s bloggers, the city will now have claims on both the Grandfather of New Media Sports “coverage” (Bill Simmons) and the Godfather of the genre (Leitch).

“I’d be pretty honored to be compared to Simmons, until you realize how poorly one measures up to Simmons, and then I’m screwed,” said Leitch. “Simmons oozed Boston sports from his pores back in the day; I won’t be doing that. I couldn’t if I tried. But hey, nobody wants a St. Louis Sports Guy. If people are expecting me to be a new Simmons, they’ll be sorely disappointed. But I don’t think anybody expects that.”

Mostly, as Leitch will learn, the Boston sports media consumer wants full effort and full interest in the topics. Leitch seems to know that and appears to be reaching a tipping point for side projects.

“My plate’s pretty full right now. I’m working on the next book. . . I’m writing a page for The Sporting News in every issue and, of course, working at New York mag, which is more fun than I could have imagined.

“Everyone here is so freaking smart; I’m honored they think I could possibly keep up. (I can’t.),” he said. “And, of course, I’ll keep popping by Deadspin whenever (Leitch’s replacement) AJ (Daulerio) lets me.”

• Okay, now that you have digested the Leitch role for fledgling WEEI.com. it’s probably a good idea to do a little re-set here before we get too deep into all of this. The web site is on the verge of announcing several hires in addition to this list we have already compiled in prior posts:

Rob Bradford (Full-time, content editor/writer)
Alex Speier (Full-time, editor/writing)
Mike Felger (Weekly Patriots Report Card and Mailbag)
Ron Borges (A post-game column and a Friday offering)
Jeff Goodman (Basketball offering)

Shots has also confirmed through WEEI.com that the website is also bringing aboard:

Mike Petraglia (Contributor with audio and writing)
Carlson Mozdiez (Full-time – was Webmaster/Marketing/Promotions and will add blogging and continue with technical side expertise)
Gary (Marbry) From Chapel Hill (Contributor of Nuggetpalooza)
Kirk Minihane (Contributor, Fantasy Football writer)
– Some type of “Onion”-like Boston-focused contribution
– Sean Casey of the Red Sox (likely for video-logging)
- An offering from ‘EEI producers.

Also, there will be some special debut Monday introductory offerings from Leitch, Felger, Borges et al.

(The transition to some new content will take time, as you’ll see in cruising the site – best bet is probably to go to the “Columnists/Blogs” tab.)

The immediate result of all this is what launches today at WEEI.com, but both Bradford and Vice Prsident/General Manager, Tim Murphy, emphasize this is only a beginning of what they both ultimately envision as a major destination site for Boston Sports Fans.

“This is a ground-breaking, not a ribbon-cutting,” said Murphy in an exclusive interview with Shots last week. “Hopefully by the end of January, we will be (at full capacity). First, we have to become ‘must-bookmark’ and I think we’re well on our way to that (with this first round of development).”

For now, the Entercom entrance into the arena has set off a slight flurry of shuffling at the Globe.

“I want to make this point clear,” said an invigorated and fiery Bradford. “These initial moves weren’t done just to have people talking about us for a day or two. I believe Ron (Borges) is amongst the best at what he does. His game column in the Globe was always must-read. The day he left that paper, it became a worse paper.

“We approached Will because he is one of the most creative and talented writers out there today,” said Bradford. “We’re getting the best people at what they do and that will mean a combination of old school journalists and new media people as well.”

Tempering the simmering competition a bit, Murphy is presently content with sharing the market’s Internet pie.

“We’re not trying to emulate Boston.com or BostonHerald.com and we don’t necessarily have to beat them or replace them,” said Murphy. “We’ll offer a unique perspective and be a source of both news and entertainment and we’ll do it with a new cast of editorial voices to add to the compelling and informative audio content we already have from WEEI.”

As for the early controversy that accompanied news of the Borges acquisition, Bradford is steadfast in his belief that Borges is committed and, quite possibly driven to silence his detractors.

“When I talked to Ron, the only thing I needed to know from him was whether he was ready to kick some butt,” said Bradford. “He is. Some people will forget (about his past) and some won’t and I get that. But I think he is motivated to put some of that stuff to rest and that motivation serves us well.”

(A Scott’s Shots attempt to interview Borges was rebuffed by WEEI.com’s PR agency of record.)

The all-in approach to the web-side is a new one for an Entercom entity, but as Murphy pointed out, WEEI is a pretty advanced laboratory to experiment in.

“In many ways, WEEI is an anomaly in the radio world,” Murphy said. “The depth of penetration in 25-54 year old male demographic is incredible. It’s the model for (this segment of) radio in many ways.

“Any media company that reaches a broad segment is at a point now where they have to act quickly to leverage these assets they have,” said Murphy. “That’s what Entercom – and David Field – is doing by investing in the web. This is the way broadcasting in general is going.”

Murphy said the WEEI.com is generating 250,000 unique visitors per month now (8,300 per day, which seems high for a mostly static site) and he hopes to have that number at 1 million per month by the end of 2009. The task is daunting, but Murphy thinks he’s got a leg up.

“What scares me is that there’s a large graveyard full of the web entries that had huge traffic but couldn’t monetize it,” said Murphy. “WEEI has already done that and this will allows us to further that. The site as it is, is currently profitable.”

. . . Murphy promised an updated look and feel for the site, an optimization of the audio search feature and easier navigation.

. . . Murphy on Borges and Felger: “Ron and Mike will perspective that will be somewhat in contrast to a lot of what is on the air and that will help give a 360 degree perspective on the Patriots.”

. . . Murphy on Borges: “We’re very comfortable bringing Ron on board and he’s eager to re-establish himself. He was must-read in the Globe. We’re aware of his past and he’s excited to move forward.”

. . . Bradford on what appeals to him about the opportunity at WEEI.com: “It’s a clean slate, we can mold things the way we want. We’ve got resources, we’re not doing this on the cheap and we’ve also got all this amazing audio to use, which no one else has.”

. . . Bradford on the reaction from people who discover he left an Old Media stalwart for a New Media start-up: “People get it. They know what this opportunity is. It’s cool that people are seeing what I saw when I took the job.”

. . . It’s reasonable to expect a Celtics columnist to be brought on in the coming weeks. Shots confirmed that Jackie MacMullan was pursued aggressively but currently she is too busy on her own book project to contribute to WEEI.com. That likely is a fluid situation and could change at any time. Peter May is probably also in the mix, but we’d rather see an up-and-comer grab the Celts spot.

. . . Bradford will be with the red Sox in Baltimore on his first official WEEI.com road-trip.

• Here are the Next Three Things, WEEI.com should seriously consider doing (in order of import):

1.Get an exclusive deal with a video partner, preferably Comcast Sports Network. There are already logical tie-ins with the regional network (Felger, Bradford) and a partnering would benefit both sides (especially CSN, which has yet to deliver on its promise of a “news-gathering” division). It allows for even more cross-promotion and gives the station another good Celtics tie-in.

2.Get a woman. Yahoo! Sports has done wonders with its morning Sports Minute update featuring a competent, attractive young lady. WEEI.com can do the very same things on a local level and probably use the very same sponsor already supporting the Y! offering – Dunkin’ Donuts.

3.Get an on-air show that prominently incorporates WEEI.com. This will have to be a “test kitchen” type of experiment, but one that could pay big dividends. By using a block of programming (weekend or late night, we’d guess) the station would be able to simultaneously promote the website and engage users with polls, email questions and on-line interactivity. Let Bradford and Speier have run of the studio and see what they come up with. It would have to be better than the current Saturday offerings of Musty, The Tracer and Butchie The Mayor, right?

• John Dennis admitted last week that he – and others at WEEI – were, at first, skeptical of what WEEI.com would actually be. The cynics rolled their eyes, Dennis said.

“But we were dead wrong,” Dennis said. “This is not out of altruism that they are doing this. This is the next revenue stream and they see that.

“It’s not unlike what the Red Sox have done,” he said. “They saw they could earn revenue from putting signage on the Wall. They saw they could get naming rights money. You drill holes and see what comes up from (beneath). For WEEI.com, they aren’t cutting any corners. I think it has potential to be (a game-changer).

“I think, in their wildest dreams, they probably see that it could become as a local version of ESPN.com, with all these ways to cross-promote and sell,” Dennis said.

He laid out a scenario where he could envision an existing major sponsor at the station expanding its reach by sponsoring some exclusive “Dennis and Callahan” audio at WEEI.com

• LEITCH LEFTOVERS:

. . . We couldn’t help but notice that Leitch now has slices of New York and Boston in his repertoire, we asked if LA was far behind?

“Well, all columns about LA would start three paragraphs in and end four paragraphs early. And those would be a bitch to edit,” he said.

Hear that Manny? Will Kills L.A.

. . . We let Leitch “out of here” with a closer that asked him to name three ways St. Louis (he is a lifelong Cards diehards card-carrying member) and Boston sports fans are alike and three ways they are different.

His reply:

SIMILARITIES:
1. Fans are extremely knowledgeable, devoted and respectful of history.
2. You get the sense that every fan at the home stadium would never want to be anywhere else than sitting in those stands.
3.The football team can do whatever it wants, but it’ll never compare to the baseball team.

DIFFERENCES

1. Cardinals fans STILL lustily cheer a groundout to the second baseman if it moves the runner to third. Boston fans are not that lame.
2. It is still possible to get tickets to a game at Busch Stadium.
3. Your signature city beer is still brewed and owned by Americans. (If Cincinnati still counts as “America.”) Ours? Not so much.

• According to the Boston Globe review of GSTF, Leitch has termed some of local sports figures thusly:

“. . . he describes Manny Ramirez as a ‘dingbat Red Sox slugger,’ Sox pitcher Curt Schilling as not ‘satisfied until he is deemed king,’ and Bill Belichick as the ‘Napoleonic Patriots coach’ hated by ‘anyone who happens not to work for him’. . .”

• Asked by the New York Post’s always-entertaining Lenn Robbins to name his “(f)avorite sport other than football,” Boston College linebacker Brian Toal answered, “Beer pong” in a Sunday Q&A with New Jersey LBs. Funny, or a trend or both?

Herald Sports Editor Hank Hryniewicz responded to an email from Shots regarding the recent departures on Wingo Way by saying, rather defiantly, via email, “I’ve known Tony (Massarotti) as a friend for nearly two decades and as a co-worker for almost as long. Although I will miss the daily give-and-take I’ve enjoyed with Tony along with his contributions to the Herald, we’re already in the process of interviewing candidates to fill the vacancies on our sports staff.”

• The WEEI/NESN Radio-Telethon for the Jimmy Fund really knocked it out of the park by surpassing it’s $4 million goal by $800,000. Well done, folks. Especially the NESN people who were able to let the pictures tell so many stories.

• The WEEI.com press release on the “ground-breaking”:

WEEI.com Announces All-Star Roster Additions

Deadspin.com founder Will Leitch and former Boston Globe sportswriter Ron Borges headline latest additions to WEEI.com

BOSTON (August 18, 2008) – WEEI.com announced today the additions of six first-rate journalists joining its staff, along with the first upgrade to the website’s content and design. Joining WEEI.com editor Rob Bradford and columnist Mike Felger are a collection of top print and online journalists with excellent experience and reputations both in Boston and nationally.

Will Leitch, the founder of popular sports blog Deadspin.com, will be joining WEEI.com to provide an outsider’s look at Boston sports and its fans. Leitch has authored three books, including “God Save the Fan” and is currently a contributing editor to New York Magazine.

Ron Borges is a 24-year veteran of the Boston Globe, serving as the Patriots beat writer, national football writer and boxing reporter. He will serve as a columnist for WEEI.com covering the Patriots and national football news. Borges has received many awards and praise throughout his writing career, including being named Massachusetts Sports Writer of the Year by the National Association of Sportswriters and Sports Broadcasters five times since 1999.

Baseball writing veteran Alex Speier assist in handling the Red Sox beat and serve as Online Content Manager for WEEI.com. Speier is a graduate of Harvard University and has covered the Red Sox for several local and national publications, including the New Hampshire Union Leader, Boston Metro, Boston Herald and Baseball America.

“We’ve assembled a great new team at WEEI.com,” said Bradford. “It is an amazing collection of talent and I think that New England sports fans will enjoy the new voices and content our website is putting out. WEEI.com will be a great complement to the best sports radio station in the country.”

Also joining WEEI.com are Mike Petraglia, Jeff Goodman and Gary Marbry. Petraglia has more than 15 years experience covering Boston sports and will be contributing real time updates and breaking news to the site. Goodman is a basketball writer for Fox Sports and will write a column on professional and local college basketball. Marbry, better known as “Gary from Chapel Hill,” is WEEI.com’s stat geek. He’ll contribute to the site regularly examining sports through a number cruncher’s perspective.

WEEI.com will work as a complementary medium to WEEI Radio Network, taking the market’s top audio content and having it readily available online, while using the radio station to drive traffic to the website. Audio content, including weekly interviews with Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and Terry Francona, will be easily available for users. WEEI veteran Carlson Mozdiez will handle this aspect of the site, shifting from the marketing and promotions department to take on the role of Digital Radio Content Manager.

“This isn’t a ribbon cutting, it’s a ground-breaking,” WEEI.com Vice President and General Manager Tim Murphy said. “These are just our first steps in creating a website that will provide the more local sports content than anyone else in Boston. Our aim is to, over time, make WEEI.com a must-bookmark site for news, opinions and fun features about the local sports scene.”

Among the new content today on WEEI.com is “Patriots 360,” a complement to the radio station’s Patriots Monday and Friday. Felger will grade the Pats every Tuesday in his report card and also answer questions in a weekly mailbag. Borges will write a GameDay column, as well as other pieces centered around the Patriots throughout the week. In addition, Patriots 360 will feature updates from Gillette Stadium throughout the week and a collection of links to stories, statistics and features to make WEEI.com a must read for Patriots fans.

WEEI.com is also creating a dedicated Red Sox area on the site as the team drives toward the playoffs. Bradford and Speier will provide original content throughout the week, along with audio, links and other features. WEEI.com will also have exclusive content from Red Sox first baseman Sean Casey and other players, offering insight from the clubhouse and showing behind the scenes look at the defending World Series champions.

Log onto WEEI.com to see the website’s first upgrade and for all new content and contributors.

Entercom is one of the nation’s largest radio broadcasters with operations in San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, Denver, Sacramento, Cincinnati, Portland, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Austin, Norfolk, Buffalo, New Orleans, Providence, Memphis, Greensboro, Rochester, Greenville/Spartanburg, Madison, Wichita, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Springfield and Gainesville/Ocala.

David Scott writes from a seaside shanty on the shores of Hull, Mass. and can be reached at shotsATbostonsportsmediaDOTcom.

Scott’s first book, with Memphis Coach John Calipari, is scheduled for release in the Fall of 2009.