As many of you know, this past weekend, I headed to New York for the now-annual Blogs with Balls conference. It’s a gathering of online sports media types, and includes a set of awards for a variety of things like “Best News-Breaking Site,” “Best Writer,” etc. Thanks in no small part to your efforts, our place was a finalist for “Best Team/Region-Specific Site,” so, if I hadn’t been inclined to go already, I knew I had to head to NYC on the small, small chance that BN actually won.
It did not.
Rather than a narrative recap of my experience, I’ll do it bullet-style (I’m sure I’m leaving a great deal out):
- Most important thing first: so, yeah, BN did not win its award. The awards were handed out throughout the conference, so the presentation was over in the blink of an eye. You may recall that the other nominees included the largest independent sports blog on the ‘net (MGoBlog), the blog for CSN Philadelphia (The 700 Level), and, the winner, the sports blog on the Washington Post. The winner prepared a video acceptance, which was actually pretty funny.
- Those Oscar losers who who smile and applaud are full of crap. I’ve never really been nominated for anything of import, and certainly not anything about which I was deeply passionate; something that is a reflection not only of what I do, but who I now believe myself to be. So, when BN was named a finalist for this award, I knew there was going to be a part of me that wanted to win … even though I didn’t think the site actually would win, given the caliber of the competition. But, until they announced that I’d lost, I didn’t realize how much I wanted to win. It sucked. Maybe that makes me petty, and I don’t think I need that external validation; but damn, it would have been cool to win. When they announced the winner, I smiled and applauded. I, too, am full of crap.
- The conference was actually on the second day of the event. There was a kick-off party on Friday night, at which I met and had a legit conversation with Deion Sanders. I told him his athletic accomplishments were great and all, but those NFL commercials where he plays the fairy were great (I developed an unhealthy sense of self-satisfaction for saying that). Deion couldn’t have been more pleasant, and more uninterested in talking to me. I assumed it was simply because it was a sponsored event (Van Heusen), and Sanders just didn’t really want to be there. But maybe it was personal – he filed for divorce the next day.
- The non-conference events had a very “New York party” feel to them, which was, I suppose, to be expected given that the event was in New York and most of the attendees were New Yorkers. I’m a Midwesterner through and through. That’s neither a criticism of them, nor of myself. Just an observation.
- I knew no one, which apparently made me very unusual – I had a hell of a time finding individuals and/or groups to talk to at the party events. Folks knew who they wanted to talk to, and I wasn’t one of those people. I like to think I’m a generally affable guy, and, as a former corporate lawyer, I’m no stranger to awkward, required socializing. Still, I was frustrated at how difficult it was to find people to actually engage me in a conversation.
- Particularly egregious? Adam Best, the face and co-founder of Fansided (a blog network not unlike SB Nation), thrice slid into conversations I was having with other bloggers, refused to acknowledge my physical existence (you know the type – didn’t look at me, and then used his body to square me out of the conversation like he was blocking out for a rebound (and these weren’t large, group conversations mind you – they were one-on-one type deals)), and dashed away without so much as a generic “what’s up.” Maybe he’s actually a really nice guy and I just caught him at a weird time (thrice), but it felt like he sized me up and decided I wasn’t worth his time.
- One other low point: during a panel on the fracturing of blogs like this one by large sites (like ESPN/Yahoo/CBS/NBC, who scooped up a bunch of blogging talent three/four years ago en masse) and by social media sites (if your content lives on Twitter and Facebook, why do people need to come to your site?), I asked if the one-man, Mom ‘n Pop model was even sustainable anymore. A gentleman affiliated with CBS gave a plain-faced no. The exact answer, offered with a smirk as though the question was absurd, was “if someone offers you a bunch of money [to affiliate], you should take it.” It got the biggest laugh of the day, and I got the strong feeling that independent shops (like BN) are neither the future of online sports media, nor particularly welcome. I’m not interested in making this an attack on large media sites or affiliated blog networks (I might well affiliate some day), but it was disappointing to feel like I was crazy for doing what I do – in the very place I thought I was safest to be a guy who does that. (For the record, I still believe BN can “succeed” as a “job” for me. I’m nearly there as it is.)
- That’s not to say I didn’t meet some cool people. Too many to list here, in fact. It was an impressive group, to say the least, most of whom have accomplished far more in this sphere by their mid-20s than I ever will.
- The various panels throughout the day on Saturday were informative, interesting, and fun. Random thoughts: Matthew Cerone from MetsBlog might be the smartest guy around. The Deadspin writers have the slick air about them that you might suspect. Everyone in the biz considers himself/herself a writer first, and a fan/blogger/pundit/etc. second. That’s something I’ve always strived to follow, so I guess I’m on to something.
- Jonah Keri and Bomani Jones are really impressive in person. I’m not a Jones reader, so I can’t say this about him, but Keri was as impressive in person as he is in print. And that’s saying a lot.
- I met Julie DiCaro from A League of Her Own, which brought the total of Cubs bloggers I met to one. The total of baseball bloggers I met? Also one (I didn’t get a chance to meet Cerone). I met as many Canadian Football League and Premier League bloggers as MLB bloggers. Ours is not the most popular sport these days.
- Overall, the conference was great. The organizers are clearly good at what they do – it was very professional, lest the name mislead you.
- As I walked around the city (I decided to walk *everywhere*), I kept running into law buildings. Obviously there are a number of law firms in NYC, but I swear I came across a disproportionate number of their buildings relative to the thousands of buildings around town. It was a reminder of the life I’d left behind – and, when I saw the lights lit late on Saturday night, it became a pleasant reminder.
- I left feeling more inspired than ever about my decision to make a go of this full-time. I looked around the room at these hundreds of people who do what I do (generally-speaking), and they’re all making a living at it. I saw people whom I read and respect, which has a demystifying effect. These people aren’t words on a page; they’re real, live people doing a job. I can do it, too, even if my preferred route is apparently atypical.
- By the last bullet, I thought I’d be over the loss. Nope. Still bummed. I’m a very small man.
- I’m not big on pictures at things like this, so I don’t really have any from the event. I did manage to snap this one while walking around the city, however. It’s true what they say – NYC really does have everything: