Monthly Archives: September 29, 2021

The sports world is moving away from hard core journalism and towards a focus on fan participation.

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Last week I talked about Sports Illustrated laying off employees while simultaneously purchasing FanNation.com. The original content on FanNation consists of fan blogs which are written for free. My take was that paid employees with benefits were being exchanged for volunteer employees without benefits. Lynn Berenbaum of offthebaseline.com left a number of very good comments about the role of hardcore journalists versus bloggers and this week’s Time Magazine joins us in the discussion.

In an article titled “Getting Rich Off Those Who Work For Free”, Justin Fox points out that software writers work for free too. If you’re using Firefox (what the hell does that name mean?) to view this post or log into Wikipedia to find out what Goran Ivanisevic’s ranking was when he won Wimbledon in 2001 (answer: 125), you’re benefiting from volunteer labor. Wikipedia is written by a consortium of volunteers and Firefox is open source software meaning that it’s also written by volunteers.

According to the Time article, the world of software seems to be humming along just fine with a mixture of paid and unpaid workers. IBM may charge huge money to install the open source operating system Linux on its computers but volunteers can make money as Linux consultants.

As for the internet media world, things are not so clear. Take YouTube for instance. YouTube is the first honest-to-goodness internet television station. It’s as if major networks, cable outlets, and the satellite stations all got together and decided to stream on one site. You could get anything you wanted from the television world just by logging on to YouTube.

Now that YouTube has been bought by Google, a lot of those pirated clips are being taken down but a lot of them will stay because YouTube is making deals with television producers to share the online advertising income from those clips.

What about the volunteers who provide programming for Youtube in the form of user uploaded clips? YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley announced in January at the World Economic Forum that YouTube will start sharing revenues with these users. By the way, World Economic Forum? Jeez, that tells you how big YouTube is in case you’ve been off-planet for the past year or so.

How is the “gift economy” shaping up in the sports world? Sports Illustrated bought FanNation so it could make its site more fancentric. The sports world is moving away from hard core journalism and towards a focus on fan participation. It started with fantasy sports – CNNMoney reports that there are between 15 million and 18 million fantasy sports players in the U.S., fan blogging sites joined in, and now fan sites are being bought for big bucks.

Financially there’s not much difference between writing for a fan site and being an independent blogger. The independent blogger gets all of the ad income on their site but they also have to maintain it. The major benefit of writing for a fan site is exposure. For instance, I get press credentials to tennis tournaments because MVN has such a big readership – around 20 to 30 million hits a month. I’ve also appeared on an online radio show through a connection at my site.

If I get to enough tournaments and make enough connections and write enough engaging work, I’ll get an opportunity to write for a website or publication that actually pays freelancers. Even so, as the media employment world becomes more fractured and steady work becomes harder to find, I’ll be in the same scramble to find work as current journalists are to hold onto work.

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It was no surprise to see Andy Murray here in the final today, he was my pick to get by James Blake and then Andy Roddick. Blake pretty much shot himself in the foot against Ivo Karlovic in the quarterfinals, and Roddick succumbed to Murray yesterday in straight sets in the semi-finals. Roddick seemed strangely muted by Murray’s excellent anticipation on the return of serve. With his power game on hold, Roddick instead tried to play cat and mouse around the court. This was unwise and did not signal any trumpeting calls that Roddick was going to win this match. He needed to force his game more on Murray, and really go after his serve and attack him at every chance. After game three I realized this was going to be Murray’s match to win.

Ivo Karlovic presented similar problems in that Murray had to figure out a way to mute Karlovic’s serving power the way he did Roddick’s. An interesting contrast was provided by how Beni Becker fared in the previous day’s semi-final match against Karlovic. He couldn’t decipher the direction of Ivo’s big serves at all. Sometimes he would guess, a lot of the time he was the proverbial deer fixed in the headlights. Murray, though, managed to get some part of his racquet on many of Karlovic’s serves, first and second. This was the biggest factor in his win today.

Is it the quality of his hands at work? They’re very soft, the way McEnroe’s were, and McEnroe loved to blunt the power of the big servers. He would often be inside the line to return serve knowing he could anticipate and handle it.

Murray took pace off many of his shots and, at least, Karlovic tried to attack more than Roddick. But his execution was poor. A ton of shots ended up in the net when he was in a dominant net position.

The pair traded sets then concluded the third with another tiebreak. At 2-1 in the tiebreak Ivo stepped around a second serve but knocked the forehand long to go down a mini-break, 3-1. Murray hit to his forehand again and this one sailed long too, 4-1. Karlovic wasn’t dead yet and uncorked a second serve ace up the T to crawl back to 4-2. But then he doublefaulted(!) for 5-2. A chip and charge play was next on Ivo’s To Do list but he netted it. Murray closed the tiebreak and the match out with an ace. The final score was 6-7(3), 6-4, 7-6(2).

Good work Andy, Good work Ivo, you had a great week, and welcome back after your knee problems.

As for Andy Murray, I think he is one of the more perfect opponents for Roger Federer. Sure, Roger lost to Andy last summer when he was plainly spent, but Murray has the sort of game that could give Roger Federer more than a few fits. Maybe not this year, but soon.

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It may be heretical but what the hell, get rid of qualifying in hybrid round robins. Choose the sixteen lowest ranked players entered and put them in the playoff round.

It’s a good thing I’m just tuning up for the year because my picks last week were disastrous. It wasn’t entirely my fault. I picked Ivan Ljubicic and Mario Ancic to face each other in the final at Marseille and they both lost in the first round, Ljubicic to a qualifier. I picked James Blake and Andy Roddick in the San Jose final but Blake went out to 6’10” Ivo Karlovic in the second round. The tall one then took out Mardy Fish and our adopted son Benjamin Becker to get as far to the final where he lost to Andy Murray. As for Costa do Sauipe, my co-writer Pat Davis was right and I was wrong. Guillermo Canas got to the final and beat Juan Carlos Ferrero though this was only Canas’ second ATP main draw since coming off a one year suspension for using a banned substance. Call it the redemption effect.

Memphis (indoor hard court)

Murray and Roddick should meet in the semis again. Murray took Roddick out easily in the semis at San Jose. To some degree this match would be a referendum on Roddick’s current return to the top ten. If Roddick loses to Murray two weeks in a row, Murray will have the psychological upper hand and Roddick will lose ground. When these two meet it’s also a referendum on their coaches Brad Gilbert (Murray) and Jimmy Connors (Roddick). Gilbert is a good strategist befitting someone who had weak skills as a player and had to win with guile. Connors is more of a motivator. He not only had skills but he willed himself to titles long after he had declined physically. In that way I suppose they’re perfect coaches for these players because Murray isn’t overpowering but he’s very smart and Roddick is overpowering and emotional. Murray may not be overpowering but he has more skills and will win more majors than Roddick so I’m taking Murray.

I have Haas over Murray in the final because I’m not convinced that Murray’s conditioning is good enough to win two titles in a row.

Rotterdam (indoor hard)

There’s a blast from the past in this draw. Martin Verkerk is ranked 1534 after eleven years on as a pro. He made it to the French Open final in 2003 and reached number 14 before sliding back down. How did he wangle that wild card away from a promising young player?

Gilles Simon won his first title in Marseille last week but I think that was an aberration.

Could someone fill me in? Why did Radek Stepanek, the 19th ranked player in the world, go through qualifying at Marseille? After qualifying he hurt his rib so I have Nikolay Davydenko through to the semifinals. I probably shouldn’t have Ljubicic in the semis with him but it would be a crapshoot to figure out who’d going to knock Ljubicic off.

I have Novak Djokovic taking the title over Davydenko.

Buenos Aires (outdoor clay)

If you’d like to know why I’m a fan of round robins, see the Never-Mets section below. That doesn’t mean I’m a fan of hybrid round robins, however, and that’s what we have this week in Buenos Aires. In this format eight qualifiers meet eight main draw elimination players in a one round playoff to choose the players who advance to round robin play. Round robin play begins before the playoff round ends so I have to guess which eight players will advance.

It’s bad enough for me but imagine what it’s like for fans who want to see their favorite players. It may be heretical but what the hell, get rid of qualifying in hybrid round robins. Choose the sixteen lowest ranked players entered and put them in the playoff round. At least that eliminates one level of guessing.

I expect Agustin Calleri to cool Canas off and beat him this week. I have Ferrero and Nicolas Almagro in the final but it could also be David Nalbandian and Calleri.

Never-Mets

I’m officially dumping the term Zero Counter in favor of “Never-Mets”, Pat Davis’ variation on the theme. Never-Mets are matches between players who have never played each other in an ATP event (that includes Davis Cup, challengers and futures events). This matters because there are so few rivalries on the tour and there never will be if players don’t regularly meet.

There are a number of possible solutions to this problem. Decrease the number of tournaments so more top players will be in one place at one time. If you decrease the number of tournaments you can decrease the number of qualifiers (notice a theme here?) because the draw will be filled up with higher ranked players. Increase the number of round robin tournaments so players get at least two matches per tournament. If you have more suggestions please send them along, the ATP needs help

Among the Never-Mets this week: Tommy Haas and Andy Murray would meet for the first time despite the fact that they are both in the top 15; David Ferrer and Jarkko Nieminen have both been on the tour for seven years, they’re in the top twenty and they last met in a challenger in 2001; Nieminen and Tomas Berdych have never met. See what I mean?

I’m in the process of switching servers so I don’t have images of draws this week. I should have them again next week. See you then.

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Sports Illustrated employees just got laid off and Sports Illustrated bought a website whose writers do not get paid and do not require costly outlays such as health insurance and worker’s compensation.

On January 18, Time Inc. announced that they were laying off 298 employees. Advertising Age reported that the layoffs were mainly editorial positions at People Magazine, Time Magazine and Sports Illustrated.

A memo announcing the layoffs to the staff made it clear that Time Inc.’s goal is to catch up to the rest of the media world and establish itself solidly on the web:

While we continue to invest in our core magazines, we are also focused on transforming our work force and broadening our digital capabilities in order to become a truly multiplatform publisher.

“Broadening our digital capabilities” is a good idea because Sports Illustrated’s website, SI.com, lags behind other sports websites. It has far less traffic than ESPN, Yahoo Sports, AOL Sports, and CBS SportsLine. Not to worry. On February 1st, Sports Illustrated bought fannation.com, a website which aggregrates sports news and has original content generated by fans who sign on and start their own blog. This is a similar structure to MVN.com (Most Valuable Network); in fact fannation calls its fan blogs Most Valuable Blogs.

I don’t know how much Sports Illustrated paid for fannation.com but Time Inc. paid $20 million to become a minority investor in fannation.com’s parent company. And that brings up a few interesting questions.

Are paid sports journalists being replaced by unpaid sports bloggers? Was that what Time Inc. meant when they talked about “transforming our work force”? Sports Illustrated employees just got laid off and Sports Illustrated bought a website whose writers do not get paid and do not require costly outlays such as health insurance and worker’s compensation.

Newspapers and magazines are being supplanted by legions of bloggers who do everything from dredge up documents about the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case (smokinggun.com) to high level political reporting from the Lewis Libby trial (firedoglake.com). Libby is the former head of staff for Vice-President Dick Cheney charged with obstruction of justice during a federal investigation into the leak of a CIA agent’s identity to the media.

Firedoglake bloggers do not get paid. Their accommodations during the trial are paid for by donations. MVN, unlike most fan sports websites, does turn advertising income over to its writers though it’s not very much. If an advertiser buys ad space on a specific blog, the writer(s) on that blog get a percentage of the income. At most it’s probably a few hundred dollars a year.

But what if the site you write for gets bought out for big bucks? It’s safe to say that none of the bloggers on fannation got any of that $20 million Time Inc. paid for part of its parent company. Of course, none of the millions of people who uploaded videos to youtube got any of the $1.65 billion google paid for youtube either but I doubt that anyone was put out of work by videos being uploaded to youtube. Especially now that youtube has gone corporate and is taking copyright protected videos off its site left and right.

There are websites that pay for content. The New York Times reported that a series of comic videos called Ask A Ninja made more than $20, 000 for its creator on revver.com last year. The same article says that youtube is looking for ways to pay its users. It’s not a difficult problem. If youtube needs help figuring it out, they can just call me up. You pay the user based on the number of views of their video or you pay them based on the advertising income generated by their video.

As for me, I’ll just keep on tying to generate ad income here and if MVN gets bought out by Sports Illustrated, or ESPN or any other publication for that matter, I’ll be standing in line waiting for a few crumbs to fall my way.

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This week I’m attending the ATP event in San Jose, California, and thank God the end is in sight. Never having covered a live tennis event before, I am learning a few things. Like how to stretch yourself over a week-long event and knowing how much tennis you should be watching and how much you should be writing. It’s very easy to get swept up doing the former and neglecting the latter. Covering a two-week slam event must be a real bastard. If I ever reach that point, I will go into training for it first. Whatever training one needs. Stamina for sure.

But now we’re down to business again. This afternoon two of the quarterfinals concluded, and the results left the crowd groaning. Clearly they were for Mardy Fish, one of three Americans left so far, besides Roddick and Spadea, who play each other tonight. Fish got bombed, literally, by big-serving Ivo Karlovic of Croatia.

What can we say about Dr. Evil as he is affectionately referred to on occasion? He certainly looks like he’s 6’10” tall but his serve was surprisingly varied. Not quite the steady blasts of hugeness I was expecting. I kept turning to the radar gun to see the speed and was surprised to find he often serves closer to 130 than 140 mph. For some reason the ball flies off his racquet as if it were steadily over 140. The sound is different as it comes off his racquet. Kind of a rumble. From the jungle. Ooohhh. Scary noises! Fish consistently threw in serves close to 140, in fact he kept serve consistently with Karlovic, but his sounds lighter. Maybe we can say he’s a tenor while Ivo is a baritone. Fish was serving sharp cracks; Karlovic’s serve sounds like heavy artillery. Blake talked in his presser last night about how impossible the serve was to read because it is coming at you from a higher up angle than the other guys on tour. It gave Blake fits and today it was Fish’s turn.

Watching this match was like watching a lot of NBA games. You can hit the snooze alarm and go back to sleep until the last five minutes – or the tiebreak as we call it in tennis – because nothing of import really happens until then, sorry to say. This is the lot of the huge servers. Not many people think they have much of a game beyond their serve.

But Karlovic does. We saw a few actual rallies. I was betting we would not see too many rallies where the ball crossed the net more than three times. We got a few more than that. Dr. Evil held his own off the ground better than Marat Safin did in the following match. He can move pretty decently for a tall tall guy, and he has nice low volleys that skim the net with a firm pace. You don’t want to see this guy get into a groove on his serve, which happened here in the semi-finals, his first signs of real life on the tour after a while off due to a knee injury. His serve is getting more honed in the further he goes.

Fish had his chances. His serve held out well, that wasn’t the problem. A few key points did him in. At 5-4 in the first set he had several chances. Karlovic threw in his first double fault of the match for 0-15, then Fish dumped a good return at Ivo’s feet that he netted. But on the next point Karlovic came to net and Fish decided he wanted to try a lob. Poor shot selection there. I thought for sure he would go up the line to Karlovic’s backhand. Not many lobs get over guys this tall, and Karlovic put it away easily. Then a moment later Fish got a rare gift: a second serve out to his forehand, but he netted it. Karlovic held on to his serve, and into the tiebreak they went. Here Fish’s backhand let him down, he knocked one long and another into the net. His serve was fine, it was the ground game that let him down. Ivo grabbed the tiebreak 7-2.

In the second set a few moments early on caused Fish to give up the break. “It’s not over yet, ” yelled a woman in the stands. Oh yes it is, said I to myself. Ivo kept motoring along with those powerful serves and nobody was going to make a dent in them on this day. 7-6(2), 6-4 was the final score.

Ivo Karlovic’s opponent in tomorrow’s semi-final will be a good-serving guy as opposed to a huge-serving guy, Benjamin Becker. Becker handled Marat Safin pretty handily. The crowd wanted Safin for sure, this was his first trip to the bay area and people hoped the experience was such that further trips might be forthcoming. We hope so but not a good day for the big Russian, who looks surprisingly less hunky in person than he does on TV. Nice legs, dude. Oh Pat, they ALL have nice legs, just stop, will you woman?

In the middle part of the first set you could feel Becker was going to have his way with the big Russian. Both men served well, but as far as his ground game went, it was Safin the Here One Minute Gone The Next guy who materialized. Karlovic played better from the baseline than Safin, who had too many errors to have a chance at the win. You could sense Safin was not fully focused somehow into the match, and that if Becker could hold his own halfway the match would be his.

Both men held serve until 5-4 in the first set. Serving to even the match, Safin knocked a backhand long for 15-40 on his serve setting up set points for Becker. The Russian erased one but then netted another shot and Becker had the break and the set, 6-4.

Becker had moments where he could have gone off the track, like in the first game of the second set when he threw in two double faults in a row. I like his calm, capable approach toward the game. He is learning very quickly how to step it up at the big points, decide on the right shot, and then carry it through. He was not rattled at all like he was in the previous match with countryman Bjorn Phau. His serve was seriously in danger of breaking down, and so was his normally very steady and positive attitude on the court.

Here he did everything he needed to do to hold serve, and Safin could not pick up his ground game. Becker broke him for a 3-1 lead and that was all he needed. Pretty neat win in one hour and one minute, 6-4, 6-4. It may look like a surprising win on paper, even if Becker was seeded here and Safin was not. But if you were there you could see Safin was just not quite there. Becker was going to have his day.

Because it’s the quarters now, they held post match interviews during the day events. Becker spoke very positively about his college experience at Baylor which he credits, in particular, for accentuating the importance to his career of proper intense weight training regimes. It also provided him with a very good education, and that, smiles Becker, was really what he went there for. In Europe you go to school to study, period. If you want sports you go another route. So Becker felt the American college experience would be much more appropriate for him as a person and a player.

It’s been a pleasure following his growth as a new player coming onto the scene. He comes over as a reasonable human being.

For a tennis player.

Go Beni!

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