One of these sites is not like the other: ESPN.com, CBSSports.com, FoxSports.com, SBNation.com.
To the titans of sports coverage, networks with broadcast rights to major sporting events, SB Nation is a scrappy flotilla of sports blogs led by its eponymous flagship site. Because it can’t air games, SB Nation has carved out a niche for itself as a multifaceted clearinghouse for sports fans, with individual sites for hundreds of professional and collegiate teams.
“From a brand standpoint, we still call ourselves the voice of the fan,” said Elena Bergeron, SB Nation’s top editor. “We want to keep that ethos, and we want to keep that scrappiness, because we don’t have [game] rights.”
Bergeron today was named SB Nation’s first editor in chief, part of a new divide-and-conquer leadership strategy at the Vox Media-owned blog empire. Bergeron, formerly SB Nation’s executive editor, will be responsible for setting the editorial direction for the site while her colleague Kevin Lockland, previously the vice president of editorial at SB Nation, assumes full responsibility for the site’s business operations.
Lockland, whose new title is general manager, will focus on building SB Nation’s partnerships with platforms like Facebook as the site seeks to double down on its commitment to video published natively on social media. Bergeron, meanwhile, will grow SB Nation’s audience.
“What we aim to do is keep growing,” Bergeron said. “I think that as we talk about where we reach sports fans and where our voice grows and develops, it’s really important for us that we reach them where they are and where they naturally consume and talk about sports.”
That growth will require the newsroom to expand. SB Nation, which currently has more than 80 full-time staffers, will be adding employees “in the double digits,” said Lockhart Steele, editorial director at Vox Media. That growth will be reflected across the company, which in 2015 got a $200 million infusion from Comcast.
“Our plans this year are to grow across the company in headcount again,” Steele said. “At Vox Media, we feel like we’re on a rocket ship here, and we feel lucky to have the resources to invest where we see things working.”
SB Nation, which began as a fan blog for the Oakland Athletics more than a decade ago, has since evolved to become a sprawling network of affiliated sites. The flagship site, which has a broader editorial remit than the subordinate blogs, is based in New York and combines with its other properties (including sites focused on Mixed Martial Arts) to bring in about 80 million unique visitors per month.
Today’s announcement is a step toward growing that scale, and, ultimately, the network’s influence, Steele said.
“Everyone who’s bigger than us is ESPN or is affiliated with a major broadcast network,” Steele said. “We don’t have that. But what we do have is the ability to play a really important part in the conversations that are happening among sports fans.”
Much of that conversation is happening on Facebook, where SB Nation plans to double down. Last year, SB Nation racked up about 1.1 billion views natively on Facebook, a number that they intend to grow.
“We still want to attract and retain that audience on our owned-and-operated platforms as well as continue to grow it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube in particular as well,” Lockland said.
What will the future bring? In a nod to SB Nation’s underdog status, Bergeron invoked Cleveland’s come-from-behind win in last year’s NBA finals.
“I would say we’re the Cleveland Cavaliers and the series is now at three games to one,” Bergeron said. “You know how that series ended?”