There’s an old saw in sports that “luck” is when preparation meets opportunity. I’d like to think the same could be said about blogging.
In August 2011, new-ish Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts fired the team’s General Manager, Jim Hendry. (Technically, Hendry had been fired in secret some time before, but the announcement came in August.) At that time, I was very much in the early stages of trying to make Bleacher Nation work as a job. Just three months earlier, I’d left the corporate law firm at which I’d worked for almost four years, in part because of changes in my familial needs, and in part because it was time for a professional change.
The site was growing adequately, and in line with the reasonable projections I’d created to help convince my wife that “blogger” should be my next profession. But “growing” and “sustainable” are two very different concepts in the professional blogging world, and in August 2011, I was still miles from generating a full-time income from Bleacher Nation.
Traffic on a baseball site is both cyclical and performance-sensitive. In July and December – when trade rumors/signings/etc. are at their most intense – traffic sees its biggest spikes. When the team is good, traffic is generally better. (Being that I started BN before the 2009 season, I suppose I am definitionally guessing at that one …. ) That is all to say that September and October have been, in the history of BN, the weakest traffic months of the year. October, in particular, is a complete dead zone, often marking a 50% drop from that year’s July/August peak.
In September and October of 2011, however, things were very different.
With Jim Hendry out the door, and a critical front office search underway, I set about covering the story – which, at the time, I deemed to be the most important thing in the Cubs’ world (time has borne that out) – in the only way I know how: obsessively. I wrote about and analyzed every conceivable candidate for the position. I pored over every article written about the search. And, when rumors started swirling about the possibility of landing then-rock-star-GM Theo Epstein from the Boston Red Sox, I kicked things into overdrive. It would not be an exaggeration to say that there were days in which I did nothing but write about the Theo Story, read about the Theo Story, analyze the Theo Story, listen to radio reports about the Theo Story, Tweet about the Theo Story, call upon what modest sources I’d accumulated about the Theo Story, and do everything I could to make sure that BN readers knew everything I did. If something even five layers removed from the Theo Story happened and I could explain its possible impact on the Theo Story, I wrote about it.
The intensity with which Cubs fans followed that story – and, I’d like to think, the ferver with which I covered it – manifested itself in BN’s traffic. Remember that October dead zone I mentioned? Well, in October 2011, BN saw 368,000 page views, the highest in the site’s history by more than 20%.
My coverage of the Theo Story was absolutely the tipping point for BN. After October 2011, the site’s traffic grew like gangbusters (though it wouldn’t be until June 2012 that traffic finally crossed the 1,000,000 page view plateau, seen by most as a minimum you need to make a full-time wage operating a blog (thanks again for all of the support, Wife)).
That Cubs fans were passionately interested in the new front office and the new direction of the organization in late 2011 was my “luck.” The timing, quite frankly, couldn’t have been any better for me. I was trying to build BN’s presence and incorporate new readers, and I had plenty of time to go all out.
At that time, though, did I consciously realize I was seizing the moment? Did I see myself as a person meeting opportunity with preparation and hard work? That’d be a nice revisionist story, but it simply isn’t true.
The truth is much more vanilla: I was trying to grow a site and make it my job. I believed the Theo Story was the most important subject in the world of what I was supposed to be covering, so I did my best to cover it.
Would the site’s growth have happened without the Theo Story? I’d like to think so, but you just never know, what with the finicky nature of all things Internet.
Whatever the case, when I look back on my time writing Bleacher Nation, I will always recognize the search for, and hiring of, Theo Epstein as the “luck” that set the dominoes of my full-time blogging job into motion. It really was preparation meeting opportunity.