SB Nation soccer editor and blog manager, Jeremiah Oshan, gives us a glimpse of what sports journalism is like in the United States, especially in the MLS (soccer league), where it faces competition against more established leagues that are considered the best in the world.
Jeremiah also provides background the future of SB Nation, his career to date and the MLS.
Vahe Arabian: Welcome to the State of Digital Publishing Podcast. State of Digital Publishing is an online publication covering media technology trends, perspectives, and news for online publishing and media professionals. We help audience developers better develop audiences by encouraging others and sharing their knowledge, experience, and practical advice, and acting as a bridge to the gap between startups and established professionals. I’ve got with me today, in episode two of our podcast with Jeremiah Oshan, MLS editor from SB Nation. Welcome, Jeremiah.
Jeremiah Oshan: Hey. How are you doing?
Vahe Arabian: Good. How are you?
Jeremiah Oshan: I am good.
Vahe Arabian: Thanks for joining us.
Jeremiah Oshan: Yeah, my pleasure, my pleasure.
Vahe Arabian: Awesome, that. How’s the week in MLS? How’s everything in MLS going this week?
Jeremiah Oshan: So, we just had … We have a playoff system here, as you may know, and we just started the playoffs, and there were some interesting games, for sure. We had a couple big blow-outs, and then a couple matches that went to overtime actually were scoreless going into overtime. Lots of interesting storylines going on in MLS right now.
Vahe Arabian: That’s fine. I believe you’re a Seattle fan? I forgot, sorry, I forgot the team name at the moment, but I read that you were….
Jeremiah Oshan: The Sounders, yeah. I’m in Seattle, and I root for the Sounders.
Vahe Arabian: Awesome! How are they? Are they on the top of the leaderboard, or where are they sitting at the moment?
Jeremiah Oshan: Yeah. So, they were finished second in their conference meaning they didn’t have to play in this round that we just finished, and they’re now going to be playing one of their big rivals in the next round.
Vahe Arabian: Cool. Well, fingers crossed for Seattle.
Jeremiah Oshan: Yes.
Vahe Arabian: Awesome! So, now with the podcast, if we could just start off with your background and just a bit about SB Nation, just so we can introduce you to the audience, that’d be great.
Jeremiah Oshan: Yeah. So, I got my start in media, you know, I took a pretty traditional path to getting into media. I went to journalism school in college, I worked in newspapers for about 10 years in sports sections and news sections, I was a beat reporter for a while, I was a columnist for a while, I was a sports editor for a while, I was a copy editor, and then I was, like, a front-page designer. So, I did a lot of things in the newsroom, and then I moved to Seattle, I quit my newspaper job, and basically just started from the bottom in terms of the digital media world. The timing ended up being very fortuitous when I did that. But I started writing for the local Sounders blog, and then I kind of worked my way up the chain at SB Nation, and now I’m actually in charge of all the … I oversee all of our soccer blogs. We have about 60 soccer blogs that cover teams all over the world.
Vahe Arabian: And is that soccer blogs individual contributors that just write about specific leagues around the world?
Jeremiah Oshan: So, most of them, the vast majority of them are team-specific. So, we have an Arsenal blog, we have a … All the big … Almost all the big clubs in the world, we have a blog that covers them specifically, and there’s one manager in charge, and then the manager usually has a few either assistant editors or writers, or whatever they have, a staff, that is a combination of paid and unpaid people.
Vahe Arabian: Cool. And are those blogs, do they look more like the columns, or are they just actual … Do they actually look like blogs, like a site blog? Like, how do you usually …
Jeremiah Oshan: They’re self-sufficient. They’re standalone blogs. So, if you go to, for instance, The Busby Babe is our Manchester United blog, and they’ll have everything from news of the day to columns to whatever else, so it’s a pretty inclusive, kind of holistic site. The idea is that you could follow one of these blogs and that’s really all you need to do.
Vahe Arabian: Awesome! I’d definitely like to go down into detail about how you manage that on a day-to-day basis, but can you also, for those who don’t know, especially for those outside of the US, what SB Nation is about, and what the value proposition is, or what the core focus of SB Nation is.
Jeremiah Oshan: Yeah. So, SB Nation is part of a larger digital media company called Vox Media. Vox Media has properties that cover all sorts of different verticals, as we call them. Like, we have a food vertical, we have a real estate vertical, we have a news vertical, we have a tech vertical, and SB Nation is the sports vertical. And then, within SB Nation, there’s two main, kind of, silos, for lack of a better term. There’s what we call dot-com, which is more of a … it’s a standalone website that kind of covers the whole sports world, so you’ll see everything from tennis to baseball to the NFL to soccer. You might see any random number of things. Then in a separate silo, we have the team sites, which I’m part of, and those, we have sites that cover most of the big American sports: NFL, NBA, NHL, college. And then we have a group of combat sites that cover MMA and those kinds of things. And then we have soccer.
Jeremiah Oshan: And, kind of, the value proposition of SB Nation is that we kind of speak from a fan perspective, with a fan voice. You know, there are certainly professional journalists that have professional journalism training, like myself, but there’s a lot of people that don’t have that kind of background, and they’re coming at it purely from a fan perspective, you know, kind of the idea being that people that are passionate about the subject that they’re covering, essentially, that they’re not just doing it for a paycheck, that they’re doing it because they actually have an interest in reading about the thing that they’re covering.
Vahe Arabian: I’m sure that a lot of those people, they have these criteria for them to contribute as well. Like, you wouldn’t just have anyone publish their perspective on the sport, so…
Jeremiah Oshan: Right. So, the managers of each of the … So, dot-com runs like a traditional website where it’s all, you know, there’s editors, and everything is approved, and there is assignments, and all those kind of thing. And at the blog level, it’s not quite as formalized. There’s a little bit more of an ad hoc system, but it’s not a totally open system, either. The managers, basically, work as a gateway. They find people that they think are interesting, and they publish them, but presumably, that stuff has some basic level of editing on it, and the topics are approved. It’s not just totally random people firing off their opinions. There is some kind of vetting process that it goes through.
Vahe Arabian: Definitely. Well, and that makes sense. That totally makes sense. I guess, more to that aspect on the MLS side, ’cause from what I’ve seen as well on your online profile, you also cover MLS league. I guess, from an outsider perspective, from what I’ve read as well, I know that a lot of the … all the players that come from Europe, the Premier League, or the other leagues, they’ll usually come to the MLS because they get paid well and stuff like that, and it’s a fairly new league.
Jeremiah Oshan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Vahe Arabian: Are you able just to provide a bit of background about the history of MLS, where it’s up to, and how journalism has played a role in profiling the game to date?
Jeremiah Oshan: Yeah. So, MLS is one of the younger leagues in the world. I know the Premier League is only 20-odd years old, but it was preceded, obviously, by the First Division, which was not that different than the Premier League. Well, MLS started in 1996, was the first season, and there really was nothing that it was … I mean, it was essentially filling a first division vacuum. You may have heard of the original NASL that essentially collapsed in the early ’80s. And then between the collapse of the NASL and the start of MLS, there were about 12 years, and there were soccer leagues in the United States, but there was nothing that you would think of as a first division soccer league. It was regional, mostly regional leagues, there were some lower division leagues that were run on a shoestring, and so when MLS came in in 1996, it was kind of the return of first division soccer in the United States.
Jeremiah Oshan: And, the United States has never really been a … what’s the right way to put this … a sophisticated soccer nation. There’s always been soccer being played here. Soccer has a pretty old history in the United States. You know, you can go back 150 years to the first … as old as any … There have been organized soccer leagues here, but it’s never been on the scale of what we see in other countries, at least, it hasn’t been on the scale of what we see in other countries in the last 50 or 60 years. And so, MLS kind of came in, and they had to do a lot of educating. They had to reach out to a lot of fans that weren’t necessarily soccer fans. When the World Cup was here in 1994, there was a lot of things like explaining what offside was, and basic level soccer knowledge.
Jeremiah Oshan: There was a growth period for sure, and those first 10 years, I would say MLS was very much finding its footing, trying to figure out what it wanted to be, and that was right around the same time that David Beckham came to MLS, obviously that was a big-money signing, and that kind of … That was a whole new era of MLS where these, kind of, famous players from Europe would come here, oftentimes towards the end of their careers, and we’re still seeing a degree of that. There are definitely … Like, Kaká was playing here, David Villa is still one of the best players in the league. You know, you can go through … Bastian Schweinsteiger is playing in Chicago. You know, there’s a whole host of legitimately world famous soccer players that are here, that are playing at a reasonably high level, but probably would not be playing at a high level if they were in Europe.
Jeremiah Oshan: But frankly, most of the players that MLS is signing now are still in a prime soccer age, prime football age, and it’s become a pretty competitive league. You have young players from South America that are on their national teams that are here, so it’s an interesting combination of players. It’s a fun league. It definitely is different than European football in that the way the league is structured is different, but it’s not like you’re watching a foreign product anymore. If you tune in to MLS, MLS is broadcast all over the world now via various cable networks, and if you watch an MLS game, it won’t look that different than any other nations.
Vahe Arabian: Understood. So, you see, I think broadcasting has played a bigger role in trying to profile the game. Like, how about in terms of journalism and covering the match-to-match games? How does that impact the profile of MLS? Has that been positive, or how do you see that shape the game?
Jeremiah Oshan: MLS is not quite at the mainstream level where you have … Like, for instance, Seattle is one of the better-covered teams in the league, and there’s probably two or three, like, mainstream publications that have, basically, real beat writers where they travel with the team … Or actually, I think there’s only one newspaper that actually travels with the team now, and otherwise, it’s a lot of digital media, people like myself, that cover the team. So, there’s a robust group of people that are covering them, but they aren’t necessarily from traditional news media. For the most part, TV doesn’t necessarily treat it in the same way that they would treat the NFL. If it’s on the local news, they don’t necessarily know all the ins and outs of the league. So, it’s an interesting landscape because, on one hand, people in digital media like myself are able to get a lot of access that you wouldn’t be able to get in Europe, but on the other hand, the coverage is not as ubiquitous as it is in other places.
Vahe Arabian: Right. So, I guess, even though you’ve got that access, like, you could pretty much approach any player and ask their background and profile, ’cause there’s not much of a reach, or much of an audience as big an audience as other sports. Yeah. I guess it’s not going to be as far-reaching.
Jeremiah Oshan: Right. You know, I would say that I know most of the players on the Sounders. Like, they would recognize me, and I’m not necessarily there every day, and we get a level of access that you aren’t going to get in Europe. And it’s also one of the other things that’s kind of funny about the way MLS is, is that it kind of follows the … In North American sports, we have much more access to players than you do in Europe. For instance, the post-game, they usually open up the locker room, and we actually go into the locker room. And, granted, most of the players have filtered out by the time they allow us in, but we get a level of access that you just aren’t going to get in most of the world, which has its pluses and minuses.
Vahe Arabian: I think, yeah, I guess there’s a balance there, but, yeah, it’s interesting to hear. It’s a bit different as well, like usually it’s more controlled in that only a selected, whoever’s licensed to cover our sport’s only able to really get that inside scoop or our post-game match.
Jeremiah Oshan: Right.
Vahe Arabian: Yeah. So, it’s interesting to hear how it is in North America. In terms of more of your day-to-day with the covering, the blogs, and managing the blogs in general, I guess how have you come to that point where you have so many of those blogs, and what’s been the driver behind that?
Jeremiah Oshan: Well, the driver behind it’s pretty straightforward. There’s a lot of clubs around the world that have big audiences, and we’ve kind of allowed it to be a somewhat, actually, I would say a very organic process, at least outside of MLS where we’ve made a concerted effort to have every MLS team covered. The teams that we have covered basically were demand led us, and early on in the growth process we had people who would approach us, and they’d pitch us the idea of starting a blog on Team X, and for the most part, we just went with it. Over time, we’ve shuttered a few blogs. Like, at one point we had a Wigan blog, we had a Nottingham Forest blog, you know, we’ve had a few blogs of clubs that are a little smaller around the world, but for the most part we’ve kind of let the audience lead us, where, if there was someone that was really interested and passionate about doing something, we did that.
Jeremiah Oshan: Now, in the last few years, we’ve been in less of a growth phase, and we’ve been more focusing on trying to make the blogs that we have as good as we can make them, as opposed to just covering every team in the world. I mean, at one point our attitude was, like, if we have 150 soccer blogs, great, but I think we realized that that was maybe more effort than it was worth.
Vahe Arabian: Definitely. It does make it harder. How about for those who want to start, get into sports journalism, particularly in digital media, how’s the path, especially in North America? How’s the path that people usually take? ‘Cause I know … It was interesting to hear that, you know, you said that even though you had the newspaper background, you had to start again from scratch. Two questions: Why did you have to start from scratch, and secondly, how do people currently progress in sports journalism in North America?
Jeremiah Oshan: Yeah. So, it’s become a very, kind of, I don’t want to say haphazard. There is no one way to get involved in media now. On one hand, there’s a lot of different paths, which is exciting, but on the other hand, there’s not really a tried and true path, which is kind of scary. And so, if you’re trying to get involved in becoming part of the North American media, there are a million different ways to get involved. If you don’t have any experience, I would say probably the best way to do it is to find something that you’re passionate about, and find an outlet where you can kind of share that passion, and basically start from there and see where it goes. If you have a bit more experience, you know, there are freelance jobs out there, but if you haven’t worked full time, like, if you’ve never treated covering soccer, for instance, as a full-time profession, it’s going to be really hard to break in as a full-time soccer writer in this country. I don’t know. It really depends. I’d say that there are a million different ways to get in, and like I said, that’s both good and bad.
Vahe Arabian: Where have you seen the most obvious path, or what have you seen the most common path that people have taken?
Jeremiah Oshan: Oh. I mean, I don’t even know that there is a most common. I mean, I would say my path is my own.
Vahe Arabian: Right, I understand but I guess, based on what you’ve seen ’cause you’re managing a team, you’re in a position where you’re managing people, and I guess you know your team very well in terms of … so …
Jeremiah Oshan: Yeah. I mean, it’s … No. Keeping in mind that no one that works for me is full time. Everyone that works for me basically started out writing for a team-specific blog, and then basically showed that they were capable and responsible people, and they worked their way up to a point where they were, maybe, managing a site or at least in a paid position. And, you know, some of those people started off as paid, but I would say, most of the people that I deal with are, they were passionate about something, and they just wanted to follow their passion, and they were willing to do it, I mean, frankly, they were willing to do it for very little money, and that’s how they kind of got their foot in the door.
Vahe Arabian: Back to the point of you having to start from scratch in digital media, if you feel comfortable, or if you be open, but why did you have to start from the scratch even though you had that experience?
Jeremiah Oshan: Well, I hadn’t really done anything in soccer media, and I didn’t really have any experience in digital media, and I got my start … I moved into digital media in 2009, and there weren’t a lot of full-time digital media positions out there, frankly, and it was a time when the economy was really bad, and there wasn’t really anyone hiring, and so I didn’t have expertise in any one area, and I think the thing about digital media is that it’s all about expertise. It’s all about having a focus and having … You know, there’s just not … When I got started in journalism, there was kind of this idea that you would basically learn on the job, and that as long as you had a basic platform, you could learn about anything you needed to cover, and you were talking to this lowest common denominator of people who didn’t necessarily need expertise on everything, and that’s just not the way it is anymore.
Jeremiah Oshan: I mean, digital media has become so specialized, and if you want to write about soccer, you’d better have a background writing about soccer, and if you don’t have a background writing about soccer, you’re going to have a really hard time all of a sudden going into that space, certainly as a full time paid writer. And so, I would say, that’s just the nature of the business right now is that specialization is absolutely the key.
Vahe Arabian: Do you think that, ’cause I’ve noticed as well, that especially in Australia as well, that a lot of ex-players become commentators or become digital media folk? Do you think that gives them an advantage ’cause they’re very specialized, or can you just, even, like you said, start from the beginning in terms of blogging, covering a team?
Jeremiah Oshan: Yeah. I mean, I would say that having a name and having a background always is helpful. Like, it can never be anything but useful to have a background, and to have a name, and to be in that space, but that said, in terms of digital media, there’s not a ton of former players. Like most of the former players that are in the media here are TV commentators. There are some exceptions to that. You know, there’s a guy named Bobby Warshaw who’s kind of becoming a pretty well-known writer, who was a player here for a long time, but for the most part, ex-players and ex-coaches get into the TV side, and people like myself don’t really get into the TV side. So, that’s kind of that separation.
Vahe Arabian: Understand. I think, yeah. That’s interesting to hear. You mentioned earlier about having the access to those players, getting the coverage, how do you find the local community being able to … Because you have that access, and you’re trying to cover the local team, how do you find the local community responding to the journalism and digital media efforts with SB Nation?
Jeremiah Oshan: At least in Seattle, people have been really welcoming, and they kind of like what we provide, and I would say that the stuff I write about the Sounders is basically treated like mainstream media, essentially, but in a lot of markets, it’s a little bit more hit and miss. It’s just kind of a hard balance, and I would say it depends from market to market.
Vahe Arabian: So, I guess it comes from the fact that MLS has to compete with other sports ’cause there’s already, like, three or four main sports in the country that a lot of people, the majority of people, are already tuned in and religiously follow, I guess, if for a better word. But, yeah. So, do you find that the different states, like, they have, be more skewed just due to the emphasis of the main sports that they’re following in their states?
Jeremiah Oshan: Yeah. I mean, I would say that’s probably a big part of it, that it is somewhat about, their allegiances are already kind of stretched thin, like, they’re already a Seattle Seahawks fan, and the Seahawks’ season overlaps pretty significant, or doesn’t a whole lot, but there’s always a sport that’s conflicting with soccer here, and there’s always a bigger sport that’s competing with soccer here, so you are kind of competing for hearts and minds, not just for among soccer teams, but among other sports, which poses its own kind of challenges.
Vahe Arabian: How do you think the other sports are able to capture the audience and able to get their support? What comes down to it?
Jeremiah Oshan: I would say, the biggest thing is just that they have a big head start. Most of these teams have been around much longer than soccer has here, and they’ve just been doing it longer, and so by the time soccer came around, their allegiances were already set. Like I said, MLS is only about 20 years old, and so you’re competing with leagues that were, 20 years ago, they were fully matured, nationally recognized leagues. And beyond that, Major League Baseball is the best baseball players in the world, NFL is the best football players in the world, NHL is the best hockey players in the world, NBA is the best basketball players in the world. MLS is not, by any stretch, the best soccer players in the world, and so people in the United States are used to watching the absolute best athletes in their sport, and MLS isn’t that.
Jeremiah Oshan: So, MLS isn’t only competing with other sports, but they’re also competing with the Premier League, which you can find … You can probably more easily watch the Premier League in the United States than you can MLS, at least in terms of how many games are available on TV. Similarly, the Spanish league is basically ubiquitous, the German league is basically ubiquitous, Italian soccer’s a little harder to find, so MLS is competing with the best leagues in the world for the same people.
Vahe Arabian: How do you think MLS as a brand is trying to tackle that issue and trying to grow their audience, based on your observations?
Jeremiah Oshan: Yeah. So, their, kind of, value play, essentially, is that this is where you can watch soccer in person. This is where you can root for your hometown team. If you’re a soccer fan in Seattle, you should be rooting for the Sounders because you get this great experience. Now, are the Sounders playing at the level of Tottenham Hotspur? No. They’re clearly not, but you can actually go to a game, you can actually meet the players, you can actually have a connection with the team and the players that you’re not going to be able to have by rooting for a club overseas.
Vahe Arabian: How long has that been, sort of, the positioning, and how have you seen that their response has been, from that positioning, from the local community? I guess, I know you said it varies depending on the states, but yeah, just in general, if you…?
Jeremiah Oshan: Yeah. I mean, I would say … So, in Seattle, they’ve been able to success … They came out of the gates pretty fast. The Seattle team went into MLS in 2009, and right out of the gates they were drawing 30,000 a game, which is obviously a great crowd, and so there was a level of relevance here that there hasn’t been in most cities, and that’s slowly starting to change. Like, this year we saw Atlanta just, it was their first year in MLS, and they went from having virtually no soccer history to drawing 70,000 people to games, and drawing 45,000 basically on a random Wednesday night. And so, we’re seeing it change, but in Seattle, I think that they’ve done a good job of putting out a good product, of making it feel like a major league sport, and just generally engaging in a way that makes it accessible at the same time.
Vahe Arabian: Understand. Do you find that, for example, Seattle and those areas which are doing very well, they have the history of people who watch other premier leagues, and … ‘Cause they’re looking for that local team, I guess, can you say that because they have that association that they … And then there’s a local team which is strong and very good, then they’re more likely to support that team? Do you know what I mean?
Jeremiah Oshan: Seattle has a pretty international population. Back in the old NASL days, there was a pretty strong following for the Sounders of the NASL as well. It’s a nice balance because there’s enough of an immigrant background here that they have this natural connection to soccer, but it’s not such a new immigrant background that they are still, or their primary allegiances are to a team that’s somewhere else. And so, it’s kind of the right balance, which you don’t have everywhere. Yeah. I mean, I would say that if you can create an atmosphere in your local market that feels like a big deal, even if it’s not at that same quality, I think a lot of people are willing to give it a chance.
Vahe Arabian: That makes sense. How is MLS trying to grow their audiences? Have they … Sorry, I haven’t followed it as much. What’s their plan of how they’re trying to grow their audience? Do they have their own media property where they’re trying to grow, have news as well, and cover everything else, or …
Jeremiah Oshan: They do. They have an editorial arm, essentially, that does a lot of their first-hand reporting. So, there’s a website, mlssoccer.com, that is at least hypothetically somewhat independent of the league office, and they have an editorial voice that isn’t, you know, it’s not 100% independent, but it does have … They’ll do straight reporting for the most part. And then, beyond the league-generated content, they have partnerships with most of the big, like, Fox Sports and ESPN, which are the two main cable sports networks here, so they’re on national TV a fair amount. Other than that, they do a lot of outreach to people like myself, just trying to make themselves accessible and try to get coverage through access, essentially.
Vahe Arabian: So, do they outreach SB Nation and say, “We’ve got an exclusive piece around this player, and stuff like that,” and then you guys would be the first person to cover it, or how would that be … What kind of example was that … Does the partnerships and syndication work in…
Jeremiah Oshan: It’s nothing quite that overt. Like, I don’t know that they’ve given us a big exclusive on a platter like that, although I’m sure that they do stuff like that with bigger media properties. SB Nation isn’t necessarily getting those big exclusives, but if we want one-on-one access, they’ll usually give it to us. I think mostly what they do is they give us access to things that we want.
Vahe Arabian: For example?
Jeremiah Oshan: So, if I want to interview … For instance, I have a podcast, and I wanted to interview the GM of the Sounders, the head of the front office at the Sounders, and they were able to get me 45 minutes with him, and I sat down in his office, and we chatted for 45 minutes. And if I’m covering the NFL, I probably don’t have that opportunity to sit down with 45 minutes with the GM of the Seattle Seahawks.
Vahe Arabian: Understand. Besides those interviews, could you provide some other examples to the SODP audience around the other types of content that you’d publish as a sports journalist?
Jeremiah Oshan: So, we’ll go out to games, and we have press credentials, and we’ll do first-hand reporting from games. We’ll go out to training sessions, do first-hand reporting from training sessions. Basically, really, anything that a mainstream journalist would do, we have the same kind of access to be able to do.
Vahe Arabian: So, everything like match recaps, interviews, the first-hand journalism. Are there any cap-based specific content pieces that guys would run, or are there any cap-based specific initiatives that you guys run around a specific team, or player, or theme? I guess, for example, let’s say there’s been news around a specific player that has been succeeding recently and who’s been a rising star. Around that, would you do a content marketing campaign or something which would, maybe, chronicalize his history how he got there, and just promote that player as well ’cause he’s been a popular search, increasingly trending player, searched player? Is that something that you guys do as well?
Jeremiah Oshan: That’s something that we could do. I don’t know that that’s something that we have done. Certainly, we’ve never done anything like that, that’s a paid promotion, but that’s the kind of access that if we want to get we can usually get.
Vahe Arabian: I understand. Okay. ‘Cause, like in Australia, soccer is used as a term for football which is used for other countries. How do you think that’s impacted the sport’s ability in actually getting more covered ground in America? Do you think that people should start referencing soccer as football in America, or would you see any pretensions in that?
Jeremiah Oshan: No. I mean, I think that it’s kind of a pretentious discussion, to be frank. Whatever you call it, soccer, football, I think it’s usually pretty context-specific, and usually, when I talk about MLS, I use soccer as the term, but when I talk about European football, I’ll use football as the term. And I don’t find that the … I think you’ll find the fans of European football say things like, “It’s called football,” and for the most part, we’ll kind of just laugh it off because it’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous … Honestly, I find it a completely pretentious and ridiculous conversation to have in earnest. I think that there’s a time … And I’ll put it this way, if Major League Soccer changed their name to Major League Football, and they made an effort to start calling soccer football, I don’t think it would have any kind of … I think it would have probably a negative impact on the way Americans perceive it because at this point I think Americans, for the most part, have accepted that we call football soccer and that we call football football.
Jeremiah Oshan: Unless it’s outside of content, outside of specific discussions, it just doesn’t really serve anyone’s purpose to … You know, you’ll find people that insist on calling football hand-egg, or a gridiron, or whatever it might be, and it’s fine in those particular contexts, but I don’t think that a national campaign to change the name to football from soccer would have any kind of impact or positive impact. That said, most of our teams are technically, you know, Seattle Sounders Football Club, Vancouver Whitecaps Football Club, Toronto Football Club …
Vahe Arabian: Because of the F.C., yeah.
Jeremiah Oshan: But for the most part, they don’t use … Like, they use F.C., but they don’t formally call them football clubs.
Vahe Arabian: That, in itself, is a very lengthy discussion or debate that you could have because I’ve also heard people saying, because it’s historically football, we should return back to that, but I’m going to stay neutral for this conversation, but, yeah, it’s a long conversation you can have on this.
Jeremiah Oshan: In countries where there is a more established football, I think it makes perfect sense to call it soccer or to call it whatever you want. I mean, the fact that in Spanish-speaking countries they call it fútbol and not football, or in Brazil they call it futebol and not football, like, every country should be allowed to call it whatever it makes most sense to call it.
Vahe Arabian: I agree. ‘Cause at the end of the day, you’re catering to a local audience, and that’s what’s going to help building a better team and grow it from the grassroots level, I guess.
Jeremiah Oshan: Yeah.
Vahe Arabian: 100%. Jeremiah, I just wanted to finish off the podcast and our chat just in looking ahead in terms of what you see that some of the trends are in sports journalism, things that you’re looking ahead for SB Nation, and what you think MLS is looking ahead in, in terms of trying to grow the game, and in trying to improve sports journalism overall?
Jeremiah Oshan: Yeah. So, I mean, I think one of the things that SB Nation has been really effective at doing, and one of the things that I think that we’re going to see a continued trend toward is, not just specialization, but people that actually are passionate and they care about the subject that they’re covering. I think the days of journalists in their ivory towers basically talking about the thing that they cover as if they are, themselves, above it, and they don’t themselves have a particular interest in the outcome, I think, is something that is going to become less and less common, and I think it’s going to become less and less a part of mainstream publications, and so my suspicion is that as we get farther and farther down this road, that people that are passionate soccer fans are going to be the people that are covering soccer, and the sport just doesn’t need people who are covering the sport as, basically, a favor anymore in the United States specifically.
Jeremiah Oshan: But I think, even in countries where sports are part of the mainstream, I think that you’re going to see the same kind of thing, where if you don’t really like the sport that you’re covering, chances are, you’re going to be replaced by someone who does. And so, I think that that’s probably the single biggest change that we’re going to see going forward, and I think that … And coverage is going to become more accessible, and that’s just kind of the way of the world, that it’s harder and harder to put up barriers to reading coverage, whether that’s paywalls, or subscriptions, or whatever, but my hope is that we can figure out a way to monetize all of this through subscription, through voluntary subscription models, and things like that.
Vahe Arabian: How do you think MLS is going to adapt to this community-driven approach, I guess?
Jeremiah Oshan: I mean, I think MLS is kind of on the forefront of it. There’s definitely a challenge. I think MLS is just going to have to continue to scale and to continue to … Like, right now there’s this whole situation going on where they’re trying to move a team, and it will be interesting to see what kind of fallout there is because I think a lot of people feel like that’s kind of betraying one of MLS’s core values, which is that the community is really who owns a team, not necessarily an owner. And I realize that’s kind of the way it is in most of the world, and it will be interesting to see if MLS kind of gets away from that, how that affects the bottom line. And I don’t know what the answer is at this point.
Vahe Arabian: That’s a good point to end on, to keep people thinking, and hopefully they’ll come back and leave some comments or ask you that question down the track. So, thank you very much for your time, Jeremiah. I really appreciate your insights and really what you have done around SB Nation and sports journalism. Thank you very much.
Jeremiah Oshan: Oh, it was my pleasure.
Vahe Arabian: Awesome! This has been episode two of State of Digital Publishing podcast. We’ve been speaking with Jeremiah Oshan, a leading sports blog manager, and editor of SB Nation. Until next time, thanks. Speak soon.