Greg Bedard, who built his reputation as an authority on football’s Xs and Os while covering the Patriots for the Globe and Sports Illustrated, launches a bold and daunting independent media venture Monday.
His subscription-based website, titled Boston Sports Journal (bostonsportsjournal.com), has received some fanfare since he announced his plan Tuesday on the Sports Hub’s Felger and Massarotti show. He has hired reporters, including Sean McAdam, Chris Price, and Brian Robb, each with an established positive reputation. The site is up and running, beginning with a post that amounts to Bedard’s mission statement.
Just four months after Bedard was let go in Sports Illustrated’s latest round of layoffs, he’s ready to get started, and make no mistake, he’s literally fully invested in the site’s success. He said he has put his and his wife’s life savings into it.
So the question is an easy one — even a necessary one — to ask before the official launch: What has to happen for it to have staying power? What does Bedard have to do to convince readers to subscribe at $4.95 per month or $35 per year in a saturated Boston sports media landscape? How do potential readers become convinced to invest their time as well as a little bit of their money?
The ideal person to ask is someone Bedard himself reached out to when he was formulating his plan to take his career into his own hands.
His name is Dejan Kovacevic. He was a longtime sportswriter and columnist in Pittsburgh who ventured out to start his own website in 2014. He understands the challenges Bedard faces as well as the triumphs that are possible.
He has hired a full staff for his site — titled DK Pittsburgh Sports (dkpittsburghsports.com) that travels to cover the significant beats. He says his site counts more than 38,000 paid subscribers. He is the one, singular, who has made this model work so far.
Naturally, Kovacevic — an articulate, blunt, and energetic conversationalist — is often asked by journalists who have been unceremoniously dispatched to unemployment how he has done and what they need to do to find similar independent success.
“When we meet with people, across the board, and this includes Greg, we get a lot of questions about the journalism aspect,’’ said Kovacevic. “That’s the candy store to this equation. That’s the fun stuff. Building a website, building the functionality, building the business relationships that you need right off the bat, building the relationship you want with your readers, it’s all imperative. The readers have to be invested in this with you. They have to understand that they’re the critical component to this.”
Kovacevic said it’s crucial to have the proper website platform and tech support, something that a career-long reporter might initially underestimate.
“People like me who spend a big chunk of their lives at newspspers never had to deal with this stuff,’’ he said. “We show up, write something, pass it off to a copy editor, and call it a day. With something like this, it’s a living organism. He needs to be constantly cared for. There’s social media, production, publishing, the business stuff, writing the captions, commerce is a huge part. It’s everything, and we did it from scratch. The fun part is the journalism. But it is one of countless important parts.”
Many of Kovacevic’s beliefs double as sage advice for legacy media. The primary mission is to connect with readers. He and his writers do not talk down to them. They engage, with frequent Q&As and meetups in various places. The readers have a say in what gets covered. Part of the reason Kovacevic considers it imperative to travel is to give the readers the sense that they are there, too.
“We’re taking them wherever we go,’’ he said. ““Our slogan is ‘coverage that connects.’ If there’s anything that we’ve figured out, it’s that. You have to connect for the readers.”
Kovacevic does not offer those readers free previews or sneak peeks. The site serves the readers, but the readers are expected to understand why they pay for the service.
“You have to put a price tag on it, to send the message to people that we feel this has real value,’’ he said. “To send a writer somewhere, to pay for plane ticket, hotel, car, to have him write his heart out on something, we’re not apologizing for charging. We’re not doing it to be greedy. We’re doing it because it has value, and we’re looking for people to understand this.”
Complacency cannot be permitted, he says. The desire to continue to grow what is already a success must be insatiable.
“People will say, ‘Oh my God, you’ve got almost 40,000 subscriptions that you’ve sold, wow, how did that happen?’ ’’ said Kovacevic. “All I’m thinking is, you look at the Steelers’ Twitter, the Penguins’ Twitter, and they’ve got roughly a million followers each. I’m thinking all we’ve got out of this is 40,000? It’s nowhere near where we’re going to be.”
Bedard’s site, just beginning to find out what it can be, has no direct affiliation with DKPittsburghSports. But he did buy the web platform and app from Kovacevic for a one-time license fee. “You can’t go to WordPress and buy a build-your-own-media-site package,’’ said Kovacevic. “It doesn’t exist.
He laughs. “We found this out. We built our entire platform at six-figure costs with many mistakes along the way, until we finally ended up with this one. When Greg came to visit, me and my wife were joking, ‘We hate you for being able to do this [buy the platform rather than build it from scratch].’ It took us three years to get it right. I’ll tell you, it’s about time somebody tries to do it again.”