The YouTube-ization of Sports (cont.)
Encoding For A Living: The Online Sports Video King (the story of Brian Powell)
The first significant traffic surge on Brian Powell's blog was for a YouTube of a wedgie. No ordinary wedgie, mind you -- it was the wardrobe malfunction of a USC Song Girl, who did a posterior-revealing twirl during the Rose Bowl in January 2007. Deadspin linked to Powell's Awful Announcing site, and that, said Powell, "is one of the biggest things I've had on my site, even to this day." It was early proof of what would become Powell's blogging maxim: that "showing people something is better than just writing about it," regardless of whether the content is lowbrow, highbrow or anywhere in between.
Powell, a 29-year-old former marketing employee of the WUSA's Philadelphia Charge and the NBA's Washington Wizards, started Awful Announcing in 2006 as a way to vent his frustrations with broadcasters, hence its title. He still does his share of written media criticism, but frequently augments it with video -- from ESPN and elsewhere -- that he's encoded and posted on the Web. In the span of two years, Powell has become arguably the most successful video-centric sports blogger, growing from a mere linker of found clips into a high-volume generator of video content.
Learning to encode videos was "insanely easy," according to Powell: "Basically, I just walked into Best Buy and asked a kid there, 'Hey, I've got a computer and a TiVo. How do I get the the video on the computer?'" With an antenna that cost $60, and free, downloadable software, Powell was off and running. Now it takes him roughly 20 minutes between the time he sees something blog-worthy on TV -- like the latest discussion of Erin Andrews' wardrobe controversy on ESPN this week -- and gets it up on his site.
After having YouTube shut down the bulk of his accounts for posting some off-limits NBA or MLB video, Powell now uses the site Daily Motion to host most of his files. The 137 videos he's uploaded to dailymotion.com in the past two months have been collectively viewed more than 674,199 times.
Online video -- and blogging -- has changed Powell's life to the extent that he now runs Awful Announcing as a full-time job out of his home. His lifestyle, however, has remained the same. "What I do every day -- watching sports -- is nothing different that what I did before [the blog began]," Powell says. "I've had the same TiVo since 2000, and it's old and it sounds like it's running on fumes. But to pull all those videos, you need to be watching."
Avoiding Anonymity In The D-League, But At A Cost? (the story of Rod Benson)
Rod Benson's Q Rating in the basketball world has two major factors working against it: He went undrafted out of Cal in 2006, and he spent the past season and a half in the Siberian outpost of Bismarck, N.D., playing for the NBDL's Dakota Wizards. And yet Benson has his own custom shoe (from Pony) and a catch phrase ("Boom Tho!") well-known enough that it was being yelled at him during NBA Summer League games last month in Las Vegas. Behold the power of the Internet, where Benson may be both the wittiest and most tech-savvy pro hoopster. Before there was Chris Bosh groveling for All-Star votes as a faux used-car salesman on YouTube, there was Benson, producer of his own YouTube clips and blogger of life outside the basketball mainstream. Because of the following the 6-10 forward has built, he is perhaps the NBDL player fans are most rooting for to get a free-agent contract in the NBA.
The first YouTube video Benson starred in was not meant to go public. He and a friend at Cal jokingly made a Valentine's Day video for their girlfriends in 2006, but it ended up on the Web, and, said Benson, "I had to shut that operation down." Benson spreads his new videos intentionally, the first being a song he performed with friend Jason Gant before leaving for an NBDL stint with the Austin Toros in 2006. It was low-budget -- recorded with the iSight camera on Benson's Macbook -- but it launched what he calls the "Boom Tho! Movement," in honor of the catch phrase/exclamation his Web site defines as "an occurrence of an uncommonly good thing."
Benson put his blog URL (toomuchrodbenson.com) at the start of the video, "and when it came out," he said, "my site got so overtrafficked that they shut it down." He was using Apple's iWeb to host the blog, and had to pony up up $200 for a maximum-bandwidth plan that would keep the site alive. More Boom Tho! videos followed, including cameos from NBDL players such as Luke Jackson and B.J. Elder. Benson also shot a fantastic, Rock Band video-game version of a Rockumentary with teammates in Bismarck. All things seemed to flourish for Benson in North Dakota: He led the D-League in rebounding with 12.1 per game in '07-08; he advanced his video-production skills to include HD equipment and green-screening; and his writing earned him a regular blogging gig with Yahoo! Sports, where he still posts regularly.
As successful as Benson has been with his creative endeavors, the possibility exists that they could have a negative impact -- that the stigma of being a blogger could actually keep a talented 6-10 athlete out of the NBA. Says Benson's agent, Bill Neff, "One GM told me that [the blog] was a red flag, and he wasn't the first. There's an insecurity, from NBA guys, about the blog that shouldn't exist, because Rod is just hysterical. People may end up looking at him less seriously, even though he averages more rebounds per minute than any pro other than Dwight Howard. Instead of thinking of that, [GMs] may be saying, 'Do we want this guy writing about us?'
"I've told Rod that I get comments about the blog," says Neff. "But I've told him to be himself, too. I don't want to discourage him, because for all we know, he may end up having more success as a comedy writer than a basketball player. So far be it for me to tell him to stop."
A few fellow players, too, have asked Benson why he has so much time on his hands to YouTube and blog -- a notion, Benson says, that's crazy, "because as pro athletes, we have more time on our hands than anybody." He just happens to use his more productively -- while still finding time to work hard enough on the court that he was named a D-League All-Star. But will Benson's NBA dream be realized next season?
He made an exhaustive tour of NBA free-agent camps this summer, but hit some bad luck in Las Vegas, where he suffered an MCL sprain that kept him out of all but a few minutes of Summer League action. Because of that his chance of catching on to an NBA roster may be slim. He has already decided to move on from the D-League for '08-09, and for now, he and Neff are weighing options in Europe, while holding out hope for the U.S., waiting to see where the Boom Tho! movement will spread next.