When earlier this month Dennis Rodman expressed interest in returning to the NBA, no freak-show press conference was hastily arranged, no sportswriter was tipped off, no late-night TV host got the scoop. (Rodman did discuss his intentions on The Tonight Show, but actress Charlize Theron was a guest and the Worm never can resist sharing the couch with a starlet.) Instead, Rodman wrote of his intentions in his Web site journal at www.AthleteDirect.com. "Most recently Dallas has been mentioned, and for me the important thing is that I really want to play for a team that can go far in the playoffs," Rodman (above) scrivened. "I don't know if it's Dallas."
Just as Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, capitalized upon the most efficient means of eliminating the middleman (i.e., the retail store) in commerce, AthleteDirect is leading the way in eliminating the intermediary in free speech (i.e., the Fourth Estate). As Bills wide receiver Andre Reed wrote on his AthleteDirect page on Jan. 11, "I don't talk to the media in Buffalo, so they couldn't wait for something to break! My journal was all they needed." More like, My journal was all they were going to get.
Launched in 1996 by the Internet company Broadband.com, AthleteDirect now produces Web pages for more than 200 athletes, giving each player a slice of the advertising and the merchandising revenue generated by his or her page. "We're hoping to have a paradigm shift where people come to this site for their primary information," says AthleteDirect general manager Jason Schirn. "[ Denver Broncos tight end] Shannon Sharpe, for example, says that he will talk to no media before a Super Bowl now, only through his Web site."
At AthleteDirect, 20 or so employees transcribe the jock-hacks' entries and check for errors in grammar and spelling. Are there reasons to believe that the athletes, and not their agents or publicists, deserve the bylines? Aside from assurances from Schirn, there are none.
Not only does AthleteDirect give jocks the opportunity to present themselves in the most flattering light and to cash in while doing it, but a "Message Board" link on each site lets fans converse with them. "We try to have each athlete provide an entry once a week during his or her season," says Schirn, who joined AthleteDirect after being a producer for ESPN's Up Close with Roy Firestone. "Fans get used to knowing their favorite athlete's entry will be there. Consequently the commercial aspects of our site receive greater traffic." Meanwhile, the media would do well to learn a new phrase. Instead of hearing "No comment" or "Maybe later," the brush-off may become "Visit my Web site."