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Yahoo’s Latest Play at Growing a Media Empire: A New Sports Magazine

The online giant has been steadily transforming itself from a search company to a content producer. Here’s how it is hoping to woo readers.

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Look up stories in the press about Yahoo and they inevitably talk about search–despite the fact that Yahoo gave up that battle almost 18 months ago. What gets less attention is how the company has been steadily building out its media properties. Though many industry veterans reflexively think of Yahoo as an aggregator of other people’s content, it’s been increasingly adding its own voices, as with the hiring last year of an all-star team of bloggers for its news section or the addition of lifestyle sites like Shine for its entertainment vertical that harvests user-created content.

The latest addition to the fold is a “sports magazine,” ThePostGame, which Yahoo says will create a place for longer and more universal sports content that doesn’t currently have a comfortable home in the existing sports vertical.

Though lacking the same kind of brand punch as an ESPN or Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports nevertheless leads the category of online sports sites–and had 52 million unique visitors last month. But data on visitors told Yahoo that the same people who dig into the sports content also spend time over on the news, entertainment and finance sites. Yet the organization of sports news, which is siloed into a slew of sports-specific channels, wasn’t set up to facilitate and capture the interest of people who weren’t necessarily die-hard NFL fans or dedicated NASCAR enthusiasts, says North America executive editor Dave Morgan.

“The natural evolution for Yahoo Sports to go to a platform like [a magazine] is it allows us to serve more horizontal audiences that are on these verticals,” Morgan tells Fast Company. “So if you’re talking about something that creates a safer football helmet, that’s a football story, but it’s also a safety story, a health story, a fitness story. Right now, if we don’t have these other platforms, you’re probably only going to find that in the NFL channel … It becomes very hard programmatically to elevate these things that might be of general interest.”

The new online magazine is being produced in partnership with the two-year-old SportsFanLive.com, a social sports site run by David Katz, the former head of Yahoo sports and entertainment (who actually hired Morgan five years ago). Morgan says the two had talked over the years about collaborating and the time now seemed right to move forward. Teams from both organizations will produce the content and share in the revenues. Toyota is the magazine’s first sponsor.

ThePostGame announcement follows revelations earlier this week that Yahoo has finally hired a head of media to fill the gap left when two of its executives–David Ko, head of audience, mobile, and local, and Jimmy Pitaro, head of media–let the company last fall. Taking over their responsibilities is Mickie Rosen, a former Fox Interactive executive who helped negotiate the Hulu arrangement. Rosen was brought on board by Ross Levinsohn, Yahoo’s new president of North America who was previously president of Fox Interactive.

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Yahoo News, meanwhile, blew its own horn last week. Andrew Golis, the Talking Points Memo deputy publisher Yahoo brought on last year to build out a news blogging team, touted his crew’s accomplishments on the occasion of their six-month anniversary. “You already know the numbers have been huge,” Golis wrote in a memo that he posted to his own personal blog. “About 2,700 blog posts, generating over 450 million pageviews, seen by 30 million readers each month, adding up to 1.3 billion minutes of time spent and all of the advertising revenue that comes along with that.”

Golis credits their achievements to the blogs’ editorial approach. “We’re building blogs that, as [Deputy Editor] Chris [Lehmann] wrote in November, are reminiscent of ‘open-invitation town meetings’ and ‘convey the excitement of that big, moving-target undertaking.’ Your work is welcoming, blunt, and informed; and there’s a lot of it. And we produce it while avoiding the maladies that plague so much modern journalism: ‘on the one hand on the other’ laziness, snarky nihilism, opaque insiderdom.”

Morgan says there aren’t any immediate plans to create magazines like ThePostGame for other verticals. Though Sports has been setting the pace for all of Yahoo’s content sites, spreading their best practices has sometimes been put on the back burner as the company focuses on the more urgent problem of standardizing the infrastructure underlying all the content offerings. Over the years, each site implemented its own technology, making it impossible to work effectively across channels. One of CEO Carol Bartz’s priorities, Morgan says, has been getting everyone on the same platform.

But, Morgan notes, “the fact that [Yahoo] is growing and evolving and adding different elements to its platform for users just shows how we’re growing from a media perspective. It’s not just a product, there’s actually reporting and voice and all the things we thing are important to serving our audience.”

Follow E.B. Boyd on Twitter. Or email.

About the author

E.B. Boyd (@ebboyd) has holed up in conference rooms with pioneers in Silicon Valley and hunkered down in bunkers with soldiers in Afghanistan.

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