Phew! ESPN Has Confirmed Sports Blogs Do Exist

I was all set to write a negative review on ESPN SportsCenter’s new “Blog Buzz” segment after reading early returns from THE SPORTING BLOG’s Chris Mottram. But before I could clean out the pumpkin bread crumbs between my keyboard keys, AWFUL ANNOUNCING had a post up that caused a pullback.

(Historic thaws: Obama recognizes Cuba, ESPN recognizes indie blogs)

Yesterday’s first iteration of the daily segment was a little embarrassing, as it featured a post from the SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL newspaper and one of ESPN’s own blogs. That sparked Mottram’s justifiable criticism, along with an initially similar reax from AA’s Brian Powell.

But to ESPN’s credit, host Josh Elliott addressed that criticism this morning, acknowledging the concern about the segment by quoting Powell from his AA post. Powell next noted Elliott’s admonition in a post today, which caused me to pause before unloading on what, at first blush, looked like a lame attempt to looking cutting edge by the WWL.

Is “Blog Buzz” a headfake to sports blogs by ESPN or the real deal?

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So now it appears that ESPN might genuinely be interested in recognizing the largest-trafficked, most influential independent sports blogs on the web.

I’m still skeptical though, based on a similar concept that was put forth by the highly-respected SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY.

Last year a company called Sports Media Challenge created a daily feature for SBD that highlighted posts from various blogs every day while also tracking what news stories were getting the most reax in the blogosphere.

The concept was a good one, but the execution was unimpressive. None of the truly representative sports blogs were ever featured. Instead you got comments from anonymous, team-centric blogs that gave no indication as to why blogs have exploded in popularity.

Also, the top story tracking was just a mirror of the top news of the day. So the whole thing was a waste, and SBD eventually discontinued the feature.

Come to find out that the same Sports Media Challenge was involved in developing ESPN’s new “Blog Buzz” on-air feature. So you could imagine my skepticism going into yesterday.

Along with Elliott mentioning AA today, I was surprised to see ESPN note that the imminent departure of Stephen A. Smith from Bristol was ranked as the third most-tracked story on the sports blogs. Elliott offered no comment on the news and disappointingly did not cite THE BIG LEAD as breaking the story, but the fact that ESPN even acknowledged the report indicated an openness to our medium not previously seen.  (Which makes me feel a little like Raul Castro does this week.)

It will be interesting to see what effect ESPN’s feature will have on the content of sports blogs.

With SI.com’s EXTRA MUSTARD, we’ve seen dozens of blogs cooking up posts specifically to get the 20,000 clicks or so that a link to SI’s blog feature can mean. Not so much the big sports blogs, but intermediate-sized blogs that live and die with the traffic spikes.

You also wonder which blogs will be granted most-favored status by ESPN editorial. The biggest blogs, SbB, DEADSPIN, THE BIG LEAD and PRO FOOTBALL TALK, are all notable in their oft-critical approach to the WWL.

It appears now though that ESPN has decided that sports blogs have a large enough audience, and more importantly, are sufficiently influential to get regular mentions on the TV network.

It’s ironic it took so long as ESPN prides itself on always being ahead of trends. In this case, they’ve been lapped repeatedly. Perhaps the delay was that the WWL had a competitive approach at first to the blogs, but now realizes they are no threat. Or more likely, ESPN now realizes it can no longer ignore us.

Ultimately, ESPN’s “Blog Buzz” is a positive development for all sports bloggers, especially ones who make their living at it. (Like me.)

Just as important though, I think the feature might just spawn more quality blogs out there, which is a great thing for our medium. That’ll probably happen anyway, but this new development might just speed it up.