SMJ Interview- Maury Brown, Business of Sports Network

The business world is now part of the 24/7 news cycle. The wealth of business information has spawned the creation of niche business beats, especially across the Internet. Sports business reporters are now more prevalent, with leagues and their teams controlling billions of dollars of revenue. How they spend their money is news.

More and more sports business news websites are cropping up. One such is the Business of Sports Network, headed up by Maury Brown. His one site has now grown to five, four of which are devoted to business news of the four major American team sports.

SMJ had the opportunity to ask Brown a few questions about his career, his business venture, and how it is being received…

SMJ- Can you tell us about where you grew up, and what was your interest in sports as a child?

M.B.- My interest in baseball, hockey, and football come from growing up in the Bay Area. My first baseball games in the mid-‘60s were at Candlestick Park, which means it was an exercise in thermo-insulation on one hand (Candlestick is known for the cold), and incredible baseball on the other. I, and the entire Bay Area, were fans of Willie Mays, and as a kid, there was nothing more entertaining that watching the leg kick of Juan Marichal. But, my allegiance switched to Oakland when Finley moved the Athletics from Kansas City, and to this day, the ’72 World Series champion team with Vida Blue, “Catfish” Hunter, Sal Bando, and some guy named “Reggie” is my favorite.

When not taking in baseball, I was regular at the Oakland Seals hockey games, and dreamed of being Fred Biletnikoff with the Raiders. My family moved to Portland, OR. in 1977, the year the Trail Blazers won the Championship, so I became, a rabid basketball fan at that time.

SMJ- What were your first experiences with journalism? Was there one specific event in your life where you knew you wanted to be a reporter?

M.B.- It was a very organic move into journalism. I was never one interested in writing for the school newspaper or write the next great novel. I grew into reporting as part of being an obsessive researcher in Portland as part of the effort to bring MLB to the city which started around 2000 when the Expos were up for relocation. Since my interest in sports is related to how it functions off the playing surface, I wound up finding an interesting niche that only a few were covering. When the Expos became the Nationals and moved to Washington, D.C. I decided to continue researching sports business and reporting on it.

SMJ- Where did you go to college? Were you involved with the student newspaper?

M.B.- I have some college and attended Portland State University. But, the study was computer science, which you’ll find is something common amongst a good many research analysts in sports, especially on the baseball side.

SMJ- Where did you begin your professional career?

M.B.- As mentioned, the career started in Portland, working with what was called the Oregon Stadium Campaign. I worked with a number of people on that effort, including members of the Oregon Sports Authority, and David Kahn, who is the former general manager of the Indiana Pacers, and the owner of several NBA D-League teams in the Southwest. I learned a great deal from working with David, and continue to consult for him through his Southwest Basketball LLC.

SMJ- What got you interested in reporting business news, specifically sports business?

M.B.- I look back now, and see that my interest in sports outside the lines was probably with me very early on. As a kid, I was more interested in Harvey the Rabbit, a mechanical contraption that Charlie Finley had for baseball games. But, the real desire to report on business and sports came with the realization that sports function in the manner it most often does, is borne purely out of its function as a business. So, when the idea of bringing another professional sports team to Portland arrived, it was a matter of engrossing myself in local business from a corporate level, television and radio interest, looking at MLB in terms of relocation, and examining all sports industries to see how their dynamic functioned in relationship to their counterparts.

SMJ- What were you doing before you started the Business of Sports Network?

M.B.- I am, to this day, still a high-tech consultant for companies such as Nike. I was doing work in the high-tech sector and started writing on sports business for The Hardball Times. I moved over to Baseball Prospectus and contribute to them on occasion to this day.

SMJ- What got you to start the Biz of Sports?

M.B.- At one point I was the co-chair of SABR’s Business of Baseball committee. I had created their web presence for the committee, and decided that a for-profit venture would be more challenging and allow more dynamic content to be created daily.

SMJ- What was the impetus, and timeline, in creating the four sports-specific “Biz” sites?

M.B.- The Biz of Baseball was launched in September of 2006 based on the idea that you could have a central location where a vast amount of information in the way of documents, stadium renderings, salary data, etc, could be presented with reporting on daily news, and insight from sports executives. I had been doing interviews for sometime with individuals such as former commissioners Bowie Kuhn and Fay Vincent, along with those working media, such as Bob Costas, and so moving to a model that was built on a foundation for researchers, yet offered dynamic content daily seemed like a model that had not been done before. The baseball site was successfully launched as the pilot, so we followed with The Biz of Football and The Biz of Basketball early last year, and added The Biz of Hockey most recently at the beginning of 2008.

SMJ- What is your target audience? Are you trying to attract more than just sports business enthusiasts to your sites? How?

M.B.- The target audience certainly focuses on those engaged in sports business, but the concept really is sports off the field, ice, or court, which today captures areas that are of incredible interest to fans. With the increasing reach of how sports content is delivered, either by way of sports packages on television, or Internet, the issue of performance-enhancing drugs, or how stadium financing comes into play in a host city, we’ve found that there is a broad range of individuals that see both entertainment and functionality meddled together with the market reaching the Business of Sports Network.

SMJ- Who else helps you with the site?

M.B.- There is a dedicated staff of five reporters, including Bill Jordan who covers the bulk of football reporting, Pete Toms covering baseball, Nick Kappel reporting on basketball, Devon Teeple doing organizational reports, and Dave Rouleau doing baseball and hockey content. We also have a considerable number of regular contributors, such as sports economist Andrew Zimbalist, baseball historian John Thorn, David Friedman of 20 Second Timeout delivers original basketball content every Monday on The Biz of Basketball, and Jordan I. Kobritz who has taught sports business and marketing at several universities, as well as owned the Daytona Cubs Baseball Club, and the Maine Guides Baseball Club. We also run guest columns, from individuals that work in sports business.

SMJ- What do you read each day? Where do you get your information? What is a typical Maury Brown day?

M.B.- Research begins at 5am and many days doesn’t end until late in the evening. I will hit somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 websites, business and sports wires, PRNewswire and then I receive information from the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL by way of media advisories. I am, sadly, a slave to technology. The laptop and iPhone go everywhere with me, which means I’m calling individuals for stories and working to get content online as soon as possible. Lately, there seems to be a considerable interest by the Japanese media in talking to me about MLB’s economic structure. So, it’s espresso… lots of espresso.

SMJ- How does reporting on the Internet allow you to do some things you may not have been able to do if this were a print publication?

M.B.- Certainly the length of articles is not an issue. Using the internet as a publishing platform allows you to go as long or short as the individual wishes. I’m a sucker for eye-candy, and in my area of reporting, the ability to run high-resolution renderings of stadiums and arenas is something that print would not allow. But, the main advantage is the ability to publish quickly, should a story break. Wherever possible we work very hard to try and get information across the Business of Sports Network before the mainstream media does.

SMJ- Has this endeavor been profitable for you? How do you hope to grow the network?

We have been working on the ad revenue model, which has allowed us to be sustainable. It is not, however, the best model we envision, and at some point we are looking to other value options.

M.B.- Since we moved quickly after the baseball pilot with football, basketball, and hockey, growth will come when there is more of a dedicated staff. We’re currently still looking to staff the hockey site more fully, and from there, we will gauge the effectiveness of the current network structure. After that, the plan is to move into soccer and auto racing sites, and grow the existing platforms with audio or video podcats. We’re also engaged in partnership opportunities that should expand our content further, and look to better leverage our portal, www.businessofsportsnetwork.com.

We thank Maury for his time.  Speaking of time, if you have some, please read this from Maury’s blog.   And pray.

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