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How I'm Trying To Make Money Sports Blogging

To kick off this series of articles general sports-blogging articles here at OTF Classic, I think it's best to start with a comment that Brad left here last week, after I shared my goals for 2012, which include specific revenue targets:
I considered diving into the world of internet marketing myself, but I felt that my friends would hate me for bugging them about stuff. I mean, it's pretty low-risk high-reward, so it's tempting. I wouldn't mind reading about tips on how to maximize impact of blogging in general to make it a legitimate income source.
Trying to make money at sports blogging can be a very touchy subject - for the vast majority of us, this is an activity we pursue to both exercise our creativity and share our love of the game, whether it's hockey, football, badminton, whatever, with fellow fans. Mixing that personal conversation with a commercial message can turn people off, especially if it becomes too intrusive for the reader.

It's not unreasonable to try and earn a buck or two at this gig, but in order to do so in a sustainable fashion, you're going to have to provide real value to your readers. Your wit & wisdom aren't generally enough to do that, so simply slapping banner ads up on your site and hoping that zillions of eyeballs will translate into significant cash isn't a realistic option. I had Google Adsense ads here on this site for years without ever hitting the $100-mark.

So here I'll share the various revenue channels which I'm developing in this pursuit of sports blogging as "more than hobby'...

The simplest thing I've learned over the last few years of trying this stuff is that no single method is likely to be the end-all, be-all solution. Having several different lines in the water allows you to see which avenues work best for your particular situation. For example, someone who's suited to doing product reviews may be best served by affiliate marketing, while the socially savvy may be more suited to something like Sponsored Tweets.

Here's what I'm working with, along with estimated revenues from 2011:
  1. I receive a monthly stipend from SB Nation for running OTF, but by agreement with them I'm not privy to share the amount with you. I can tell that it represents a minority of the overall figure, however, just to give you a sense of scale.
  2. The Ambassadors Club - this is a program through the Nashville Predators in which season ticket holders are encouraged to sell tickets to friends & family. They get a discount, and the AC member gets 10% of the sale deposited in their ticket account, to use on their tickets for the next season. I plug it via a special page I have posted at OTF, and for the 2010-11 season, my proceeds came to about $1200 in credit, which covered the cost of our 12-game package for 2011-12. I think that amount was 2nd or 3rd among members of the Ambassadors Club.
  3. Sidebar advertisement - I have fixed ads on the sidebar here at OTF Classic which bring in $30/month.
  4. Google Adsense - this handles other banner and sidebar ads, but doesn't bring in significant income since I deal in relatively low traffic levels (HGHQ draws about 300 pageviews a day). For the entire year across this site and HGHQ, Adsense brought in $33.
  5. Sponsored Tweets - In a little over a year, I've earned about $440 through this program, which sends out occasional advertising messages through your Twitter account. You choose which advertising opportunities you take, and you write the tweets yourself, with input from the advertiser. You can also set guidelines on how often such tweets can go out, and the minimum time which should pass between them, so your feed doesn't become an endless stream of ads.
The big opportunity, however, is in Affiliate Marketing, and that's where I'm devoting a lot of energy these days.

The approach I've chosen to take with Affiliate Marketing is to complement my Nashville Predators coverage at OTF with a totally separate site, Hockey Gear HQ, which is designed to help people find the hockey items they want (jerseys, equipment, books, etc.) and save money while doing so. I can't tell you how many times I've had people tweet or email me asking where they can order a Preds jersey online, or how to find good bargains on hockey equipment (especially here in Nashville where the hockey stores are few and ill-stocked). Why not, then, create articles which answer those questions, refer the reader to reputable vendors, and receive a referral fee (affiliate commission) for doing so? The point isn't to shove these articles in readers faces, but to put them out there so that if someone is looking for that information, I'm there to help.

Mostly I work through 4 networks to find items and deals to promote - Google Affiliate Network, ShareASale, PepperJam, and Commission Junction. Between those networks, I netted about $856 in 2011. This is the area in which the greatest growth potential exists, so expect more about this side of things as this series progresses.

What you can't overlook in all of this, of course, is the cost side of the equation. Domain registration, website hosting, software costs and a few other items can eat up most of those earnings pretty quickly. For example, if I drive down to Bridgestone Arena once a week to cover a practice or other event, that's about 50 miles of driving, along with, say, $5 parking. The IRS has set mileage costs at 51 cents per mile for 2011, so each trip downtown carries a cost of about $30! Doing that once a week could chew up $1500 or more easily, and wipe out a good portion of those revenues above all by itself.

Maybe in a future post I'll touch on the tools I use to get all this done - or if you have another suggestion, feel free to drop it in the comments...

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