Sports on Earth enters digital documentary game

NEW YORK — Announcing that “we are open for business in online sports documentaries,” Sports On Earth GM Steve Madden kicked off the premiere of the first documentary to be produced by SOE. The site, the joint venture of USA Today Sports and MLB Advanced Media, debuted “Mr. Irrelevant” on Friday, a delightful and fascinating 15-minute documentary produced by Seattle filmmakers Adam Brown and Jason Reid (Sonicsgate). The film examines the players selected with the final pick of the NFL draft, including former Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Bill Kenney, one of the great “Mr. Irrelevant” success stories and who was present for the premiere.


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“We feel like we’ve established our voice, our DNA and our credibility,” Madden told Awful Announcing after the private screening in New York City. “People know what we are now and that gives us a lot of license to move in different directions and I want to take advantage of everything that the digital medium offers us. To me the very logical next step is video.”

The site plans to have at least one documentary on the site every month. Madden announced that the next installment, a look at the 1988 Jamaican bobsled team famously chronicled in the movie “Cool Runnings,” would premiere on February 14. Additional documentaries will be announced as the projects get finalized. Sports On Earth has recently introduced more video to the site, including roundtable segments and a series called The Walk-Off where columnist Will Leitch does short takes on the topics of the day.

Of course any conversation about a sports media entity producing story-driven documentary films must mention ESPN’s successful and critically-acclaimed “30 for 30” series. That series added short online documentaries to its content portfolio in late 2012.

“That’s sort of proof of concept for the whole thing and gives us the license to do it too,” Madden said. “We just have to make sure that it feels like it’s a Sports On Earth documentary and not necessarily a 30 for 30 thing.”

The site plans to work with established documentary filmmakers and has already added staff to support the video initiative.

“Because of Sports on Earth’s position, I’ve got access to the documentarians who work for, I’ve got access to guys who do this for USA Today so they’ll be working on things,” Madden said. “I’ve hired a young guy who was an assistant for Alex Gibney. Hopefully once we’re out there and people see this and see what we’re up to I want to be able to attract that very top talent and the sort of the very singular voices that Sports On Earth is known for in columnists and writing. The Will Leitch of video, the Mike Tanier of video. I’m hoping to find those kind of people.”

Madden also expressed interest in expanding some of these stories into longer-form video that could live beyond Sports On Earth.

“I’m not sure we would necessarily always run them on the site,” Madden said. “But I do think there’s an opportunity to make things like this and go to partners with larger distribution channels.”

In the short term, Madden believes that video can provide a strong creative outlet for the brand, and also presents a great opportunity for generating advertising revenue.

“It’s just a very logical extension of the whole thing,” Madden said. “And the economic reason is that advertisers love video.”

“Mr. Irrelevant” was produced by Adam Brown and Jason Reid with executive producer Stephen Madden. It features interviews with former Mr. Irrelevants Bill Kenney (1978), Larry Wanke (1991) and Ryan Succop (2009).

Matt Yoder

About Matt Yoder

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