Our latest Q&A here at Awful Announcing goes in a new direction – a conversation with one of the top sports bloggers on the web.  Over two parts, we’ll feature highlights from our interview with Christopher Harris, better known to millions of readers as The Gaffer from EPL Talk.  EPL Talk is one of the top soccer blogs on the web and one of the most popular sports blogs anywhere.  The Gaffer was kind enough to talk to us about a myriad of topics involving the blogosphere and soccer coverage in the USA.  In Part I, The Gaffer talks to AA about the founding of EPL Talk, the impact of the sports blogosphere, and his thoughts on David Beckham.

Q: What went into the founding of EPL Talk?

A: Back in 2005 I was sitting at home watching a Premier League match on Fox Sports World, where maybe there was one match a weekend live, and thinking, wouldn’t it be great if I could online chat with people from around the United States, and try to build a community.  That was the initial vision and idea behind EPL Talk.  Originally it was going to be a chat site, then the more I thought about it, well a chat is great but that means many people have to be online at the same time.  Rather than just focus on chats, I expanded it into articles, a podcast, and then it grew from there.  In November 2005 I launched EPL Talk with no budget, no listeners, no readers, no nothing and just slowly but surely it grew over time.  The timing was perfect because soon thereafter, with the 2006 World Cup, in the United States soccer became more popular and then the Premier League began to take off in America. 

Q: You started EPL Talk with no readers, what has that grown to since you started in 2005?

A: For the past 30 days, we’re at 300,000 unique visitors a month.  Going back to the World Cup last summer, we hit a million unique visitors during the heart of the World Cup.  Since 2005, we’ve actually created more sites and added those onto the EPL Talk network.   We have 9 sites in total covering everything from the German league to the Spanish league to Major League Soccer, etc.  Across the board, it’s probably close to a half million unique visitors now.

Q: From your perspective, how have you seen the blogosphere and new media impact sports coverage?

A: It’s really transformed the industry.  You go back to 2005 or even before then, blogs were seen as some crazy guy typing up a blog out of his bedroom about you name it.  But, really these days, blogs more often than not are actually breaking the news.  Whether it’s scoops or stories, often times they are actually broken by the blogs, not always, there is still a place for major newspapers of course.

The other thing too is that there are blogs actually leading the actual coverage of the game.  One example is Zonal Marking by Michael Cox out of England.  It’s a blog about football tactics, but one blog has changed how the (UK) Guardian talks about the game, he’s doing work with ESPN – it’s heightened the level of discussion and discourse about football tactics…  EPL Talk has broken many stories, for example Manchester United touring the United States this summer…  It’s blogs that go into areas that mainstream media doesn’t go into.

A lot of bloggers are really into Twitter in terms of breaking news there or covering news in a unique way.  It’s one of those things that’s easy for people to dismiss blogs as something that’s run out of someone’s bedroom.  It’s a powerful tool though.  All you need is a computer.  It’s down to the individual – their creativity, their intelligence, in terms of thinking or writing about topics that they are interested in.

Q: What would your advice be to someone out there that is working on a sports blog, looking to make an impact in the blogosphere?

A: If you think about it, there are thousands if not tens of thousands of sports blogs out there.  It’s a tough industry.  It’s one of those things that a lot of people going in think, “Great, I’ll make tons of money.”  In reality it’s a very tough industry because there’s very little money to be made.  You’re lucky if you break even.  To me, it’s all about passion.  If somebody has passion and they are willing to communicate that in a way whether it’s through words, audio, pictures or anything to communicate, then it’s a matter of trying to get that seen by others. 

The other side of it too is Twitter.  With Twitter being so connected, all it takes is one really great piece.  Maybe it’s an article, maybe an interview, or something original.   Somebody sees that and they retweet it, or an influential blogger, and all of a sudden their followers see that.  In many ways, bloggers are fortunate – there are ways that if you do good work, and you’re passionate about it, it just takes a little bit of dedication and patience to keep your head up and do what you do best.  Sooner or later people will find it.

Q: Was David Beckham’s introduction to MLS a net positive or a disappointment?  Did it do for MLS what it was hyped to do, or was it always going to be impossible to match that hype?

A: I’m disappointed in David Beckham and I feel that he came up short.  He could have been much more.  In many ways, his romancing with AC Milan and his seemingly set priorities were overseas or for his country rather than MLS or LA Galaxy.  He could have done a much better job and been much bigger.

A caller on the Guardian podcast (Football Weekly) asked why they didn’t cover MLS First Kick.  And, the sports editor there said MLS was not big enough to cover.  To me, that’s awful.  To me, it is big enough to be reported on and mentioned on a podcast that’s supposed to talk about world football.  You would think that by this point MLS would have more credibility.  Overall, the David Beckham effect is part of it, but there’s much there and maybe there’s more to come.

Coming up in Part II tomorrow, we’ll talk to the Gaffer about his thoughts on the success of ESPN’s coverage of the 2010 World Cup, who has been the beneficiary of that success, Ian Darke, the popularity of the EPL vs MLS, and where he sees soccer going in the next few years. 

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