When talk first began last summer about an Adrian Wojnarowski-led NBA site, it seemed to fit into a model of personality-driven affinity or vanity sites, including Bill Simmons’ since-shuttered Grantland and Peter King’s The MMQB. After Wojnarowski re-upped with Yahoo in July and plans for the site firmed up in December, the discussion was still about how this would fit those models. Wojnarowski spoke to Awful Announcing this week ahead of Friday’s launch of The Vertical, though, and revealed that he doesn’t want to follow that model at all.
“This is not going to be a personality website,” Wojnarowski said. “For people to say, ‘He’s not a big enough personality to carry it,” I agree. I don’t know that there is, but I know that I’m not it, and that’s why we’re not doing it that way. What’s going to carry our site is our stories, our news, our information. We’re going to be a force every day. Every day we’re going to drive the news cycle and then build off that. We’re going to bring you what you want to know from star players, from front offices, from organizations. That’s what our advantage is; it’s not anyone’s personality, it’s the content. It will be built around compelling content that is around the news.”
Wojnarowski said even the discussion of this as a vanity site is wrong.
“This is not a vanity site,” he said. “This is not about me. I tell every guy we’ve brought in, ‘This is about us.’ I’m not doing it alone. The important things for me to do are twofold; one, to drive, to continue to try to produce great content, to do what I’ve done, build off what I’ve done, set the bar for work ethic and commitment and how seriously we’re going to take it every day. We’re going to compete; this is a competitive environment, and this is a group and a site that’s going to compete every day with everybody. We’re going to be relentless in that way. And then secondly, for me to be able to help the people around me with ideas, with relationships, where that can open doors for us to do stories that we want to do, and then those guys can build relationships with people themselves and that will serve our site in the long run. I’m here to help the people around me.”
So, what will it be? Well, the goal is to make The Vertical a must-read NBA site, but not one based on personalities.
“What we’re going to be about every day is the hub for basketball news, information, storytelling,” Wojnarowski said. “We’re going to be a force. And if you care about basketball, you care about how it’s covered, I think we have a group that together is going to do it as well as it’s ever been done. We have that opportunity. If we don’t do it, it’s our fault. But we have an opportunity to elevate and cover the sport in a way it hasn’t been covered, inside-out. We’re going to be compelling every single day. This is a 24/7 operation, and you’ll see the tenacity and drive and the kind of spirit we have in what we do every day. The group we have is going to be a problem for everyone, and I think we’re going to be a force that people are going to have to reckon with in our industry.”
Wojnarowski’s own rise within the NBA world has had a lot to do with his ability to break news, and big news. Bob Condor, the vice-president of Yahoo Sports Media, said breaking news is going to be essential to the new site’s success.
“We want to be known for breaking news, and The Vertical is going to be a shining example of that,” Condor said. “It’s vital. It’s in our DNA here at Yahoo Sports. We do it across a number of sports, whether it’s with Pat Forde in college basketball, Jeff Passan in baseball, Charles Robinson in the NFL, Kevin Iole in boxing and MMA, wherever we work, we think it’s essential. We want to be the sports site, the sports destination, the sports app that people go to to find information and news about sports they can’t get anywhere else, and a big category there is breaking news. There are absolutely ways to amplify the breaking news, to talk about how an NBA deal was done, how a trade fell apart, so there’s the breaking news and the news and information you can’t get anywhere else, that’s primary currency for us. That’s what we want to be about.”
Wojnarowski said the site will start with that news base, but go beyond it into a variety of different areas, including analysis, podcasts and video.
“We’ll be immersed in the news cycle, we’ll be breaking news, we’ll be taking you inside what happened, why it happened, the implications,” he said. “But every day, we’ll expand out beyond that, takeouts with great access, great storytelling, news analysis, reporting of why things happened, video magazine pieces…where we spend time on the road with somebody, that kind of storytelling, audiovisual essays where we’ll do a two or three-minute video essay around a story or an event.”
The Vertical’s staff includes Sports Illustrated veteran Chris Mannix, Washington Post alum Michael Lee, rising breaking news star Shams Charania, Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz of DraftExpress, long-time Nets front office executive Bobby Marks, top sneakers writer Nick DePaula, trainer Tim Grover, former player Brian Scalabrine, and others. Wojnarowski said the key focuses in constructing this group were work ethic and an ability to cover all the angles.
“I think we have a group that really grinds,” he said. “We’ll have a great blend of news and information and the broader, longer pieces that really tell bigger stories than just basketball, than just the NBA, the real human element.This is a sport with great characters and great drama and great conflict at times. We’re going to capture all of it. I think we’re going to be hard to ignore.”
He said the group’s going to bring different perspectives, and this site won’t just be through his filter.
“It’s not about how I view the NBA,” Wojnarowski said. “Everybody’s going to have their own voice and their own point of view and their own sensibilities, and that’s what you want. It’s a unique group and people bring a lot and really complement each other really well. I’m proud of the group we’ve put together and the people who have committed to it. I’ve been able to see how the pieces fit together; I’m really happy with the group we have and I’ll put it up against anybody.”