ChicagoSide: New sports website fields strong starting lineup
Regardless of how the Cubs and White Sox fare in the coming season, serious Chicago sports fans could finally get what they've been waiting for on Opening Day 2012.
That’s when they’ll be introduced to ChicagoSide, which may turn out to be the most game-changing addition to the sports media scene since the Score debuted on radio 20 years ago next month.
“We’re launching the best Chicago sports website the city’s ever seen,” said Jonathan Eig, 47, the veteran reporter, columnist and nationally acclaimed author (Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig, Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season, and Get Capone) who’s founder and editor-in-chief of the new venture. “And we’re doing it with an amazingly talented pool of writers and editors who are hungry because they love sports and they love journalism, and there aren’t that many places to write anymore in this city.”
Along with co-founder and creative director Sol Lieberman, Eig has secured funding from investors to launch the enterprise, which will be supported by exclusive advertising partnerships and revenue from special events and promotions throughout the year. (The website is in development at ChicagoSideSports.com.)
“We’re going to have the best piece of sports journalism every day in the city of Chicago that you can find . . . at least one piece of original material every day that we’re absolutely confident will get people talking,” Eig said. “Then we’ll also aggregate and link to the best stuff around the web — all on Chicago sports.”
Eig already has assembled a lineup of more than three dozen writers, including newspaper and magazine veterans Lou Carlozo, George Castle, Jim Coffman, Lauren Etter, Elliott Harris, Noah Isackson, Billy Lombardo, Amy Merrick, Joel Reese, Chris Silva and Alan Solomon, along with best-selling authors Joseph Epstein, James Finn Garner and Robert Kurson.
“In addition to the established names, we've got a big roster of young writers with great, original voices,” Eig said. “We're going to turn them into stars.”
All will be paid nominally for their work, but the key to the venture is that it will be structured as a co-op. “We’re also offering them a chance to own a piece of the company if they write enough. That goes for the big names as well as the kids. That’s important to us because we want to make this work, and we think there’s a chance to really establish a brand here that brings in the money, and we want to share that with our writers. Because they’re the key to putting this out and helping it find an audience.”
Serving as a consultant on the project is Richard Babcock, who stepped down last April after two decades as editor of Chicago magazine. Babcock, who worked closely with Eig at the magazine, also hopes to contribute to the new site. “This is a sports-obsessed town, and there’s no outlet that’s like this in any real way at all. I think it has wonderful possibilities,” he told me. “The city needs something like this, frankly. And I can’t imagine anybody being a better general for the effort than Jonathan.”
Similar intensely local sports websites have been launched in Boston, Philadelphia and elsewhere, but Eig sees his business model as unique. “Nobody else has tried this as a co-op where the writers really are the owners. That’s something that grew out of our thinking about how to get people excited about this and build a really strong team.”
Though his company is independent, Eig said future print partnerships may be possible. “If people want to run our material in their newspaper, that’s one revenue stream we see down the road. We also see the ability to turn some of our bigger stories or our greatest hits into e-books.”
The Tribune and Sun-Times are only “marginal competitors,” in Eig’s view, since his site has no intention to cover every game or publish box scores as the newspapers do. “We’re going to be doing better analysis and smarter, funnier pieces off the news,” he said. ESPN.com, which has greater appeal among sports readers under 40, appears to more of a target. “There is an ESPN Chicago, but they don’t feel really strongly local to me. It feels like they’re just shifting some stuff around on their website and adding one or two occasional columns. But I don’t think it feels like the kind of place Chicagoans identify with. We’re building something that’s really going to be part of the Chicago community.”
Still hoping to line up additional investors and expand his roster of talent, Eig is confident that he’s got a winner on his hands.
“We’ve even got T-shirts — so it must be real,” he laughed. “That’s the most important thing. If you don’t have T-shirts, nobody respects you.”