Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Changes Coming for SuiteSports in 2018

By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Oh wait, it already is 2018, you say? Okay, so maybe this blog post is a little late, but I thought it was high time I let you, our loyal readers, in on what is happening with our little site.

First, some quick background...

When Jeremy Conlin and I started SuiteSports as a blog back in 2011, we definitely did not anticipate what the site would morph into. We added legendary Boston sportscaster Bob Lobel (that was random, but awesome), and soon SuiteSports became a clearinghouse for any stories I had that didn't make it into ESPN Boston, BostonLax, or any of the other outlets I freelanced for.

But, when ESPN Boston dropped its high schools section in the fall of 2016, we took a major leap- We decided to see if the site could be something more.

In many ways, it was.

Content-wise, we were able to cover most of the state in a variety of sports, with a relatively small and young staff of freelancers and part-time editors. I would put our coverage of the football, basketball, baseball and lacrosse state championships up against any major outlet in the state, thanks to the tireless work of guys like Nate Weitzer, Matt Feld, Brendan Hall, Tom Joyce, Nate Rollins, Marisa Ingemi, Jason Siegel, Connor Evans, Eamon Convey and so, so many others that I can't list them all here.

I also think our seasonal Top 25 rankings and all state teams (football in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball/lacrosse in the spring), plus our football and lacrosse recruiting databases were unique in that we took the whole state into account, something I'm not sure any other outlet even tried to do.

I'm proud of the work our team did, and I will always believe that from a quality standpoint, and from an audience engagement standpoint, our little site was a success, growing rapidly over the course of a bit more than a year.

It was a major undertaking for me, as I tried to not only oversee the editorial side of the site, but also attempted to sell ads, balance the books, and occasionally do some actual reporting myself, all while working a day job and attempting to freelance for other local outlets as well.

Unfortunately, that situation is just no longer tenable.

So, it is with pride, but also a little sadness, that I announce that SuiteSports will be scaling back in 2018.

I am many things, but I can tell you a salesman is not one of them. An inability to partner with local businesses has severely limited our ad revenue, as we've had to rely on ad agencies, which hardly compensate us for the amount of readers we bring in each month.

I believe that journalists should be paid for their work, and even if we couldn't afford major outlet rates, I've always insisted that we compensate every writer we've ever used, even the high school kids who reached out to us with no experience (we'll take enthusiasm over sentence structure anyway).

Though our readership has grown, and our network of writers has grown, our revenue has not at nearly the same rate, making this an unsustainable model that we have nonetheless sustained for a year, hoping for a breakthrough that would one day make the site profitable.

That breakthrough has yet to come, and as I reach a personal crossroads in my life, set to start a family in a new home with my wife, we have decided that we can't continue just hoping to break through any longer.

That said, we aren't going away.

We will still continue to cover high school sports for at least the rest of the school year, with Matt Feld taking over as our new Deputy Editor. Feldy is a rising star, and he's already been killing it with basketball coverage this winter.

Though our freelancer budget is shrinking, we will still have other reporters out in the field bringing you coverage of hoops and hockey through the state tournaments, though I may not get to many games myself, as I continue to work during the day, and push toward my next goal of becoming a teacher.

After interacting with so many educators in this business, some of whom were the coaches I interviewed, the ADs I chatted with, my fellow reporters and others, I have gained an even greater respect for the work they do, and the impact they have. As someone who has always enjoyed teaching, and who has picked up extra work as an after school and before school teacher, this seems like a great next step for me that will allow me to continue to report, if I so chose.

As for the site, we will continue into the spring like I said with baseball, softball and lacrosse, but after the school year, we're going to have to sit down and assess our situation again.

This means that, while we will be covering lacrosse in the spring, my usual Central Mass lax coverage will unfortunately be cut down. I feel the need to mention that, because Central Mass lacrosse, and the community of players, coaches and parents, welcomed me with open arms way back in 2012 when I was a rookie reporter, and I've always tried to give my all back to that community since.

It's a special community with great people, interesting characters, underrated talent, and a collective chip on its shoulder. I've enjoyed every minute of getting to know everyone involved.

I'm not sure how I'm going to do it, but I'm going to find a way to cover lax in the Heart of the Commonwealth this spring, even if it isn't quite as robust as you've all grown accustomed to.

As a side note, for everyone asking why we didn't do a Central Mass Football All-Star Team or Power Rankings, this is why. It was another tough decision I made after we moved out of the region which stung especially since I've gotten to know so many coaches, players, trainers, parents, boosters and fans involved in CMass football.

So, what can you really expect from SuiteSports after the school year? To be honest, even I'm not sure. I think the site will probably go a bit back to its blog roots, whether that's in the form of me blowing off steam, or Jeremy and I going all-in on NFL picks. But, I think there will always be a local focus, and as long as we can afford it, I want to have some form of high school sports coverage, though I may not always have the time to get out to games.

While I'm now pursuing a teaching license, I'm also still keeping my eyes peeled in the business for opportunities, though I'm not particularly optimistic. After the gutting of ESPN Boston, the layoffs at ESPN, the bankruptcy of The Boston Herald and numerous other bumps in the road, I think it's safe to say that right now is not the ideal time for a journalism startup.

Still, my short time in journalism has been a blast. I've covered high school, college and pro sports, along with a senate race, a Presidential primary and so many other cool things that I never thought I'd be a part of. I also got to host my own radio show at WPKZ in Fitchburg/Leominster, which was amazing, so a big thank you to Dick Tucker, Howie Kahn and John Morrison for making me a part of their team, even if only for a year.

As with the people who helped SuiteSports grow, there are literally too many people who have helped me along the way to name, but I want to give a special shout out to the late, great Bruce Lerch, who gave me the chance to contribute to BostonLax, and the dynamic duo of Brendan Hall and Scott Barboza who brought me into ESPN Boston.

Without those guys taking me in, making me a better writer/reporter, and pushing my work out to their audiences, there's no way I could have ever done anything with SuiteSports. The quality just wouldn't have been there, any nobody would have read it, so a very big thanks to those three, who I am forever indebted to. 

And, finally, a very big thank you to everyone who has read the site over the past several years. It's cliche, but without you, the site really is nothing. Your continued support, feedback, tips and criticism have all made the site better.

Honestly, when I've told longtime readers that we were scaling back the site, some of them took the news harder than I did. I wish we could have made this work for you all as well, and I hope we can continue to cover at least a slice of local sports for all of you.

Stay tuned for what comes next, but there's no doubt that 2018 is going to be a year of change. Thanks for coming along for the ride so far, and I'll see you all soon!

 -Joe Parello, Editor-in-Chief, Co-Founder and CEO of SuiteSports.com

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