In a Guardian article listing 100 football blogs to follow in the new year published on December the 31st 2010 James Dart, looking ahead to 2011, posed the following question:
The year of the blog? Very possibly, especially with the current batch of outstanding sites out there which have grown, improved, developed and cross-pollinated in recent times.
Four and a half years on however, and the landscape appears different. Rather than looking to the future with optimism a number of high-profile bloggers have asked whether the era of the blog is over.
In an eloquent post Jonathan F of the blog Just Football asked the question Is football blogging dying? Or just morphing into something new? He observes:
I’ve seen many a debate on Twitter about The State of Football Blogging and, often, the reasons given by those who chose to pack it in fall into one of three categories: time constraints, it wasn’t going anywhere and/or it wasn’t fun anymore.
As any other blogger this is a topic I have many thoughts on, but seeing these debates gave me an idea. Rather than simply write a post outlining my views I decided to design a survey for football bloggers which would ask about their site, their plans for the future and their view of football blogging.
The questionnaire was hosted on Surveymonkey and was open to responses between the 31/08/14 to the 15/09/14. The survey was promoted via the WSC forum, the Singletrack mountain-bike forum and Twitter. To increase the response rate individual bloggers were then tweeted and invited to complete the survey. Lists of blogs were obtained from Twitter, Google searches and lists of top football blogs.
In total 42 bloggers completed the survey. As there is no definitive list of how many active football bloggers there are it is impossible to determine the relationship between the sample size and the overall population. The response data however, indicates that the 42 bloggers represent a reasonably wide spread of the football blogging community. There do though need to be considerations; firstly recruitment via Twitter may mean bloggers who don’t use Twitter are under-represented. Secondly there were, due to language issues, more of a focus (though not entirely) on English language blogs.
How long have you been running a football blog?
Blogging is a comparatively recent activity which has been facilitated by the growth of the internet. Of the two biggest platforms Blogger was started in 1999, dating its birth to the tech-boom, and was subsequently acquired by Google in 2003 – the year in which rival platform WordPress was first launched.
Of the 42 bloggers who responded 14 had been running a football blog for 5+ years, representing 31% of the total. In the scheme of blogging these can be regarded as seasoned bloggers. A further 14 had reported running a football blog for 3-4 years, representing 33.3% of the total. 13 respondent’s reported that they had been running a football blog for 1-2 years while only 2 respondent’s reported running a football blog for less than one year – a mere 4.8%
This shows that just under two-thirds of football bloggers have been running a football blog for at least three years, while just over a third have been running a blog for less than three years. There also appears to be relatively few bloggers who are new to blogging.
There are two possible explanations for this. The first is that bloggers who have taken up football blogging in the past year are under-represented in the survey. New Bloggers may be less visible, particularly as search engines favour established blogs. They are also possibly less likely to be on Twitter and may even be less likely to complete a survey on football blogging.
The alternative explanation is that there are fewer people taking up football blogging. Those tempted to blog may also be put off by what appears to be a relatively crowded marketplace, or as one blogger explained “ Other formats are easier – photos on Flickr, Facebook, Tumblr, etc – don’t take so much effort. Also, I don’t think blogs are perceived as “cool” any more, so people are less likely to start them.”
Looking at bloggers current activity levels, the single highest number, 12, reported posting more, than monthly, but less than weekly. Only seven bloggers reported posting less frequently, and a similar small number, four bloggers, reported posting daily. Only a small minority of bloggers post daily – though as we will see these represent a distinct group.
The profile of daily visitors is an interesting one. Twelve bloggers reported visitors in the lowest category, less than 50. This was largest amount for a single category, with the number of blogs roughly diminishing as the category for the number of visitors increased. Set against this however, was a small, but significant number of seven blogs who all received 1,000+ visitors per day.
The key difference between these 1000+ visitors-a-day blogs (which can probably be regarded as the super-blogs) and the rest of the field appears to be the frequency of posting. All four of the respondents who reported posting on a daily basis were in the 1000+ group and an additional two reported their posting frequency as being more than weekly, but less than daily.
Plans for the Next 12 Months
When asked about how they saw their their blogging activity changing over the next 12 months, the majority of bloggers indicated they anticipated this either staying the same, or increasing; Of this group 19 bloggers reported that they expected activity levels to stay the same with 13 expecting their activity levels to be increasing. By contrast only a small number, five, indicated they anticipated there being a decrease in their blogging activity whilst only three bloggers suggested they planned to stop altogether.
When asked why they were decreasing, or stopping altogether seven of the eight provided reasons. Three clear themes emerged from this. The most common reason was time which was provided by six of the group. Four of the group suggested that motivation, or general disillusionment was an issue with one blogger mentioning they had a “dwindling interest in football.” Two bloggers referred to lack of ideas, while one mentioned that there was no longer a need for their website.
Delving behind the headline figures comparing the bloggers who reported increasing their activity, to those reducing their activity, or stopping altogether produces some interesting results.
Burn out may indeed be an issue as it appears to be bloggers who have been blogging for at least three years who are more likely to give up – though equally some bloggers at that point are considering increasing their activity.
The next factor is current activity levels. Half of those who plan on decreasing their activity report posting at a rate of less than monthly. This suggests that they have either decreased activity already, or are more casual bloggers. By contrast all four bloggers who reported posting daily plan to increase their activity levels. Another five who plan on increasing their activity currently report posting on a basis of more than weekly, but less than daily.
Finally if we look at visitor numbers the distribution again appears similar – that is until we reach the 1000+ visitors-per-day group. It appears that these are by far more likely to be increasing their activity. In fact five out of the seven indicate they plan to increase activity over the next twelve months.
When asked to describe the biggest challenges facing their blog over the next 12 months, 31 bloggers responded. Interestingly the main challenges highlighted were very similar to the reasons provided by the bloggers who indicated they would be reducing their activity levels, suggesting there is a bit of overlap.
Time again emerged as the key issue, being mentioned by 12 bloggers. A particular issue is fitting the time for blogging in around other commitments. As one blogger stated their biggest challenge was “trying to find the time, fitting it in with my full time job”
In addition bloggers face the challenge of generating new, good quality and original content – something which can be particularly time-consuming. 8 bloggers referred to this as one of their main challenges.
A number of bloggers also referred to the challenges of increasing, or maintaining readership with 7 bloggers mentioning this as amongst their main challenges. Four bloggers referred to the challenge of maintaining their enthusiasm, or motivation.
One suggestion which has been made is that bloggers need to innovate by using media such as video, or exploring other new content. When asked to pick from a list what they plan to over the next 12 months (if they do not do so already) bloggers provided the following responses:
The biggest single area was collaboration with other bloggers. 24 bloggers reported they were planning on doing this in the next 12 months. This covers things such as guest posts however, could also include other collaborative pieces such as the Football Attic’s League of Blogs where bloggers are invited to submit a design for a football kit and club crest. The second most popular item on the list was interviews, chosen by 13 bloggers while 9 bloggers selected podcasts and articles on other topics was chosen by 8 bloggers.
Too many blogs?
A common complaint of bloggers – though by no means a universal one – is that there are simply too many football blogs. Of the 42 bloggers in the survey just under half, 20 bloggers, stated that they felt there were currently too many football blogs. 8 bloggers felt there were the right amount while another 8 thought there was not enough. A further 6 responded that they were not sure.
For those bloggers who feel the market is already over-saturated looking to the future would seem to provide little comfort. A clear majority of bloggers, some 24, indicated that they expect the number of football blogs in 12 months time to have increased. Only four bloggers predicted there will be a decrease.
One question however, is whether the issue is the number of blogs, or the type, as one blogger observed
There need to be more good club blogs, especially in the lower divisions. There need to be more in depth, researched pieces and less that simply provide match reports
Bloggers on blogging
When asked their views on football blogging in general 36 of the 42 bloggers provided a response. A number of over-arching themes emerged, with one of the biggest themes being discussion around the quality of football blogs. Though many bloggers agreed there were good quality blogs, they also suggested there were a significant number of poor quality blogs
There are lots of very good ones and ones that ‘need improving’ a lot ! Loads of good ones and loads of bad onesToo many want to do it, so the quality is diluted.A lot of very poor attempts out there. Few ideas on what they want to say and how they want to say it
One common complaint was that content was too “samey”
Some very very good lower league stuff, but also a lot of very commercial guff out there just regurgitating the same stuff over & over.
There’s too much generic stuff going on, while content theft is rife and nothing appears to be done.
Another blogger made the point that some of the issues with content may be due to bloggers peripheral status:
The same stuff everywhere. We have no access to write anything of value and everyone is too nice to players and teams
There were, however a few bloggers who were more unreservedly positive about football blogging and the impact of blogs, providing a good alternative to the mainstream.
I probably spend as much time reading football blogs as I do reading professional football journalism. There are some excellent writers blogging, and the best manage to combine a passion for a club, or a section of the sport, with genuine insight and wit.
Several other themes in the comments touched on bloggers motivations. Football blogging has been regarded by some as a route into the paid profession of sports journalism, and indeed there have been instances of bloggers making this transition. One debate is about how many opportunities that exist – likely to be very little – and whether over-saturation is making it harder for such writers to get noticed:
A lot of great young writers, struggling to get an opportunity to progress down to the lack of opportunities out there.
Although, the market is over-saturated at the minute and it is becoming harder for the higher quality bloggers to shine through, there is still opportunities there to turn blogging into a career in football journalism.
One blogger suggested that the solution is for aspiring football journalists to find a niche
if you are a football blogger and genuinely want to try and engineer a way into the journalism industry, my advice would be to write about things which are different and original.
Other bloggers though emphasised that blogging was purely a hobby – an activity which was an end in itself
Just fine. And also, who cares? If you do something for fun, what does it matter what anyone else thinks?
Not really about making money out of it, just the satisfaction of people reading and (if they feel moved to do so) interacting with it.
People need to blog more and tweet less and people need to be less concerned with hits and concentrate on the main point of it which is to enjoy it.
It’s saturated, sure, but unless you’re worried about making money—professional writing is a separate topic in my opinion—who cares?
This sense of corinthian spirit appears to also result in a general dislike of blogs which appear to prioritise revenue generating above quality. One blogger suggested that one problem was that blogging is..
saturated by people thinking they can make a quick buck, who quickly realise that you can’t unless you write deliberately misleading headlines – which many then do
Similarly there is some questioning over those who see blogging as a route to stardom
Too many people are writing to try and get hits and think they’re going to become the next ‘top football journalist’ and get themselves gigs on radio and TV.
In terms of bloggings relationship with other forms of media one blogger saw the relationship between blogs and the mainstream media as problematic, whilst another suggested that platforms are providing greater competition.
Mainstream publications are using bloggers more and more to fill their webpages and garner click-throughs and I think this is detrimental to the overall state of football blogging
Competition from other platforms (eg Twitter) and rise of MSM “blogs” (often unpaid or low paid writers who began by writing for their own blogs) means making an impact is more difficult
Within the blogging arena, the question of mega-blogs also came up, with a blogger suggesting that these had changed the spirit of blogging
Lots of good writers are generally overlooked in favour of ‘mega-blogs’ who favour hits over content. Very cutthroat and missing much of the comraderie of the initial boom. Acts as a metaphor for modern football, I suppose.
With thanks to all the bloggers who took part