Blowing up

No longer the wimpy kid brother to sports-Radio powerhouse WEEI-AM, WEEI.com now has its own seat at Boston sports media’s grown-ups’ table
By ADAM REILLY  |  December 12, 2008

081212_weei_main
BEEFED UP: Weei.com editor Rob Bradford (right) and vice-president/general manager Tim Murphy hope to dominate the competition with their revamped site.

Everyone’s got the bad-economy blues these days — but the mood among peddlers of the printed word is especially bleak. The Tribune Co. just filed for bankruptcy; the New York Times Co. is borrowing against its fancy new HQ; Newsday is slashing jobs; McClatchy wants to dump the Miami Herald. . . Day in, day out, the news is grim.

There are isolated exceptions, however, particularly on the new-media side. The Huffington Post just landed $25 million in venture-capital money, for example. And here in Boston, weei.com has spent the past half year transforming itself from an afterthought into a name to be reckoned within Boston sports media — along with the Globe, the Boston Herald, and corporate sibling WEEI 850 AM itself.

Earlier this month, Entercom, weei.com’s parent company, announced that Curt Schilling — the bloody-sock-wearing, Republican-endorsing, Kobe Bryant–bashing Red Sox–pitcher-turned-free-agent — would be moving his independent blog, 38 Pitches, to weei.com. And this is just the latest in a string of smart weei.com moves. Back in July, the site landed Rob Bradford, the Herald’s highly respected Red Sox reporter, as its new editor, and announced that Michael Felger — who’d been writing the Patriots report card for the Herald, and doing his own radio show for ESPN 890 AM — was joining weei.com’s stable. In August, weei.com added Will Leitch, the founder of the wildly popular sports Web site deadspin.com and a freshly minted contributing editor at New York magazine; he’s writing a column on Boston sports from an outsider’s perspective.

Other noteworthy hires include Red Sox reporter Alex Speier (a former Harvard debate-team captain who’s written for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Baseball America) and Celtics writers Paul Flannery (Boston magazine’s online editor) and Jessica Camerato (formerly of HoopsWorld) — and that’s only a partial list.

Simply put, at this time last year, weei.com was the media equivalent of an appendix — an unnecessary appendage to perennial ratings-powerhouse WEEI-AM that existed simply because every outlet needs at least a token new-media presence. Now it’s an autonomous, attitude-heavy outfit that aspires, in Bradford’s words, to become the espn.com of New England — and could pull it off.

A place to thrive
A few days ago, I discussed weei.com’s ceiling with Bradford and Tim Murphy, weei.com’s vice-president and general manager. Bradford is a mild-mannered guy, with the unassuming demeanor of a novice high-school assistant coach. When he’s talking about weei.com’s place in the Boston sports-media firmament, though, he develops a bit of a swagger. Covering the Red Sox for the Herald was his “dream job,” says Bradford. But after interviewing for this job with Entercom bigwig Jason Wolfe, Bradford focused on three enticements: the opportunity to build something from scratch; Entercom’s abundant financial resources; and the tie to a preexisting, dominant radio brand. It was this triad that ultimately convinced him to leave an established media outlet for one that was still undefined.

“My first week on the job,” says Bradford, “I would go to Yankee Stadium, and New York writers were asking me about [the new position]. National Internet writers were asking me about it. . . . Even before I was hired, I said, ‘This is something that could transcend the sports pages in Boston.’ And I still believe that. We want to strike fear in the hearts of our competitors.”

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