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Blog empire mixes sports, politics

Markos Moulitsas is best known as the man behind liberal blog DailyKos. But he's also behind a growing sports blogging network.

Most aficionados of political blogging know Markos Moulitsas is the man behind the liberal blog DailyKos.
Markos Moulitsas
Markos Moulitsas

But what's not so well known is that Moulitsas, a 34-year-old Berkeley, Calif., resident, is also the CEO of a network of sports blogs called, appropriately enough, SportsBlogs. The network created by the lifelong Chicago Cubs fan already has 43 different sites covering sports such as baseball, football, basketball and cycling.

Though he's an entrepreneur of the Internet age, Moulitsas has taken a cue from old-fashioned big city newspapers, where politics on the front page and sports on the back page were the keys to success. Though his first passion is politics, he thinks it makes sense that he'd also be involved in the world of sports--and blogs.

"It's that intense partisanship and team loyalty that are really, really similar," he said. "And blogs really appeal to partisans. It's a brilliant platform for people who are passionate about things."

These are heady times for Moulitsas. He was recently profiled at length in "Washington Monthly" magazine; he was invited to explain the power of blogs to a group of Democratic senators after the 2004 election; and on the strength of the $1 million he helped raised in 2005 for progressive candidates, he's now known as a fund-raising powerhouse on the political left. His site has become so influential that Democratic bigwigs like Sen. John Kerry, Sen. Barack Obama and Rep. John Conyers have posted diaries there.

On both ends of the political spectrum, Moulitsas is seen as the king of the political blogs.

"He's a one-man blog empire," said Glenn Reynolds, who writes the popular conservative blog Instapundit. "He's achieved an astounding degree of influence, and it's really quite impressive what he's pulled off."

"I thought it would be hypocritical for me to be a hawk and never put myself in the position where I could be sent to war."
Not bad for a guy who grew up a Reagan Republican and spent part of his childhood living in El Salvador. He was born in Chicago but left for El Salvador--his mother's home--when he was four. His family fled in 1980 as the civil war raged, and they returned to Chicago.

Looking for independence immediately after high school and thinking about a future in politics, Moulitsas joined the Army.

"I harbored illusions of someday running for office," he said, "and I thought it would be hypocritical for me to be a hawk and never put myself in the position where I could be sent to war."

After his service, he went to college at Northern Illinois University, and then to Boston University School of Law.

He said the bonding experience of the military, where soldiers were taught to look out for one another, turned him away from a GOP he thought didn't share that "all in this together" attitude. And after the hullabaloo of the 2000 presidential election, he became a more active blogger.

DailyKos was "just a place for me to vent. I was driving my friends and family and co-workers crazy with my rant. It was just a way to get it off my chest."

In 2002, he started Daily Kos, not as a community site that would eventually draw nearly 5 million readers a week, but as a place where he could sound off about his growing anger.

"It was just a place for me to vent," he said. "I was driving my friends and family and co-workers crazy with my rant. It was just a way to get it off my chest."

Today, though, DailyKos (after his army nickname "Kos," from "Markos") has thousands of members, many of whom post frequent "diaries." It's that willingness to bring in diverse, if like-minded, voices that has made the blog so popular.

"He does something different," said Reynolds. "He built a community, and I think that's an interesting approach. DailyKos is a blog, but it's a lot more than that, whereas my blog is just a blog. His is a front door to a whole community. It's sort of like Slashdot."

To some, it's Moulitsas' aggressive, confrontational style that has led to his political success.

"People like that," said John Aravosis, who runs AmericaBlog, another popular liberal blog. It's a very "take-no-prisoners style. It's a style that taps into the Democratic and progressive readers, partially because they have no leaders right now. No one's taking a lead and no one has any backbone, and they see Markos as a leader and as someone who has a backbone."

Whatever you call him, his approach is working. And though he won't say exactly how much he's making, it's working to the point where DailyKos is earning enough money, through advertising, to allow Moulitsas to make a living and even pursue other projects.

One of those projects has him preparing to promote his forthcoming book, "Crashing the Gate."

Cubs fan looks for a win
But front and center among the other efforts on an ongoing basis is the SportsBlog network, which Moulitsas launched last year on the heels of the success of an initial baseball site, AthleticsNation. AthleticsNation chronicles the life and times of the Oakland A's baseball team.

Moulitsas himself is still a rabid sports fan. He went to 40 A's games the year before DailyKos took off, and he still indulges himself with DirecTV season passes for Major League Baseball, the NFL and the NBA. He also bicycles regularly and says one of the reasons he chose to live in the Bay Area is because of its abundance of cycling terrain.

"Sports is great, because everyone has an opinion....The big problem (is that) there are not big endemic advertisers for sports like there are for cars or gadgets."
--Jason Calacanis
Weblogs Inc. co-founder

Of course, as a Cubs fan, he lives and mostly dies with the fate of that terribly unlucky team. He remembers watching game six of the 2003 National League Championship Series in San Francisco with a roomful of other Chicago partisans--the game in which Cubs fan Steve Bartman interfered with a foul pop-up. As Cubs fans recall, the team went on to blow the game, which, had they won it, would have sent them to the World Series for the first time since 1945.

SportsBlogs is surviving largely on the revenues from DailyKos. It's expanded rapidly, and Moulitsas and business partner Tyler Bleszinski--who's the main blogger on AthleticsNation--hope the network will blossom to include about 100 blogs by year's end.

For now, Moulitsas said, SportsBlogs is somewhat of an experiment. Eventually he hopes to attract advertisers and make the blogs stand on their own, but for now he's hoping the network will grow by itself.

To others who have built successful blogging networks, SportsBlogs is both impressive and worrisome.

"If I was going to launch a blog network right now, I'd pick one (niche area) and own it," said Jason Calacanis, the co-founder of Weblogs Inc., which he recently . "Sports is great, because everyone has an opinion, and there's a lot of people whose voices have not been heard....The big problem (is that) there are not big endemic advertisers for sports like there are for cars or gadgets."

Bleszinski disagreed. He thinks the Pepsis of the world will eventually flock to SportsBlogs as they see the potential for reaching a large, mostly young male audience.

And though not all of the network's team sites are flourishing, some definitely are. The leader is by far AthleticsNation, in part due to Bleszinski's ability to get fans and team executives alike involved. A's general manager Billy Beane, featured in the Michael Lewis book "Moneyball," has given Bleszinski several lengthy interviews.

Most of the other team sites--SportsBlogs features blogs for every big league baseball team except the Los Angeles Dodgers--have not scored such high-level interviews, though the network's Braves site, Talking Chop, succeeded in getting the team's general manager, John Schuerholz to open up.

"The Internet is a part of the media landscape now," Schuerholz told CNET News.com. "So as a general manager, I consider it a responsibility I have, no matter what the vehicle is."

Schuerholz also said that talking to SportsBlogs sites gives teams a way to reach out directly to fans. "It does give you an opportunity to be questioned and respond directly without any unauthorized filtering taking place," he said.

In any case, as Moulitsas and his partners try to make a successful business out of SportsBlogs and as he leverages DailyKos' influence to try to sell books, it's noteworthy that even his ideological opponents think he'll achieve his goals.

"I think (sports) is actually a very clever niche to go into, and I think it'll do well," said Reynolds. Moulitsas "is probably (one of the two) most successful blog entrepreneurs out there. If he ever has any ambition to run for political office, he probably won't be able to do that because he won't be able to afford to take the pay cut."

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