My Blogs With Balls Experience: Not Much of a Fan (boy)

Gene ZarnickCorrespondent IJune 7, 2010

Last Friday I left Erie, Pennsylvania at 9:00am and got ready to drive 450 miles on I-90 West to Chicago,IL for my first Blogs with Balls. Unfortunately, it will probably be my last.

For anyone who doesn't know what Blogs with Balls is, it's a national conference where sports bloggers convene to listen to and ask questions to a group of experts that are designated a specific topic for their panel. This was the third Blogs with Balls conference and this time around the topics featured were:

- Going Local: Evolution of the Local Sports Media Market in the Digital Age

- Today’s Sports Media Landscape: Blogs and Beyond, Where Are Ad Dollars Going?

- You’ve Gotta Fight For Your Right…to Blog?: A Legal and Ethical Primer to Sports Media

- Democratizing Sports Media: How Blogging Players, Fans & Leagues Are Changing the Game

- The Kings of All Media: Leveraging Podcasting and Video to Build a Media Megabrand

- The Future of Sports Media: What Today’s Innovations Mean for Tomorrow’s Fan


I finally arrived in Chicago at about 5:00pm and moved my stuff into my friend's place that I was staying at for the weekend. There was a kickoff party at The Fifty/50 club so I grabbed a cab around 5:45 and got over to the event in about 20 minutes.

After checking off my name and receiving my wristband I walked downstairs and grabbed a drink. At this time there weren't too many people there so I stood around a little bit and then I met Ed from Ed The Sports Fan . We chatted it up for about ten minutes and then he introduced me to his friend Robert Littal from Black Sports Online   and we were all just hanging out for a little bit.

Not too bad. Only about fifteen minutes in and I'm already networking a little bit. This is the type of thing you do at conferences anyway right?

The party continued and the venue got much more crowded. There was a Guinness "Head-to-Head" competition that went on to see who could pour the perfect Guinness. I was pretty solid with my pouring skills. I kind of felt bad for the older fellow I went up against. When he got done with his pour it looked like he was holding a big glass of diarrhea. Even worse then that was the fact that he actually drank it.

At about 7:30pm the entire downstairs was packed with people. Unfortunately there were no name tags so even if I talked to anyone I forgot their name about 15 seconds later. The funniest part of the entire gala was the nervousness running around the place when all these fellow bloggers found out that they couldn't receive a cell phone signal. I guess some people weren't smart enough to figure out there was Wi-Fi or to read the email that was sent about 3 hours earlier.

With the influx of people jam packed downstairs combined with the hot and humid Chicago weather on Friday, I decided to grab a cab around 7:45pm to head back to my friend's place. The kickoff party wasn't too bad and I was excited to see what was in-store the next day at the main event.

I woke up around 9:00am, grabbed a shower, got dressed, and made my one mile walk down Addison to the Captain Morgan Club right outside Wrigley Field. As I was walking it started to rain; probably a sign of things to come.

The venue was mostly great. The setup was very good with a nice covered area where the main stage was for the panel to sit at. Behind them were wooden locker displays for the sponsors of Gillette, Old Spice, and Head & Shoulders. I grabbed my name tag and sat down at around 9:55am, getting ready for the conference to start at ten.

One negative was the name tag. Do most bloggers really know each other by their real names? It would've been nice to have our web sites, Twitter name, and real name on the badge, or at least something to help distinguish the people that I only know from their moniker a little easier.

The first panel came to the stage to discuss the Local Sports Media Market in the Digital Age. Unfortunately the only thing they didn't discuss was the Local Sports Media Market in the Digital Age. Amy K. Nelson from ESPN was the moderator for the panel; always a treat to see, but maybe not the best moderator around.

Quickly the entire discussion turned into a back and forth effort by Jim Bankoff of SB Nation and Dave Nemetz of Bleacher Report to distinguish each of their sites and explain the benefits that each site has. It really just felt like a back and forth infomercial between the two where each would just state what they do better then the other person. The semi-duel ended with Jim Bankoff telling the crowd of bloggers to come talk to him because SB Nation was looking for some new writers in some specific areas.

During all the panels we were encouraged to tweet about Blogs with Balls by using the hash tag #bwb3. This was the dumbest idea ever. There were the occasional funny tweets, but for the most part it was just a bunch of sports bloggers, tweeting live during the conference and repeating everything that was said at the show. Do I really need to see the quote of the person on a projector screen that I just heard a minute ago? Do I need a recap of an event that just took place in front of my face? If they were really tweeting to their followers then 1. The followers would not care one bit about these meaningless tweets and 2. If they did care they would've just turned on the live stream of the show and saw it themselves.

I was also in awe of the fact that people really had to have their laptops the entire time at the show. Towards the front and center of the conference there was like a brigade of nerds that actually had extension outlets running from the power cords where the video camera was setup so they could make sure they had full battery juice the entire time. I'm really surprised someone didn't setup a full on desktop so they could play World of Warcraft in between panels. Can anyone just act normal once in awhile? Sit back, enjoy the conference, and use your phone if you really need to be on the Internet.

I'm getting frustrated at this point. The panel was boring and horrible to listen to and none of the information was very useful, there's about ten bloggers who are continuously in the audience tweeting rampant and typing up the dumbest tweets that were either dumb, unfunny, or useless to the average reader of them, and, the chairs were the most uncomfortable things to sit on and I was already hurting after an hour.

The second panel showed up to talk about "Where Are Ad Dollars Going?" Surprisingly this panel was actually worse then the first one. The most attention getting part of this panel was that the very beautiful Michele Steele forgot that ladies are supposed to cross their legs when they're wearing a skirt the whole time. Maybe the nerd brigade in the center got some up skirt pics.

By the end of this tedious to listen to discussion I was almost about to walk out. I thought to myself, "Why the hell did I come to this thing?"

Most everything that was said already was common sense to me. I guess if you have some business savvy and understand that  your   web site is your business then you would have already known everything that was just discussed over the last couple hours. This panel didn't even focus on trying to help individual blogs. The gist of it was join a blog network and......get lucky? Maybe this wasn't the best panel because all these people were the ones who provide the ad dollars, but none of them were people who have their own individual blog trying to do everything they can to one day achieve their dream of running their blog and making a full-time living from it.

That's all we wanted answered; that's the number one question for every single blogger in the audience.

Things somewhat changed for the better in the next panel that discussed the legal and ethical nature of blogging. This panel had some great discussion that was moderated very well by Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead . Unfortunately because of Jason's recent sale of The Big Lead for over $1 million we had to see lame tweets popping up again saying, "If @thebiglead is here, then he should be picking up a seven-figure bar tab." Wow, hilarious, I'm still guffawing over that one folks. There were a solid twenty more that were similar to that nature.

I say congratulations and great for him, but I don't need to be running up to him, patting him on the back yelling congrats and good job. I'll get back to this problem later though.

The ethics panel discussed everything from the Delonte West sleeping with LeBron James rumor, the usage of saying "Rapelisberger", to the credibility of web sites having verified sources. The panel was very good, but there just weren’t the right people up there. Why wouldn't you have a first amendment lawyer up there? It just seems so obvious that this is the specific person that we needed to help us with all these issues. Instead the entire panel basically said, "Do whatever you want until you get caught." Oh thanks for that great advice panelists. I'm sure to use all of you for subpoenas in case I get sued and let the judge know that you guys told me to do what I want.

With about 10 minutes left in the discussion, Spencer Hall from Every Day Should Be Saturday   asked Jason a question about if he checks his sources. Basically it turned into a little verbal soiree between the two where Spencer brought up a specific story that he sent to Jason on April Fools Day and Jason posted it without even checking the source. This in turn moved the discussion toward if we should have legit sources where the panel concluded that it depends on each web site.

At first I disagreed with Spencer on the issue, but after thinking of it more, then we should definitely have to have legitimate sources and be held accountable for what we write. I could care less if people catch feelings over what I write or I'm politically incorrect because that is all freedom of speech, but to have a professional site that breaks news stories that are completely bogus is reprehensible to the blogging community. To gain the respect that we are looking to get as legitimate sporting news sources or sports writers then we must act with the same professionalism.

I'm not trying to write for a newspaper or specific company so I could don't care if people are offended by what I say. I'm writing because it's something I'm passionate about and want to convey my thoughts to readers who hopefully gain some insight, either positive or negative, by what I say. If you don't want to read it then don't, but I'm not putting on a facade to try and make things seem like something they aren't.

By having a sporting news site that doesn't check sources, this is exactly what you are doing.

After this panel and the next panel is where my true dislike for Blogs with Balls came about. The sports blog fanboys came out of the woodwork.

During lunchtime I just witnessed blogger after blogger basically stand in line to chat with their blogging heroes. The minute people like Jason, Spencer, Jonah Keri, Michele Steele, or Jim Bankoff stepped away from one conversation the next fanboy jumped up to try and get their name in with them.

Continuously I heard people talking to Jason saying stuff like, "Do you remember the story I sent you about LeBron James on April 24th this year?" Jason was very kind in trying to get away from them with a nice little response like, "Oh! That was you?"  I think the kid who asked him creamed his pants on the spot.

One blogger I heard talking to Michele Steele brought up to her that he set behind her at Dorkapalooza. I wish I was making this shit up.

I think Spencer got more compliments on his Team USA soccer jersey then Landon Donovan would've got if he were there. Some of my fellow bloggers and this suck up nature were just starting to disgust me.

After lunch the fanboyism hit its pinnacle. The one and only Spencer Hall was the next moderator for the panel that was discussing, "Democratizing Sports Media." The flash bulbs went off and young men sat back in there chair so attentive, waiting to grasp on every single word that came out of Spencer's mouth.

The entire panel and the discussion was great; definitely the best of the whole day. Spencer's random questions and quick little insults made the time go by quickly and the discussion flow much better. I was actually surprised how much I actually enjoyed him as a moderator so kudos to you Mr. Hall. I'm not tweeting any of your quotables or posting pictures of you chugging a Smirnoff Ice like all your fanboys in the audience though.

To sum up the remaining two panels; sucked. The podcast panel told us that you should plan your podcast and then edit it at the end. Hmmm. Thanks for the genius advice that everyone should do almost anytime they are doing anything.

The Future of Sports Media was the last panel that discussed some technologies that would probably be coming to sports in the next five years. I guess I found this one a little more boring because I have technology background so I knew everything they talked about. I would've much liked hearing about the future of technology pertaining to actual blogs instead of the technology that would be coming to sports in general.

Why not have a discussion on blogs moving towards Internet television or if video casting will be of any importance? There was so much they could've touched on that would've directly affected the blogger instead of all sports fan and it was just left alone.

At the end of the conference I couldn't wait to leave. I just sat in the worst plastic chair ever for nearly 8 hours listening to discussions that seemed like common sense to me. I would however like to point out that the event was run great and if you are one of the fanboys or a blogger that lacks some business or tech sense then you probably won't find a better conference to come to for such a reasonable price.

I thought about the conference for awhile on my 450 mile drive back from Chicago to Erie, PA yesterday. After a lot of deliberation, I came to the conclusion that Blogs with Balls was actually a pretty good show, but it just wasn't for me.

Maybe my head is just in a different place right now.  

As you read this, I'm driving 500 miles on I-90 East to move to Hartford, CT to start a new career in a week. Maybe with all the packing, driving, and everything else going on, I just wasn't in super-networking mode while I was out there.

In the end, the problem wasn't Blogs with Balls it was the bloggers with balls that were there.  

The whole experience turned into a who can I meet that can help me propel my blog into the next tier. It just seemed that it was almost a suck up fest towards all the big name bloggers by the fanboys hoping that maybe one of them would pick up their card or remember their name and that’s how they would move ahead in the blogosphere.

I guess to each is own, but that's just not me. I'm not running up to Jay Busbee to ask him if he remembered my Tiger Woods Mistress Slot Machine game he posted about or any other big name blogger that has posted anything of mine before. I'd much rather work hard, be passionate about what I write about, and if the accolades come then the accolades come.

Promoting yourself is one thing and pimping yourself is another. Is sucking up to all the panelists really what you have to do to grow as a blog?

Maybe at Blogs with Balls 4, that will be a panel discussion.