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Three Thoughts about The Classical

August 17, 2011

Monday morning, Google Reader greeted me with the news that a bunch of really talented writers want to start a sports-themed website dubbed The Classical. The more I thought about it, the more I found myself considering the site from these three angles.

First, I’m extremely excited for the site. Its mission, via The Classical’s Kickstarter page (more on that in thought two), is to “be a running, wide-ranging conversation between us and our readers about baseball, basketball, soccer, football and fighting, and about things that aren’t sports, too. Our model in this regard is The Awl, a site for which many of us have written and which all of us love.” I’m on board with this vision, but mainly its the contributors involved that excites me. The list of sites in these writers’ bios could be a best-of-the-web right now (seriously, think of the sites with the most consistently brilliant writers, and its sure to feature one of these gentlemen), but the most important ones are the outlets that, on some level, already carry out this vision of continued dialogue and outside-the-box sportswriting. Sites like the hoops masterclass Free Darko, the quirky baseball blog Pitchers and Poets, and even Tom Scharpling’s The Best Show on WFMU radio show / podcast (just to name a few) show what happens when brilliant individuals take a little bit of freedom as an opportunity to create something unique and insightful. The thought of bringing these like-minded individuals together under a broader umbrella sounds like a must-read site to me (and, if I was more serious about writing and far more devoted and talented, a pipedream of a place to get a byline).

Second, The Classical came about not after being discovered in blogpot/wordpress obscurity or through a massively hyped press release. Instead, it came through a Kickstarter page (presumably through Twitter) explaining the need to raise $50,000 of capitol to get the site off the ground. It struck me as interesting at first, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. While the individuals involved are incredible at what they do, this doesn’t seem like the kind of site that would attract angel investors. If anything, getting sponsors before launch might undermine the artistic freedom (for lack of a better word) that this site needs. This site should have advertising once it’s up and running, and perhaps this will pay the bills for a couple of the contributors, but I imagine this will be a side-gig for most of the writers. In a way, funding the site’s launch through Kickstarter also builds its audience; by asking friends and fans to contribute, there’s a (literal) investment in the product. I know that after donating (a relatively small amount), I’m already following the site on Twitter and Facebook and keeping tabs on the mentions in my timeline. I’m even rooting for the site to hit its goal (which, as of writing this post, has already hit 20% of its goal within the first 36 hours, with almost a month and a half left). I’m actively rooting for this site, of which I haven’t read a single word, to succeed and continue to succeed. Granted, most of it comes from a rooting interest in a number of the contributors, but the Kickstarted drive only adds to that team feel.

Finally, someone on Twitter (apologies for forgetting who, but I imagine many have said this before/after) compared the site to Grantland, the ESPN-offshoot led by Bill Simmons. It’s mostly foolish to compare these two sites, as The Classical has a huge advantage in that it’s purely hypothetical at this point and doesn’t have any dud posts to use as evidence of its failure (not to mention the opportunity to learn from Grantland’s growing pains). Still, it’s a natural comparison, as at least on some level the sites share a similarly wide-angled approach to sports. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with Grantland as a whole, especially since I’ve found myself less interested in Simmons’ in recent years. Four or five years ago, I would have anxiously refreshed my browser for a site curated by Simmons, particularly with the high-profile contributors he’s courted, but in recent years I’ve found myself less interested in Simmons’ columns. (As an aside – feel free to skip to the closed parenthesis – Simmons has become an easy target the last few years, primarily because his teams are more Evil Empire than Underdog, and his passion-and-pop-culture style of writing is the standard for many bloggers. I can attest to Simmons’ continued ability to put words together well, but I can’t comment on the frequency as I don’t check in with him as much as I did half a decade ago. I’m not a huge fan of ’90s nostalgia for reference sake, and I really don’t need to ever sit through another mailbag, but I know this suits him well.) For all the things that bug me about Grantland (including, but not limited to: the design-particularly the way that it’s very difficulty to read everything without subscribing to three separate feeds, and the site’s name), there is some excellent content: smart takes on professional wrestling from The Masked Man, Jonah Keri’s baseball analysis, and even some solid writing from Carles that doesn’t rely on Hipster Runoff’s usual tricks. The stuff I’ve liked most on Grantland is the kind of content I hope to see on The Classical – smart takes from smart people who chase down insight rather than page views. If nothing else, I hope the two sites push each other the way two top rivals demand the best out of their opponents. Even using those terms, “rivals,” “opponents,” doesn’t feel right, as good writing is good writing no matter where it’s published. There’s a place for both sites as long as they give reason to keep reading.

All of this is a lot to say about a site that doesn’t even exist yet. I hope that it becomes something worthy of many more blog posts (not by me, thankfully) for a long time to come. If nothing else, I’ll be rooting for it.

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