Brandon recalled that "Dick Harmon let me write some articles about BYU practices for CougarBlue II, but after he left some people suggested that I should organize a paid-subscription website like TBS. I didn't take it seriously until Jedd Parkinson contacted me by email, followed by a phone call. We finally met and decided to do it."
The concept made sense to us and we felt like we could be successful. We didn't know then, but our biggest asset was ignorance. In hindsight, we were more than a bit naïve. If we truly understood the many challenges involved, we probably would never have attempted it.
In fact, the TBS website was launched in late November, 2002, at the tail end of the football season – probably the worst time possible. Ideally, we should have launched in late summer to capitalize on the preseason excitement of the upcoming football season.
Dick Harmon, now a columnist with The Deseret Morning News, had carved out a strong niche for years with CougarBlue II, a paid-subscription website he created with the resources of the Provo Daily Herald. CougarBlueII continued after Harmon's departure and is currently a free Internet sports link exclusively for Daily Herald sports articles and commentary.
Meanwhile, longtime BYU sports newsletter publisher H.B. Arnett and Brentt Eads, a BYU graduate currently working as publisher of Student Sports magazine, were simultaneously launching their own paid-subscription website, Cougar Sportsline, as part of the national Insiders.com network. Their combined years of experience covering BYU sports exceeded the age of each of the three original TBS partners. But their joint association lasted barely a few months and Eads later contacted TBS partner Reg Schwenke to take over the Insiders.com BYU site. Eads now writes regular monthly recruiting articles for TBS' magazine, TOTAL BLUE SPORTS.
At the same time, CougarIllustrated.com, operated by Dave Barney and Jonathon Huckvale, was another active subscription-based website covering BYU sports for the Rivals network. Barney discontinued the website about six months later to unofficially link up with TBS. Huckvale was a frequent TBS contributor before he left on an LDS mission to Florida. Despite the fact Rivals has advertised for another publisher to take over their BYU website almost a year ago, they have no takers to date.
Also, there were at least six other established BYU sports-related message boards at the time we decided to launch TBS. With the exception of some practice reports Brandon Gurney had written for Dick Harmon at CougarBlue II, none of the original three TBS partners had any experience as professional writers or reporters.
Moreover, TBS didn't even have an editor; the idea of having one had never even occurred to us. We had no website, no message board, no subscribers, and no capital equipment. All we really had was an idea which I had transcribed onto a few PowerPoint slides.
KEYS TO SUCCESS
To use a football analogy, TBS was the proverbial undersized walk-on who was a step too slow to get a Div. 1 scholarship. However, we had an over-abundance of passion which motivated us to start and keep the website going.
Talo explained it best. "What separated us from other news media covering BYU sports was the fact that we focused on giving the Cougar fans exactly what they wanted." Brandon added, "All the TBS partners genuinely love BYU sports, especially its football program. At the end of the day, this is what kept us humming."
About two weeks after we launched TBS, I received an email from Reg Schwenke offering some helpful advice regarding the site. I quickly discovered he had the knowledge, journalism skills and assets we sorely needed at TBS. I told Brandon and Talo I wanted to bring Reg on board as a full TBS partner, and they both enthusiastically supported the idea. The initial motivation to bring Reg into the partnership was his experience as both an experienced reporter and newspaper editor. We quickly discovered that Reg, writing under his former newspaper pseudonym, R. Leuma Schwenke, had many other skills as our TBS publisher that would be a valuable asset to our start-up venture. In fact, without Reg's vision, TBS would not be anywhere near what it is today.
TOTAL BLUE SPORTS magazine, with a current monthly print run of almost 4,000 copies, raised TBS' credibility and marketplace perception exponentially. It exists because of Reg's tenacity in negotiating it as part of our alliance with TheInsiders.com and his experience and expertise in single-handedly producing it each month – with editorial submissions from TBS partners and a number of other editorial contributors who write articles or serve as copy editors voluntarily. We are immensely grateful to these individuals, especially TBS photo editor Troy Verde. They are all listed each month in the Page 2 credit box of the TBS magazine.
Interestingly, the four TBS partners never actually met in person until the day of the 2003 season-opener against Georgia Tech, 10 months after the initial decision to create and launch the site. Reg lives in Las Vegas; I live in Mesa; and Brandon and Talo live in Provo. We operated very effectively and successfully for months via email and an occasional conference call as our only means of communication.
Despite the fact that TBS faced stiff competition, we managed to not only survive that first month, but also became the largest subscription-based website and magazine currently covering BYU sports exclusively within six months of our launch. In addition to our passion for Cougar sports, a combination of hard work, a sound business strategy, great unpaid contributors, and a little bit of luck, made TBS the success it has become.
The biggest challenge we faced up front was creating a website that would allow us to do everything we wanted to see in a website. In addition to articles, we wanted a user-friendly message board, a robust chat room, a media page where we could post video clips and pictures, and several other features that we hadn't seen on any other websites. After checking around for someone capable of producing a site that could support what we wanted, one person emerged: Steve Meyers.
Steve not only had the technical know-how to produce the site, but he had also written his own message board code which was better than anything else we had seen. After a few weeks of negotiations, we reached an agreement with Steve. He immediately began working on the site, which he completed ahead of schedule. Without Steve's expertise, it is highly unlikely that TBS would have ever become a reality.
Another factor in the success of TBS has been the fact that each of the partners brings their unique backgrounds, knowledge and skills to the table. Each has his own strengths and weaknesses, but as a group, we've combined to become a very effective team.
I recently sat down and calculated the amount of money each TBS partner makes from his efforts on a per-hour basis – far less than minimum wage. The numbers said a lot about what makes TBS a success. Suffice it to say, the amount is a small fraction of what we would make if we spent the same amount of time flipping burgers at McDonalds. At the current rate, it will take me until 2012 to recoup the investment I made to start the site, and the other partners make huge sacrifices to do what they do. So, why do we do it? As Talo says, "It's a labor of love. We make a lot of sacrifices, but we do it because we love what we're doing. We want to provide the fans with the information they want."
Another major factor in the success of TBS has been the many contributions to the website and magazine by well over 100 of our subscribers. We feel very fortunate to have so many highly skilled subscribers who are willing to donate their time and talents to enhance the product that we are able to provide to our subscribers. Without their contributions, there is no way we could continue to do what we do. I would list names and what they do, but doing so would easily double the size of my article … and Reg might slap my wrists for exceeding the word limit for this article.
The vast majority of the work involved in operating the website and publishing the magazine is never visible to the subscribers. TBS subscribers don't see the numerous phone calls required to track down the phone number of a recruit or to get quotes or an interview from a recruit. Then there are the dozens of emails that are exchanged with subscribers each day to resolve technical issues or other customer service requests.
And the work required to produce the TBS magazine each month is gargantuan. Brandon explained, "I don't know if most subscribers fully realize just how hard Reg works on the magazine. It would be entirely impossible to do a magazine without him and I'm constantly amazed every month at what he is able to put out."
For me personally, the greatest reward has been the opportunity to get to know so many interesting and amazing people as a result of my association with TBS. I have gotten to know hundreds of new people, including players, recruits, their families, and many TBS subscribers. I am continually amazed at the caliber of people that I come across.
It is also very rewarding to read the feedback we receive from our subscribers. We have conducted some subscriber surveys and we also get a lot of unsolicited feedback from the subscribers, and the overwhelming majority of that feedback is highly positive and supportive of what we are doing. Indeed, we've made a lot of mistakes along the way, with more to come, but we know we provide a valuable and useful service and product that builds interest, excitement and enthusiasm for BYU sports.
The feedback we receive from TBS subscribers is better than anything we could have written on our own to promote the site.
Adds Brandon: "It is heartwarming to hear stories like Bishop Edgely of the Presiding Bishopric reading TBS subscriber Cheryl Brown's article in TOTAL BLUE SPORTS magazine and being so impressed that he was moved to call head coach Gary Crowton asking if he could personally contact BYU running back Curtis Brown, a non-LDS black scholarship athlete. Through a close relationship with BYU quarterback Matt Berry and BYU trainer George Curtis, Brown accepted missionary lessons and was baptized earlier this year. His mother's story of his conversion was featured in both TBS' website and spring magazine. Bishop Edgely spoke at his baptismal service."
Finally, I should add the time and effort that Talo, Reg and Brandon have put into the TBS website and TOTAL BLUE SPORTS magazine is phenomenal. The fact that they do it essentially as volunteers is even more amazing to me. I am the TBS partner that most people don't know much about since I do most of the behind-the-scenes work, but I feel very fortunate to be associated with these three great supporters of BYU and its sports programs.
I never imagined TBS would be where it is today and our highest debt of gratitude belongs to our TBS subscribers. Without you, there would be no point of doing what we do.
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