Breda Report: Changing Times for NET
In 1998, I started working for a web hosting company in Bellevue, Washington. One of the company perks as an employee was one of their shared server products – free of charge. The only stipulation was that you could not use it for pornography or any subject matter deemed in obvious inappropriate taste.
What to do, what to do, I thought. I had experience designing web sites since I had taught myself how to design and webmaster them four years previously in 1994. These were the days long before FrontPage and Dreamweaver, well-known HTML editors. The only "editor" one had back then was Microsoft Notepad. (I will take this moment for all of you coders out there to recover from your involuntary case of vomiting.)
I had previously created a website in the early Internet days that reflected my passion for metaphysics, which relatively speaking, was quite a success for it's time. I had a chat room, a message board and what I like to think was enriching content for the reader to enjoy. The site was literally one of the first in its heavy usage of graphics. Indeed, one look then at ‘Todd Breda's Paradigm-Shattering Web Site' you could see the catalyst for what is known today as Seahawks.Net.
As I was sitting home one evening web surfing, I came across the Seahawks official site, Seahawks.com. It didn't take too long for me to grow more and more discouraged when I found there was absolutely nothing updated on the site back in those days, no latest team news, no fan interactivity, nothing. My frustration as a diehard Seahawks fan quickly became the fuel, the fire, and the motivation that inspired and created Seahawks.Net.
Given that I was already a professional graphic and web designer (meaning I was earning my living this way) and a passionate, diehard Seahawks fan since their inception into the league in 1976, the commitment to create the ultimate online experience for Seahawks fans was born.
A look back at our archive (NET Addicts, bookmark this link) shows just how far we have come. In the beginning, the site was little more than a graphic-intensive fan site, but the importance to me – and a loyal and growing group of other Seahawks fans – was the fan interaction. Indeed, it's been one of the primary life forces of NET from the beginning.
It's always been crucial to me to deliver to Seahawks fans a legitimate and powerful outlet to discuss the team they love while giving them daily content that hopefully is worth reading.
In the early years, as Mike Holmgren moved to the Pacific Northwest and took over an underachieving 8-8 team, the site was mainly maintained by myself with Matt Wolfe reporting the team news.
Slowly but steadily, I acquired a wonderful, modest group of passionate diehards to help create more quality content. As the team began to build itself up from the ground, so did we. Tired of registering new domain names each year ("Seahawks.98.com", "Seahawks99.com"), I stumbled upon the domain Seahawks.Net. I could hardly believe it wasn't taken by the NFL or the Seahawks themselves.
Score one for the little guy.
The Seahawks front office have never really known what to think or make of me. I can't blame them for that. Admittedly, I was flying this bird pretty much blind from day one. With each passing year, our traffic grew exponentially. Probably the most interesting side effect – to me at any rate - is watching myself grow from a care-free graphic and Web designer/Goof Ball with a fun little fan page, into someone who is forced to get serious and learn how to manage a business.
Business. There's that ugly little word many a fan considers profane.
Yet, that fact couldn't stop the progression and transformation the site was clearly going through every year. From a growing staff of diehards ranging from talented professionals to folks just happy to have a platform for their voice, to increasing bandwidth demanding more powerful server packages, Seahawks.Net was clearly outgrowing the desire to simply be a modest little fan page somewhere out there in the far reaches of cyberspace.
The lessons I've learned along the way have been numerous. Mike Flood, the Seahawks VP of Community Outreach, has always offered his support and appreciation for myself, and all Seahawks fans who show such passion for the Seahawks. In fact, Mike showed up for our annual NET Bash get-together one year with a bag full of Seahawks merchandise to help with our prize giveaways. A class act and someone I've always been grateful to for his kindness and support in a day and age when most NFL teams don't know what to think or do about fan sites.
I've also learned a lot about personal and business relationships, especially when the two criss-cross one another. But most of all, I've learned that no matter what, at the end of the day, you have to be happy with the person you are, the decisions and choices you make and that no one person, group of people or organization large or small, should deter you from doing what you feel in your heart, is the right thing to do.
This is why, after 6 years, not only are we still here, but we are thriving.
Through all the aches and pains, through the thousands of dollars out-of-pocket to keep a labor of love going so some diehard fan stuck in some far away land can have a place to call home, it's the right thing to do.
As the seasons began to move on, as I watched Matt Hasselbeck get booed relentlessly by the fans for a less-than-perfect start, and as I watched Mike Holmgren take the heat, I began to feel the discontent growing in some factions of the community for voicing my idea that one day, Seahawks.Net would not be able to sustain itself without some perpetual outside source of revenue stream.
While a large majority of the community could understand, there were – and still are - a legion of those who will never understand why you should have to pay a dime for the service and entertainment we have provided in the past free of charge.
To that, I can only say unless you have stuck with running an increasingly popular website for more than 5 years when it is costing you increasingly more money each year, then it truly would be difficult to understand.
After spending countless hours of discussions with my staff - many of whom who are intelligent business professionals in their respective fields – the idea that kept coming up was the idea that if we were to indeed not only survive but flourish indefinitely, a premium subscription model would be the only way to go.
After all, one can only beg for donations on the street corners of the community for so long.
Alas, the weight of what had made our site a success, was the very thing that was beginning to crush each of us associated with it.
"Sink or Swim", was beginning to sound off in my head, but I wasn't then, nor am I today, in any mood to drown.
Look for Part II next week.
Todd Breda is the Owner and Creative Director of Seahawks.Net. If you would like to e-mail Todd, send any and all love letters, hate mail or prime UFO hotspots to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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