Jamie Mottram, Sportif Yahoo Bloglord, Pushes ‘Portal Power’

“Jamie was able to see that there was so much talent out there that was not being used—or was being used on someone’s blogspot page,” Will Leitch, the founding editor of Deadspin, told The Observer. “He recognized that you could organize it and make it larger.”

“It was freaking AOL, not exactly the world’s coolest company,” said Mr. Leitch. “But Jamie was so lively. If never felt like a massive company paying all these people. It always felt like Jamie’s mom-and-pop thing. He made it not embarrassing to write for AOL.”

“He has a better nose for Web creative talent than just about anyone I know,” said Mr. Bankoff.

According to Mr. Mottram, around the summer of 2007, he turned down an offer to join ESPN. Instead, he took a job as the senior editor of blogs and community for Yahoo Sports. The year before, the company had hired Dave Morgan of the L.A. Times to be the executive editor of Yahoo Sports, overseeing a team of reporters charged with breaking news and doing investigative reporting. It was Mr. Mottram’s job to assemble the bloggers.

Mr. Mottram compares his time at FanHouse to The Dana Carvey Show, which failed in 1996 after one season but employed a team of writers, including Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert and Charlie Kaufman, who went on to great things. At Yahoo, Mr. Mottram rehired many of his early FanHouse favorites, including MJD, J.E. Skeets and Greg Wyshynski. Mr. Mottram declined to say how much on average Yahoo pays its full-time bloggers, but noted that “we haven’t seen much, if any, attrition over the two-plus years of doing this.”

During those two years, Yahoo Sports has overtaken ESPN.com as the top sports destination on the Web. As a result of the success, last year Yahoo executives promoted both Dave Morgan and Mr. Mottram—essentially putting the sports guys in charge of the entire editorial show.

Next up: politics, media, entertainment and finance!

“Sports is the best example of how this will play out,” said Mr. Mottram. “With Yahoo Sports, you’ve got Puck Daddy, the No. 1 hockey blog on the Web. It performs really well on the Yahoo network, whether that’s on the front page, or in the email, or through the portal itself. But a big part of the approach is that if Yahoo disappeared tomorrow, Puck Daddy would still have an audience all its own. They come back to it whether it’s via RSS, or social media referrals, or SEO traffic, or bookmarks. That’s the goal. It’s about millions of people over time coming in from the Web. That’s what Yahoo’s investment in original content can breed.”

Yahoo is now gambling that Mr. Mottram’s success in nurturing sports blogging will translate to a range of subjects he admittedly knows much less about. With political and entertainment blogging in particular, Yahoo will be entering crowded, hypercompetitive fields.

“I feel like I generally have enough politics sites in my life,” said Mr. Leitch. “So the idea of someday regularly going to a Yahoo one seems like a stretch. But again, we all thought the exact same thing about sports.”

Mr. Mottram finished his ravioli. The next day he would be flying to California. There’s a desk, he said, at Yahoo’s Santa Monica offices with his name on it. But he rarely uses it. Like most of his bloggers, he prefers to work from home.

fgillette@observer.com

CORRECTION: In 2007, before Mr. Mottram left AOL for Yahoo Sports, he received a couple of job offers but ESPN was not among his suitors at the time.