Today, we are proud to announce that PhillyFrontOffice will become a part of ThePaintedLines.com platform. We believe that embracing the future with a growth mindset requires change, but we will maintain our focus, our roots, and our ethos. We are not being purchased, we are not selling out; we are opening a path for continuing our amazing trajectory.
We have built a culture at PFO that we are fiercely proud of, an ethos that is different from other platforms. We’ve truly tried to find our own voice, and amazingly it has really resonated with people.
With millions of hits and millions of impressions monthly on social media, our website, YouTube, and podcasts, we are forced to think, “What future do we want for ourselves?” But let’s take a moment to look back at our origin which informs our future.
“The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change”
Every great story has an origin, and ours is rather unique. In many ways, we were born out of the fires of burner accounts by a former GM of a professional team in Philadelphia. #Burnergate, as it was known, directly involved our founding partner Brian Jacobs. That was just over one year ago, and PFO was born out of that. The past year has been a whirlwind of growth, experiences, and relationships.
As the firestorm of #Burnergate raged among NBA and sporting world circles, Brian reached out to me with a simple question, “What do I do with all of this attention?”
To which I replied, “Well, what do you want the outcome to be?” If you ask 100 bloggers what they want to ultimately come from their work, you will get 100 answers.
Brian was the “Very Established Blogger” that the burner accounts interacted with frequently to push certain agendas, defend the actions of the GM, and leak health and other inappropriate information out to the public.
The Partnership Launch
Brian and I have known each other for a few years, first by both being contributors for the same website and second by playing together in a very intense and highly competitive simulation league. This league is filled with all manner of professionals, technical folks, lawyers, doctors, and even someone from NASA. It involves people from virtually all timezones and continents. In short, it is very interesting.
But Brian and I were bonded early on, finding each other through #sixerstwitter. Brian has a reputation for audacity in the league, never afraid to tear things down to build something back stronger than before. This is something I admire and respect.
The President Leads
Speaking of audacity and bold embrace of change, Brian introduced me to Dave Jackson. Dave and I both have a fairly deep history in technology. So when I asked Brian, “Well, what do you want to do” with his notoriety, he said, “I want to build a platform for other people to be able to write about the Sixers.” He continued, “I want to do something different than the standard clickbait aggregation stuff that is out there.”
The short version of what happened next basically boils down to “so you need a website; that we can do.” Dave built a platform (originally sixersfrontoffice.net), and I have handled most design aspects over the past year. We went live just before June 1, 2018 and mostly covered pre-draft content for the first month.
Three Becomes Four
At first it was just us three. Brian and I writing articles feverishly for that lead up to the draft, in our comfort zone of writing prospect features with a bend towards how those players might fit on a Sixers team. It was all fairly basic blogger type stuff.
After just a few weeks of blogging, however, we were approached by another member of that simulation league about a few grammatical and spelling errors he had noticed. Bryant Baker, a lifelong Philly sports fan living in the Philippines (told you the league has people from all different timezones and continents), then offered to help us transition our site from “blogger boy” to something much more professional sounding by stepping in as our editor. We quickly agreed, and with that, we had our team of four partners, all with different sets of skills and “special sauce” to bring to the table.
Despite the more professional sound we now had, Dave and I had very little interest in building a platform filled with ads just to chase a few dollars. Ad revenue is based off of clicks, and it would only incentivize, no matter how much we didn’t want it to, writing clickbait. We didn’t know what we wanted, but we knew what we did not want.
Meanwhile, Brian was building excitement on Twitter for our hatchling of a site. We had some great friends begin to join us in June and July and help us create buzz. Some of those friends have found that Twitter is a better medium for them, and some have stayed and shared our obsession. It was only weeks before the NBA came and gave us a cease and desist letter.
That Time the NBA Shut Us Down
So as mentioned above, we were intially SixersFrontOffice.net. Why Front Office? Well as mentioned above, Brian and I are in a simulation league. The league simulates many aspects of running a franchise including trades, drafts, free agency, cap management. It is not a fantasy league, but much more complex and fast paced. So with an early focus on Sixers and it being near draft time, Front Office made sense. We began a podcast called “The Burner” paying homage to our beginnings. Here is our original podcast artwork.
Funny thing, the NBA apparently viewed this name as an infringement of their intellectual property and sent us a cease and desist letter just weeks into our launch. They took exception to our URL, and certain aspects of our logo design. We had 48hrs to comply.
After a brief moment of panic and knowing that we would have to change our name, Brian got a moment of inspiration. Why be only a Sixers site? For the true #PFO.G.’s, they will tell you we would refer to ourselves as SFO early on. SFO remained for a long time to refer to the section of the site dedicated to Sixers content. But we had to change, and instead of just shifting names to something less “infringey,” we decided to broaden our scope. (Which we are now doing again).
This also forced us to really evaluate our approach to visuals and photos. I spent a weekend scrubbing all of our photos from the site early on to make sure we were not infringing on any media copyrights. We have only used designs or photos that we personally have taken ever since. This has been key to our cost controls.
PhillyFrontOffice.net was quickly decided upon, and Dave set to work acquiring and migrating our URL, and I worked on new logos and designs. With our newly broadened name, we began attracting more contributors who wanted to write about football, baseball, and hockey (well, not so much hockey).
Write What You Love
As Brian feverishly managed the intake process of new contributors and folks who wanted to be involved, we would often get the same question from a new person: “What should I write about?” To which I always had the exact same reply: “Write what you love.” This wasn’t pre-planned or calculated at the time, but we knew a few things we didn’t want to be.
Our early agreement about no clickbait drove our direction and our culture in a number of ways.
- We didn’t have revenue. – Most media platforms are struggling financially right now. There are a few models that exist in the market, but many of them rely on unpaid and very low paid labor. Lacking a revenue source means no one gets paid which to us was more palatable than some tiering of payment. This means we are 100% self-funded thus far.
- We don’t really feel right “assigning” work – If we aren’t getting paid, we don’t feel like we should dictate what people write about. So “write what you love” became a motto.
- We had to think on a different timescale – If we aren’t chasing clicks and chasing ad revenue, what exactly is the point? Well, we do consider ourselves a business, but not one that is under pressure to be profitable from day one. Our startup mindset may be rare in this media world, but in technology and Silicon Valley, it is the norm versus the exception.
- We had to think differently about costs – As mentioned above, we don’t have the luxury of an unlimited budget to purchase professional photos from Getty or USA today. This was a real problem that required creative solutioning.
Fortunately for us, manna fell from heaven in the form of our photographer Wayne Terry. We could keep internal expenses down through the hard work of Bryant (editing) and Dave (tech support) acting as two of the unsung cornerstones of our stability and success. Wayne Terry, however, is front and center for us. And adding him has been instrumental in keeping our external (photos and media) expenses down. I’ll talk about that more shortly.
Not Just A…
When you combine this notion of “write what you love” with the notion of broadening out the platform beyond just Sixers, you start to see something very interesting emerge. We want smart people, and smart people tend to have many different interests.
Hell, we are an attractive outlet for both young writers and successful professionals looking for something other than a hobbyist message board. Many of our younger contributors come to us wanting to amass a body of work and build skills, credibility, and reputation.
The more established professionals, however, often express a desire to be more than just their chosen career. For myself, for instance, I am a career technologist, but I’m not JUST a career technologist. I also am a musician, a writer, a history nerd, an economics geek, and a Dungeons and Dragons lifer. This platform and our internal culture evolved from PFO to something much more interesting and broad, built mainly off of the notion of being a place where people can be more than just their day job.
At various points, and perhaps to an embarrassing degree (Erica B if you read this, you know), I became so impassioned about this concept that I got emotional. I hate the very notion of being judged as simply something or another. It is reductive and dehumanizing in a way that strikes really close to my personal sense of right and wrong. Giving folks an outlet to be more than just what others may see them as was huge motivation for me. PFO was a small way to do that, but I soon started seeing much larger opportunity in this simple notion.
As Summer 2018 unfolded, Brian was hot and heavy managing the buzz and influx of contributors. Early on, we were mentioned (with a chuckle from Mike) on The Rights To Ricky Sanchez podcast for a story we broke about Markelle Fultz and Drew Hanlan working together. Brian was working his connections and getting well-sourced stories. We were recording The Burner regularly and interviewing guests, including parents of players. We were happy.
The Palestra Legitimacy
In his exuberance of getting information, he reached out to folks in the 76ers staff and was quickly directed to their PR staff. As the summer came to a close, we received our first invitation to cover the Blue White scrimmage at the Palestra. This brought up a problem we hadn’t really even considered until that moment actually. You see, Brian lives in South Carolina. Dave Jackson lives in Oregon. And Bryant, as mentioned, lives on the other side of the world. At the time, I was the only partner located in the Philly Metro area.
But when the invitation came from the Sixers, we didn’t even hesitate. Of course we accepted. I still have that first media credential badge. It was disorienting and crushing to have the event actually rained out. Some may have taken this as a sign… Read this story below, and tell me if you can tell it was my first time ever covering a live event:
The Path Lights
So the entire goal of that first trip was “don’t embarrass us,” but due to its incomplete nature, it made me want more. I had gotten a taste but no way to judge if I learned much of anything useful. However, we had made contacts and were later invited to Blue Coats training camp and eventually a preseason Sixers game.
With each new step, as per my nature, I was obsessed on what the next step might be. From September until Kawhi Leonard’s epic final shot in Toronto on May 12th, life was a blur of 100 hour weeks, covering both Sixers and Blue Coats games, mostly at home but occasional away games as well. The milestones fell one after another as a rookie survived his first year.
But it wasn’t just basketball, and it wasn’t just me. We have since grown to shoot games in professional baseball and basketball in multiple cities. Wayne Terry, who I mentioned before, first shot for us at Blue Coats media day. He went on to shoot virtually every Coats home game, as well as multiple NBA games in Philadelphia and Atlanta.
We talk about the talent pipeline a lot here. Recruiting talent is a passion of Brian’s, and developing talent is a passion of mine. Early on, we pitched the concept to the Blue Coats of letting us bring multiple people to cover Coats games. We did this for a number of reasons. First, we wanted to give our interested contributors a sense of what beat reporting is like, which is very different from blogging. Secondly, we wanted to start to build talent to broaden our base of experienced reporters for when we expanded to other franchises and sports.
The Blue Coats, it is no secret, are a passion for us. We love the concept of the talent pipeline, and watching young players chase their dreams is inspiring. As we have written many times, #theprocess continues in Delaware.
Ty Daubert was one of the first folks to attend a Blue Coats game with me and get the taste of interviewing players and coaches. He has since gone on to start our “Stupid Money” podcast and is now actively on the beat covering the Phillies Minor League affiliates.
The Painted Lines
At a certain point, I felt that our mission and scope had outgrown our name. We have contacts in many industries and in many cities, and our path really isn’t well defined by the “Philly” in Philly Front Office. Additionally, our writing has progressed far beyond a focus on draft, FA, and trades, so “Front Office” doesn’t quite encapsulate us anymore either.
We have workshopped names for months to try to retain the acronym PFO (which we all love), but between domain availability and the constraints of those three letters, it was nearly impossible to find a good name that captured our essence and was available.
So Dave, our fearless and faceless leader suggested www.ThePaintedLines.com, and it is the perfect new identity for us.
Painted lines have been used throughout history to keep order, give instructions, create art, and, in more recent human history, define sports fields. The painted lines we use every day are essential to our lives. They define the lanes we drive in, let us know where it’s safe to stand for the subway, enhance our lives with art, and can bring elation or devastation to a team and their city depending on if someone steps on the sideline or not while running in a game-winning touchdown.
But, perhaps just as important as following the painted lines that help to keep our lives in order is knowing when not to be defined by the rigid lines that others paint for us.
We are not just a basketball blog anymore. We are not just a sports website anymore either. We, you and I, are not JUST one thing. We can go outside the painted lines. We can be more than what those who try to define and confine us want us to be.
The PFO Legacy
PFO will remain as a highly prized and valued section of The Painted Lines. But we, ever and always, will seek to be more, to learn more, and to share what we have discovered with you all.
With all sincerity, thank you for an amazing first year, we look forward to the future and are committed to having the longest view possible.