Pando

StubHub hires its first Editor-in-Chief, looks to become a destination for sports and music fans

By Michael Carney , written on October 8, 2014

From The News Desk

StubHub has an image problem. Consumers think of the ecommerce platform as a place to find tickets to events that they know about. But rarely do they visit the site to discover and browse the thousands of local events that they’ve never heard about – everything from beer tastings to outdoor movies, and, yes, concerts and sporting events. Moreover, most consumers, if asked, would explain that the majority of tickets on StubHub are marked-up from their face value. And they’d be wrong. More than 50 percent of the inventory on the site is sold below face value.

Today, the eBay-owned ticketing platform announced a new hire that could go a long way toward recasting this image. Jonah Freedman, the former Managing Editor of MLSoccer.com and former Sports Illustrated Editor/Producer, is joining StubHub as the company’s first Editor in Chief. The appointment is part of a newly conceived editorial strategy aimed at making StubHub a destination for information, culture, and, yes, commerce around the best events each city and region have to offer.

The intersection of content and commerce isn’t new. In fact, it’s an idea that has been floated by nearly every online publication and merchant at some point. But to go so far as to hire someone with major media pedigree is another thing entirely.

“We are really focused right now on delivering a more fun end-to-end event experience to fans, so StubHub can be a source of discovery and a tool for event planning, along with a place to get tickets,” says StubHub head of social commerce, Ray Elias. “A huge part of making the StubHub experience more useful for our users is providing them with rich content that is interesting, engaging, and gives them more reasons to come back. Bringing on a seasoned content veteran like Jonah as StubHub’s first ever Editor-in-Chief is our firm commitment in ramping up our content strategy and capabilities across the service, so we can continue to create a community where fans can come to learn new things, plan events, buy tickets and more.”

Freedman has been on the job for just one month and is still taking in the lay of the land, he tells Pando. In that regard, it will likely be several months before the public sees the first fruits of this new hire – think first half of 2015. But StubHub’s content strategy is part of a long-term play by the company to reinvent itself in the eyes of the average consumer. The company took a related step earlier this year by launching StubHub music, a dedicated mobile app geared toward music fans and aimed at reminding consumers that the ticketing platform offers far more than just sporting tickets. At the time, the company articulated its goal as being the “LinkedIn for music fans.”

“I’m a lifelong journalist. And while I’ve mostly been focused on sports at MLS and SI, I did previous stints at Rolling Stone and Details, so I’ve covered music as well,” Freedman says. “But up until having my first kid a few months ago, I’ve spent the majority of my disposable income on sporting events and concerts, so this really couldn’t be a better fit.”

Over the next several months, Freedman will build up a dedicated editorial team to focus on delivering content full-time. In the meantime, the company plans to introduce a beta project called “5 Things to Do” to the StubHub Music app, offering a fun and useful guide to the top activities various markets. This series will be a mix of topical and evergreen content. For example, at times, one piece might highlight an upcoming show over the coming weekend, while another might offer a bucket list of the best venues to catch a show in a given region, like the Hollywood Bowl or Red Rocks outside Denver.

“We think of it as a great point of entry into the conversation,” Freedman says.

In this context, expect to see StubHub delve into similar local guide territory as sites like UrbanDaddy, Thrillist, and GiltCity. Longer term, Freedman views the site delving into rich profiles of artists and athletes and offering other relevant insights into the world of sports and music.

“We want to help fans figure out what to do with their weekends, and what to put on their bucket list, Freedman says. “When I joined MLS, their website was just for marketing – game recaps, schedules, etc. There was no dynamic coverage whatsoever. It took about six months for us to change that into something where people went to seek out content. I see a lot of similarities with this role. People come to StubHub and all they want to do is buy tickets and leave. I think there’s a ton more value to be offered around event discovery, culture, and so forth.”

The big challenge for StubHub, and anyone looking to marry content with commerce, is developing authenticity and trust with the reader. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of producing advertorials geared more toward selling products and services, rather than true editorial content aimed at delivering intrinsic value of their own. That Freedman seems unfazed by this potential land mine is a reflection of his lengthy career in traditional journalism.

Where StubHub’s editorial might help sell tickets is by creating richer context around upcoming events, he argues. For example, casual fans might know about an upcoming baseball game, but they likely don’t know the details of the pitching matchup, the origins of the long-standing rivalry between the teams, or the fact that it’s the visiting star outfielder’s first pro game in his childhood hometown – all details that Freedman and his team can convey in an unbiased and objective way that just happens to make the event more compelling.

StubHub faces plenty of competition in both the sports and music content verticals, but it’s the former that has the more recognizable tentpole brands (ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and Bleacher Report). Music is far more fragmented and lends itself to natural market segmentation along the lines of genre and affinity level. With this in mind, music may be a more natural point of entry for StubHub. The category also lends itself to more creativity. Not that it will be easy. Hardcore fans in both categories can be brutally tough critics.

It’s an interesting challenge to recast a commerce marketplace as a source of content. One thing working in Freedman’s favor is the access to resources from StubHub parent eBay, a $70 billion public company. Anyone who’s paid attention to the publishing and new media world of late knows that there’s not a lot of money floating around, a fact that often leads to compromises in an effort to attract eyeballs and sell ads. StubHub has the luxury of taking its time and putting the reader ahead of the bottom line – at least initially.

Freedman also starts with massive amounts of traffic headed to StubHub.com, one of the 400 most popular websites in the US, according to the Alexa rankings. This is one reason he says there was never any consideration of creating a standalone brand for StubHub’s editorial initiatives. Today, this audience doesn’t view StubHub as a source of information and entertainment. But that impression can be changed if Freedman and his team can consistently deliver quality, differentiated content on the site.

“At the end of the day, we’re trying to use editorial to create a smarter, more engaged buyer,” Freedman says. “We want to remind fans why they love music and why they love sports.”