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Conference Realignment Puts Orangebloods.com On The map

Since June 3, Chip Brown says he has lost 12 pounds, hasn't eaten much and didn't spend much time on a pillow either. But the former Dallas Morning News reporter has a lot to show for it.

OrangeBloods.com
Source: orangebloods.com
OrangeBloods.com

Starting with his initial story that day that was the first to detail a possible move by six Big XII schools to the Pac-10, Brown has broken nearly every part of the college realignment story that resulted in a new 10-team Big XII with Colorado leaving for the Pac-10 and Nebraska going to the Big Ten.

In the process, he put the Rivals site Orangebloods.com — not known outside of Texas circles — on the map.

It's quite possible that there's never been a story like this, with so many tentacles, that was so dominated by someone outside the mainstream media. Despite all its sources, ESPN was forced to cite Orangebloods.com until the very end, which included a brief time when the Worldwide Leader reported that the Big XII teams, including Texas, would in fact go to the Pac-10. Orangebloods.com reported that was not the case and turned out to be right.

It remains to be seen how much of a business boost the Rivals site, which Brown partially owns, will receive from the constant publicity. Brown, who hosts a radio show on an ESPN radio affiliate in Austin, said he has done 60 radio interviews as well as making numerous TV appearances, including on ESPN.

In order to give themselves the best chance to capitalize off the site's success, Brown and publisher Geoff Ketchum made every one of the stories on the normally pay-per-click site free and offered free subscriptions to anyone who wanted to sample Orangebloods.com for the summer. Brown says that resulted in about 700 new subscriptions that put their subscriber base at 10,700, surpassing Alabama's Rivals site as the top site on the Yahoo network of the heavily populated message board sites.

Brown says he hopes that at least 50 percent remain members of the site for $10 a month and he now hopes that Texas football fans know of the site, that was created 10 years ago.

"There are 100,000 people in Darrell K. Royal Stadium and only 10,000 people know who we are," Brown said. "We're hoping that the 100,000 fans that pack the place on Saturday now know of Orangebloods.com and understand that for 30 cents a day they can get better coverage than what they get in the newspaper."

Subscriptions are not the only revenue stream for the site. Brown and Ketchum are launching an aggressive advertising business that aims to get as many Austin-based businesses on board to advertise on the site for as little as $2,500. "We've proved we're the place where Texas fans come to get their football news," Brown said. "So why wouldn't people want to be affiliated with us?"

Brown says he's never quite been involved in a story like this and that includes the Branch Davidian standoff he covered for the Associated Press in 1993. He frequently left his radio show unannounced when he was being called back by sources. "If you walked away from this story for an hour, you could fall behind," Brown said.

But fall behind Brown never did. His updates were so coveted that he saw a huge rise of his following on Twitter. On June 3, the day he broke the first story, he had roughly 1,800 followers. Twelve days later, Brown's Twitter handle (@ChipBrownOB) is followed by more than 12,000 people, an increase of 570 percent.

One of the reasons why Orangebloods.com could own the story the way it did was because of Brown's background. He wasn't just some blogger who had a couple names in his rolodex. After spending 17 years covering football for the University of Texas, including 10 for the Dallas Morning News, he left for the Rivals site before the 2008 football season after sensing that the decline of the newspaper world would force him to cover something other than Texas football. He received a salary and a portion of the site's revenues.

Even though his name was well known, the stigma of not being with a traditional media outlet stung him. Texas wouldn't fully credential him until he did a Rivals Big XII blog and he still doesn't get a season pass to Texas basketball games. We're assuming that will change.

Brown is proud of his work on this story. "I hope this is a message to the message board sites that they have to be accurate and to be good over time," Brown said. "Newspapers are in trouble and this where the next generation of readers are getting their news from."

As time went on, Brown, who had seen very little of his family throughout the last two weeks, was able to get a laugh near the end. His two-year-old daughter Maggie, who recently underwent open heart surgery, said to him, "Daddy, did you break another story?" He told her he did.

Brown's reporting ultimately chronicled the fact that the Big XII would allow Texas to have its own network while sharing in the conference TV pie. So will Texas starting its own TV network further lock out reporters like Brown from getting the meaty details on the program?

Said Brown: "We think we can be even more valuable. We have a lot of sources within the program."

And at this point, I don't think anyone is going to doubt that.

Update: Some critics wrote in saying Brown's call that "the Big XII is dead," which he repeated on ESPN last week turned out to be an erroneous report. Brown says that's not the case and he stands by his reporting. "At the time it was right," Brown said. "Texas called a meeting and the coaches were informed that with Nebraska"s move to the Big Ten, Texas would be going to the Pac-10."

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com

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