John Holmes is one of the true pioneers of online sports media, having worked continuously on big-time golf Web sites since 1994, when he was a co-founder of golf.com. Since 2002, he has been with Turner Sports Interactive, a division of Time Warner that produces such sites as PGATOUR.COM, NASCAR.com and NBA.com. As Interactive Producer, he focuses exclusively on golf properties.
Before getting into the online world, Holmes served a stint as a press secretary for a U.S. Congressman, created and produced events such as outdoor concerts and snow-skiing races, and worked extensively as a writer and editor for a variety of regional and national newspapers and magazines. Among his achievements are creating a special section on the 2000 PGA Championship for The New York Times, writing the first two editions of The Washington Post’s annual Golf Guide (now known as Swing) in the late 1990s and producing about a dozen semi-annual editions of the award-winning HTS Magazine for Home Team Sports, the Mid-Atlantic regional sports cable channel now known as Comcast Sports Net.
As the founding editor at golf.com, he played an integral role in many “firsts” in the online sports space. Among them were creating the first online golf shop, developing the first regularly scheduled online radio programming for golf, and even creating the first major old media/news media partnership in golf through golf.com’s groundbreaking equity partnerships with Golf Digest and NBC Sports. More recently, his Turner team has led the golf industry in creating specialized online video programming and developing social media platforms.
John is our guest for our Tuesday’s 10 Topics…..
1. Tell Us What Your Average Day is Like?
A: On the PGATOUR.COM side, we have two kinds of average days. On non-competition days (Mondays through Wednesdays), we’re focused on final preparations for that week’s events – and that includes the Champions Tour and Nationwide Tour – making sure we’re handling all the details from executing special advertising packages to coordinating with our on-site writers, in addition to creating a large amount of preview and feature content. On competition days, we’re focused on making sure we’re absolutely on top of everything going on at our events. On most of those days, we’re creating news, analysis, audio, video, photo galleries, even Twittering and updating our Facebook page from early morning to late night.
2. Tell Us About Your Career Path, Including Your Current Job?
A. I was a paid writer and editor on my college paper, co-founded a monthly newspaper for our Greek fraternity and sorority system and freelanced for magazines while I was still in school, and all that extra effort served me very well – I was able to start out at a medium-sized newspaper instead of the small ones that most of my peers went to, giving me a good head start up the career ladder.
I accomplished a lot in newspapers, magazines and corporate communications, but my real career-making opportunity came in the early 1990s when, as the editor of a Washington, D.C.-area golf magazine, I met Alex Miceli, who wanted to create a site on what would become the World Wide Web and wanted to use the content of my magazine. The owner thought Alex’s idea was crazy, but it really intrigued me. I got to know him, liked his thinking, invested some money and began working with him. Our effort became golf.com, one of the early success stories on the Web, as we landed NBC Sports and Golf Digest, among others, as equity partners.
In 1999, I joined the PGA of America to help grow their PGA.com site and operate their official sites for such events as the PGA Championship and Ryder Cup. I joined Turner Sports in 2002, when Turner acquired the operational rights to these sites.
This worked out for me because I was able to recognize a career-changing opportunity at a time when few other people would have seen the possibilities, and then was willing to take a big chance to make it happen. My wife half-jokes that I “paid to work for free” at that time, and I owe her a great deal for hanging in there during those early days when there were no steady paychecks. Not everyone has to take as big a chance as we did, but identifying – or creating – opportunities can make or break your career. Alex has done a bit of opportunity-making as well – he’s now a personality on the Golf Channel!
3. What Was the Best Advice You Ever Received?
A. I’ll turn this around and call it the best advice I could offer. And that is to be sure to keep your eyes and your mind open at all times, because you never know when or where opportunities will arise. That doesn’t mean to be constantly trying to job-hop, but rather to be aware of what is going on around you and in your areas of interest.
4. What Are Your Top Sports Memories You Are Most fond of Telling Others?
A. My sports claim to fame is pretty hilarious. I hit the walkoff home run to upset the dominant team in our Little League. Sounds great if I stop the story there. The truth is, I hit a screaming line drive that went through the opposing shortstop’s legs on the fly. The ball somehow also scooted through the left fielder’s legs. He finally tracked the ball down – there was no outfield fence, so it rolled forever – and threw it back to the shortstop. As I headed for home, I saw the shortstop’s relay throw go sailing not only over my head but also completely over the backstop and into the parking lot. So I hit the game-winning home run, but only thanks to three errors on the defense!
Seriously, I feel very fortunate to have been heavily involved in producing the online coverage of every Ryder Cup since 1995, and I can say without doubt that every one of those events has been special. I’ve been to numerous majors plus World Series and Super Bowls and the like, and there is just nothing like the electricity of a Ryder Cup. Personally, I prefer the “away” matches in places like England and Spain and Ireland. As fired up as the American crowds are, the European golf fans and media live and breathe the Ryder Cup 52 weeks a year and their passion makes those occasions incomparable.
5. Describe the Areas of Opportunity for Growth in Your Business?
A. On the macro level, some opportunities lie in potentially adding other big clients to the PGA TOUR, the NBA and NASCAR in our stable, but that level of corporate wheeling and dealing is far above my pay grade. On the micro level, we see promising opportunities in creating new editorial products in areas such as video and social media that can generate additional revenue for us and provide more value for our users.
6. What Kind of Advice Would You Give Someone Who One Day Wants a Position Like Yours?
A. All of our site producers can write as well as produce, so proficiency in journalism is as important as proficiency in production – and besides, learning the production system is easier than learning how to write! That said, we have a lot of technically oriented people on our multimedia (audio and video) and leaderboard teams as well as our program managers, whose organizational and “mothering” skills are as important as their technical skills. So while our team is really fairly small, there are several avenues in. My advice is to start by contacting the offices of individual tournaments on all the various tours to see if they have production, editorial or technical needs you might be able to fill.
7. Name 1-3 Mentors You have Had and Why They’ve Had an Impact
A. Sorry to say, I have never had a real mentor. I’ve kind of muddled through on my own and tried to recognize good ideas and good opportunities when they’ve come along. I feel very fortunate that I began my career as a writer for newspapers and magazines, and was able to meet a lot of very different people and learn about a lot of different things.
8. How Has the Economy Affected Your Business?
A. We’ve been affected like everyone else and had to work harder on a week-in and week-out basis. But we are fortunate in that we’ve been able to secure sufficient sponsorship for our biggest events, and the credit for that belongs to the excellent sales team at Turner Sports Interactive.
9. Finish This Thought: People Wanting to Work in Sports Should Do the Following:
A. 1. Make sure they truly want to work in the field. Sports is an incredibly competitive arena, which means that getting in is more often difficult than most other fields. Also, because of this the pay in many cases isn’t as good as it is elsewhere. 2. Realize that you’ll likely start at the bottom, with smaller teams or leagues or organizations, requiring you to fight your way up. 3. Expect to work nights, weekends and even holidays when the need arises, which it often will, and immerse yourself in your sport. Think of your job as not a job but a lifestyle.
10. If I Had It To Do All Over Again, I Would…..
A.: … do something completely different. As interesting and educational as my journey through the online golf world has been, I’m very interested in a lot of different things and would love to have had the time to explore some of those as a career.