Without a doubt, the writers for The Guardian are some of the best soccer writers in the world. Their podcast is first class. And even for an American like myself their writers and collaborators are well known: Sid Lowe, Jonathan Wilson, Raphael Honigstein, and others. So the fact that they want to contribute more to soccer’s already rich history should be greeted with open arms and excitement. Thus, The Blizzard, a new quarterly football publication.
The story of how the idea for The Blizzard was generated is also quite excellent. Sitting in a pub, watching a soccer match, they agree upon the concept over a pint. I have often tried to replicate that experiment, and have yet to come up with anything as interesting.
The Blizzard is a collection of stories, analyses, and essays on a wide variety of soccer topics. And when I say wide variety, I mean wide variety. You move across the continents and timeline covering everything but the informal soccer league that must exist in Antarctica. Wilson explains that while watching the match he and his colleagues argued over the best format to contribute more in-depth soccer content to the sports world, and he hits on some deeper points that define the problems with the modern media. They dismissed writing a book because the time commitment and length of time to put it together wouldn’t accomplish what they hoped, but a magazine wouldn’t allow the depth needed and required a more solid business plan and regular content. Wilson relates, “I’d come to realise I wasn’t the only one who felt journalism as a whole was missing something, that there should be more space for more in-depth pieces, for detailed reportage, history and analysis. Was there a way, I wondered, to accommodate articles of several thousand words?” Their way was to self-publish a collection of these writings from a variety of excellent writers on topics they enjoyed.
Before critiquing their business model, I want to touch on the content. As a bit of background, my favorite magazine is The Atlantic, because the writers have the freedom to write on a variety of topics and dive in-depth to a degree that newspapers or lighter magazines wouldn’t allow. In many ways The Blizzard emulates this model. The writers take a topic and, no matter how mundane, they dive into it. For example, Andy Brassell dives into the tragic history of Corsica’s football clubs and how the political situation ties into the supporters’ violent behavior. Michael Cox explains how New Labour’s political strategy is like Dennis Bergkamp’s playing style under Arsene Wenger. The kind of conversations we all have at a bar, right?
Of course The Blizzard covers more common topics, like a point/counterpoint between Ouriel Daskal and Raphael Honigstein on the merits of the much-discussed European Super League, with Daskal encouraging the Super League because it would emulate the commercial success of the National Football League. His argument is weak, but there may be some personal bias leaking into my analysis. Regardless, the content is diverse considering the limited writing pool. Europe logically has the most articles (19 out of 25 by this author’s count) but the they do discuss Argentina, the Portland Timbers of MLS, Chinese soccer, and the exploitation of African national teams. There is a fictional account of Iain Macintosh managing a lower division German team, inspired by Football Manager. While all but one of the stories are factual, they range from analysis of matches (Jonathan Wilson breaking down Crvena Zvezda’s historic European Cup semi-final win), rankings (Rob Smyth’s listing of the European Cup’s most unexpected results), and editorial/philosophical musings (Gabriele Marcotti’s thoughts on whether doping is ethical).
Of course no discussion of The Blizzard is complete without a discussion of the pay-for. Let me start by noting that figuring out how to get people to pay for premier content is a struggle for all media types: how to have people pay for (and how much they should pay for) content that is above and beyond anything else that can be found on the Internet. Even the EPL Talk Network is going through this process with EPL Talk Pro: the content behind the pay-wall is far and away better than anything else found on the Internet for free, so how should people compensate the site for that content? The Blizzard’s system is more flexible. Issue Zero was pay what you want; Issue One (coming out in June) has a recommended price of 10 pounds; a subscription of four issues is 30 pounds in Britain, 40 in Europe, and 50 outside of Europe. The digital or recurring rate (one issue every three months) has a recommended price of ten pounds per issue plus shipping costs if you want a hard copy. This is the cost of a full size book and, at least in the U.S., more expensive than a regular magazine.
So, the ten pound question: is it worth it? My answer is very political: possibly. Issue Zero is an excellent read with content beyond what can be found in almost any other medium; even though the writing style was similar throughout, I found myself enjoying every story. I applaud Jonathan Wilson and his colleagues for branching out and trying something different, something to contribute to the soccer library without primarily aiming to line their pockets.
My suggestion for subsequent issues is to diversify the authors even further: bring in a Grant Wahl, Steven Goff, or even some bloggers to diversify the topics beyond Europe. Maybe they are planning to do this. I also want to see if this is sustainable – can these writers continue to pour their efforts into this pursuit without a definite income stream or subscriber base? The price is a bit high, especially when conversion rates are factored for a non-British audience. I may eventually be a consistent subscriber, but for now may send some money for Issues One and Two to see if they have the same high quality of Issue Zero. If they do, I may consider subscribing. For now though I will save Issue Zero and enjoy this wonderful experiment, no matter what comes of it.