September 15 2016 03:00PM
This is a tale of trial and error, failure, determination, and triumph. Oh and fancy advanced statistics. So many fancy statistics.
Back in 2010 the fledgling Nation Network had 3 sites. OilersNation, FlamesNation and CanucksArmy. We had been in business for 3 years at this point and considered ourselves Google without the revenue.
At the time Young Wanye thought it might be a good idea to try buying a statistics website that could compliment our team sites. After consultation with Kent Wilson a phone call was placed to the founder of NHLnumbers.com.
That call consisted of begging and pleading on our part and we made him an offer for his site and asked he “train us up on how to manage your site for one season. During that time we will rebuild NHLNumbers.com completely and then we will take over its operation. How hard can that be?”
Pity the founder of NHLnumbers. The only reason he sold us his site in the first place is that he is a fancy engineer who also happens to love hockey and statistics. Engineering was taking up more of his time and offloading his site to a little company that was looking to make it’s first acquisition made sense. At the time we had about 1.7 million visitors a year and the purchase of NHLNumbers took us to just over 4 million visitors annually.
Did he get the break he so badly wanted? Surely not. 6 years later we have effectively the exact same site and he is still dutifully updating it and hasn’t complained once. What a great guy.
One year later we decided to hire a FT developer to rebuild NHLNumbers at NationHQ - which at the time was a condo illegally converted into an office. While the team was ducking the building manager and were hard at work doing whatever people did in 2011 - listening to Lady Gaga mostly - we neglected to notice that our new developer friend was building something entirely different than what we had asked for.
It wasn’t until the site rebuild was "complete" that we realized we had just burned a big ol’ basket of money. The irony that NHLnumbers was used to measure money wasted on bad NHL salaries was not lost on us.
Citizen Alpha: “Yeah so that guy you hired pretty much botched this entire job. Its garbage. Wanye are you listening to anything I’m saying?
Wanye: “BAAAAABY I WAS BORN THISSSS WAYYYYYYYYY”
By 2014 Network traffic was 30 million visitors a year and Nation HQ (now legit hidden in a Fountain Tire store) was abuzz because of our acquisition of DailyFaceOff.com. NHLnumbers was getting pantsed by CapGeek (eternally the greatest resource site online) and anyone bringing up a second NHLNumbers rebuild in meetings was met with cruel stares. I was eventually tasked to reach out to stats geniuses and see if we could find someone to work with to make NHLnumbers “better. Great even.”
Trying to build bridges with academics is a difficult business. They divide the world in two camps: “those who get it and those who don’t.” Picture your ol' pal Wanye having calls with every advanced stats expert that could be tracked down. I don’t even believe in counting past 8 and strongly suspect decimals were invented by Wall Street to sell deodorant. For a summer we tried to convince someone to sign on to the project and be paid to help us rebuild our stats site. For a summer we were rebuffed by every single party.
Tail between our legs we abandoned our efforts to work with the advanced stats folks and went instead with a fancy consulting company in Toronto. The fall was spent carefully spec’ing out what the best stats site would look like and handing it over to the company in Toronto along with a cheque that looked like we had bought a controlling interest in the International Space Station.
Two full years later the fancy company in Toronto had officially failed at their job and no longer even answered our frantic phone calls. “WHERE THE HELL IS NHLNUMBERS WE SPENT ENOUGH MONEY TO HAVE HIRED TOM GILBERT FOR A SEASON OR TWO"
With expensive contractors failing come expensive lawyers. “You are entitled to nothing Wanye” came their expensive opinion. “You can sue but it’s basically buyer beware at all times and you bought but did not beware.”
And so NHLnumbers continued to sit, providing the same statistics it did back in 2010, managed by the original founder of the site. Failed projects like this can weigh on your mind like a Cam Barker signing. But life must go on, like it did for Cam Barker.
The summer started with a lot of yelling and threats among the team at NationHQ (now at Little Brick) before putting a bullet in the fancy consultant’s project and walking away from a second pile of NHLNumbers money that was lost forever.
There was only one place to turn. Only one person who could help us if only we could convince him that we were good people who weren’t interested in meddling in his affairs. We were more into taking what he had built smashing in what we want to build and pushing it to millions of hockey fans around the world.
Cue the old routine. The pestering. The many emails and phone calls. The pleading and wild promises. And cue the results.
GENERAL FANAGER JOINS THE NATION NETWORK
Oh snaaaaaaap! GeneralFanager.com - the best salary site in the business - is the 11th site in the Nation Network. Even better site creator Tom Poraszka will be joining our team in a full time capacity as the Director of Statistics and Resources. It’s a match made in hockey internet nerd heaven.
In this partnership we will work together to improve and manage our 3 resource sites: DailyFaceOff.com, GeneralFanager.com and NHLNumbers.com. Each site will have it’s own voice and statistics and we will work to integrate their data with one another and show it in a way that enriches the experience for everyone. We will improve the sites one at a time with Tom at the helm and finally the founder of NHLnumbers will get the break he was promised 6 years ago.
Wanye: Welcome to the Nation Network. How does it feel to immediately be the smartest guy on the team?
Tom: Fantastic. Should be easy to introduce my weekly “wallet inspections” on all of you. It’s a good thing there isn’t a General Fanager page tracking how fat my bank account is about to get from those inspections. But really, @fanagerbot is really the smartest guy on the team. That Twitter bot is about to rule the Nation.
Wanye: What made you launch General Fanager? What did you want it to become?
Tom: I was sad to see CapGeek shut down around the very unfortunate circumstances. I was a big fan of CapGeek, used it often and I wanted to pursue something I loved as a hobby to learn a web-programming language. It made for easy motivation to learn, and I had a lot of fun doing it. I didn’t really expect much of it, other than that I wanted a resource that I could use (and other like-minded fans) to be able to access the information I had become so used to using.
I underestimated how many “like-minded fans” there are. People took to the site and expressed love for some of the new things I did to build on what CapGeek had started. Those people (#fanagers) continue to use the site A LOT. It’s humbling but also very, very motivating. It’s easy to work on something you love, it’s even easier to work on something that a swarm of like-minded hockey nerds also love.
Wanye: General Fanager is killing it. I heard people in the hockey world send you info on the DL and you talk to TV executives and all sorts of other interesting things. Did you think the site would do as well as it did in it’s first 18 months?
Tom: Heck no. I’ve done product launches and site launches before. It’s incredibly hard to get people to come to something that they don’t know. But it was easy to see how much people missed CapGeek. The hockey community took to our efforts quickly and people in the industry were quickly willing to support our efforts because they saw the value in it.
I still have moments where I’m surprised at the source of a text message, call or email. It’s still very surreal that they have any interest in talking to me. But people in hockey are really great, and I’m very thankful for all the people that have appreciated the work that’s went into the site and pushed it along in any way they can.
What made you do a deal with the Nation Network? What do you want to get out of the relationship?
Tom: I was not pursuing selling my site. I honestly have never really known where I was going with the site and what the end goal was. That’s been probably the only constant since I launched.
The end goal wasn’t important, I’ve just enjoyed having a part in providing information that fans like me love having. The goal has always been to continue to build on that. Give those fans information and tools that they love to use, and maybe that they had no idea they could ever have access to.
That is a goal that the Nation Network clearly shares, and it’s what continues to excite me about the possibilities with this. It’s not about anything but the possibility to build something uniquely great for hockey fans, and it’s something I can’t wait to be a part of.
Oh, and I also hear the secret to all of the Oilers draft lottery luck is held somewhere in the Nation Network vaults. I want me a piece of that. (Wanye hint: It's a giant ball of Oilers hair I've been secretly harvesting from shower drains at Rexall Place since 2008)
And so we welcome our 11th site to the Nation Network and salute our new BFF Tom for believing in us enough to join the team full time. We are truly committed to making the best experience possible for Citizens of the Nation and expect our traffic to be around 100 million visitors in the next 12 months.