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Sellout Crowd Lays-Off Staff and Is Officially on the Ropes…

Well, I guess selling out isn’t as easy as some people thought!

Yesterday afternoon, the Oklahoma City sports media scene learned that – the Toby Keith and Bob Stoops-backed sports media website that arrogantly announced its arrival back in August – has parted ways with a good chunk of its content creators and beat writers.  

The scene unfolded like a sad melodrama on Xitter, with content creator after content creator begrudgingly announcing they’ve hit the local sports media waiver wire, even though they were allegedly promised the start-up had three years of funding to cover salaries.

Todd Lisenbee – a longtime OKC morning radio voice – was the first to announce his free agency.

I don’t know what Todd was promised, but based on the delusional grandeur of the Sellout Crowd ad deck that was making the rounds this past summer, I bet it was the unrealistic potential to make a lot of money:

After Todd announced his departure, other content creators followed suit. 

OU beat writer Eli Lederman and something called the Hutchens Twins both announced they were kicked off the team. They were followed by Brett Dawson – a guy who quit his job in the Love’s communications department to cover the Thunder for the publication:

Yep, with spring football and the NBA playoffs right around the corner, Sellout got rid of their beat writers.

Ignore the silliness of a local media start-up even bringing on team beat writers when social media provides an endless stream of news, analysis, and video highlights to keep people informed and entertained, that can’t be a good sign for a publication’s financial health!

In addition to beat writers, the website also parted ways with former Tulsa World sports columnist turned former Sellout Crowd sports columnist Guerin Emig. 

He hopped on a soap box and implored his followers to feel some sympathy for the affected employees, which we should, and absolutely not question any of their decisions to take a flier on a website with the website's shaky at best business plan:

Finally, Mike Koehler – the brainchild of the Sellout Crowd – announced he was stepping away from his operational role with publication. 

When Mike launched the website, he wrote that he wasn't sure if he was "tearing down the world of print journalism" or "saving it." Since the world of print journalism was already destroyed and most of Sellout's staff was laid off yesterday, I think the answer is neither.

Here's what he said:

Yep. He deems booting yourself and your staff members from a project six months after is started as a "successful launch." I'd really hate to know what he thinks is unsuccessful!

I don’t have a full list of everyone who was let go yesterday, but I do know that Berry Tramel and Jenni Carlson were kept on the team payroll where they can continue to float around in local sports purgatory.  

This is despite both of them being the big-named, heavily promoted hires, and both failing to deliver even a fraction of the breaking news scoops, general interest, or content required to prop up a publication of Sellout’s size.

They wished their former colleagues the best of awkward luck:

Not to pull a Regular Jim Traber and give it up to myself, but I questioned Sellout Crowd’s business plan and long-term validity from the get-go. 

In honor of Mike Steely, it wasn’t a bold prediction or anything. I'm not good at Craig Humphreys's new math, but the numbers just didn't add up.

Based on the ad pitch deck, articles like this, and interviews like these, you could tell Mike Koehler, Kris Murray, and other people involved with SelloutCrowd were totally disconnected and aloof from the sad realities of both internet publishing and advertising. 

They envisioned a fantasy world where local advertisers fork over thousands and thousands of dollars for sponsored content and banner ads, when they can easily purchase more focused and effective advertising with Google, Facebook and TikTok at a fraction of the cost. 

Sadly, that world doesn't exist.

Unless you’re backed by fat pockets that don’t care if they lose money, the only way for a local media start-up to make it today is to start small, stay lean, and grow your audience organically.

Then, once you reach a certain point, you try to monetize it through both reader subscriptions and advertising. When and if you do reach those heights, you're welcomed by a new reality – you still have to hustle and grind each day to sustain it and make it work.

Sellout Crowd took the opposite approach.

Instead of lean and organic, they went bloated and forced, trying to be everything, everywhere, all at once. They foolishly figured you could buy web traffic, social media influence, and podcast downloads with fancy bus ads, lavish launch parties, and riveting videos like this:

Even with the recent layoffs, I’m still not high on Sellout Crowd's long-term prospects.

As I mentioned, start-ups need fat pockets to make it, and as you may recall, the site’s big financial backer – Toby Keith – passed away last month. 

I don’t know if Toby’s passing was connected with Sellout’s Black Monday, but it wouldn’t surprise me. He had a passion for Oklahoma sports and I could see how owning an Oklahoma sports media outlet with his pal Coach Stoops could be an item on his bucket list. Now that Toby’s drinking out of Red Solo Cups in heaven, do the people who manage his estate feel the same way? 

I could be wrong, but I doubt it.  

With Toby gone, you have to wonder if Bob Stoops still wants to prop up and subsidize the Sellout website, especially when he can easily produce his YouTube show – Conversations with Coach – at a fraction of the cost and still reach the same audience. 

For example, does he really need the Sellout Crowd brand to talk to Blake Bell on YouTube while taking a break from coaching his minor league football team?

Anyway, I guess we’ll continue to wait around and see what happens with whatever’s left of Sellout Crowd. 

I have a feeling it will soon join Wimgo in the Oklahoma Website Cemetary very soon, but who knows? 

In the meantime, I would like to offer my condolences to the people who were laid off, and, I imagine, sold a very false bill of goods. I know firsthand just how much anxiety being riffed can bring. I also know firsthand how inadvertently beneficial it can be for your career. 

Stay with The Lost Ogle. We’ll keep you advised. 

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