Advanstar Communications has decided to pull the plug on Off-Road.com. It will cease operations at the end of December with all remaining employees to be released in early January. What was started over 15 years ago by Pattie Waters and her husband and perhaps possessing the single most valuable web address in the world of off-road media will come to an end.
Always an odd-duck within the Advanstar portfolio of companies (fashion, doctors, healthcare), the off-road market was something I don't think they ever got a handle on how to operate properly. Hell, as they tried reworking and reworking their strategy in regards to off-road.com at the emphasis went from "We have to have forums!!", to "We have to have video!!", to "We have to have girls in skimpy outfits!!" and as a last gasp this past fall—"We have to do social media!!"...I knew the end was near with this final attempt, I mean, what were they looking to do here?? Tweet about the latest trail? the latest off-road results? Even the biggest and best companies in the world have yet to figure out how to monetize social media in any sort of relevant way, so why did Advanstar think they could do it with off-road?
I think even the Advanstar management realized this in the last few weeks and finally just threw their hands up in the air and said "That's it...we quit..."
How smart does this development make Jim Ryan, Marty Fiolka and the rest of the crew over at Dirt Sports make? Less than a year ago they bought Dirt Sports out from under the Advanstar banner and set off on their own course. While still sharing some employees and some advertising, Dirt Sports is its own viable (I believe) entity, driven and purchased by a dedicated group of enthusiasts. They don't appear to be trying to grow themselves too big or too quickly—they know where their expertise lies, they focus on it, and they don't seem to care if others don't "get it". Well done to them.
Where this development leaves Advanstar's other Off-Road businesses (Off-Road Expo, Off-Road Impact) is up to debate, as is the remainder (2 Wheel Tuner, etc.) of Advanstar's other motorsports businesses. Also unknown is what is to happen to the over 15 years of data, reviews, articles, advice, results and more that is contained within the Off-Road.com archives. Does Advanstar just wipe the servers clean, seeing no use for the old data or do they sell it all off (along with the off-road.com URL) to an interested third party?
Now at a cheap enough price I could see Dirt Sports management buying it up and using it all as a platform off of which to run a Dirt Sports website—supposedly in development for nearly a year now but with little/nothing visible to show for it. Now, does the Jim Ryan Communications Group have ANY interest in running an online site or do they just want to stick with what they do best and make sure they run their magazine as best they can?
There is something to be said for being small, agile and focused. Off-Road.com perhaps failed to succeed in part because it tried to be everything to everybody. It tried to cover events, provide product reviews, give a forum to enthusiasts, support off-road conservation efforts, and ran articles about darn near EVERYTHING in the off-road world (snowmobiles, motorcycles, UTVs, rock crawlers, rally racing, desert racing, etc.)—it just spread itself too thin, never becoming the "go to" site for any one group.
Finally I'd like to thank the people at Off-Road.com, specifically Pattie Waters and Josh Burns for giving me my first step into the world of online off-road journalism/opinion and in part (ironically) resulting in this site and post today.