Interview: Tony De Bolfo, Managing
Editor, The SportsVine
By Greg Tingle 27th March 2003
What is the history of The SportsVine?
SportsVine is Australia's first weekly online subscription
news service reporting the industry and business of
sport. It boasts 2000 subscribers/triallists and has
developed a loyal core of more than 10,000 readers
(est.) across the country since its inaugural edition
of June 3, 1999.
have served The SportsVine since day one under its
then editorial manager, Pip Bulbeck. Pip later relinquished
duties to Andrew Dent, before I took over as editor
on the eve of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.
August 2002, the then publisher TSE Group transferred
The SportsVine and its assets to myself. My company,
The SportsVine pty ltd now manages the news service.
your sports and media background?
more than 20 years I have reported sport, having previously
worked newspapers including the Herald Sun and The
Australian. I was a less than handy schoolboy footballer
for Parade College and later, for Old Paradians in
the Victorian Amateur Football Association.
and why did you break into journalism?
had always strived to work as a journalist, preferably
in sport, as it was a means of maintaining some direct
involvement given my limited sporting ability. I also
appreciated the art of writing and as my exam results
testified, I knew early on in the piece that I wasnt
going to be a mathematician.
journalists today require a certain level of tertiary
education as a pathway to the profession, it wasnt
the case back in late 1981. That was when my dear
mother, Maureen, referred me to an advertisement in
The Age newspaper seeking
a copy boy to serve at Melbournes Truth
newspaper under the editorship of the late Owen Thompson.
Having unsuccessfully endeavoured to secure employment
at both The Age and the
then Sun newspapers at
that time, I acted on Mums efforts and was fortunately
rewarded with the position. Truth boasted a relatively
small newspaper office and as such was very much hands
on. And, after a six-month tenure as copy boy, I was
subsequently promoted to cadet journalist which, in
turn led to wonderful experiences reporting news firstly
in the courts and, later, sports.
are the aims and objectives of The SportsVine?
editorial team's mandate is to provide the latest
key business developments in sport within Australia
and around the world. As such, The SportsVine has
trumpeted a myriad of national and international exclusive
reports, not the least of which was UK firm Sportsworld's
interest in acquiring control of the NBL
(The SportsVine, May 31, 2001) and Netball Australia
president Sue Taylor's formal proposal that pregnant
women be banned from participating in elite competition
(The Sports Vine, June 7, 2001).
SportsVine has, in sporting parlance, "done the
hard yards". Its brand is now widely-known and
respected amongst key sports industry sectors, including
government sports departments both state and federal,
sporting authorities, institutions and non-profit
organisations, as well as corporate entities
boasting a vested interest in sport through sponsorship.
are some of your biggest clients, and what were some
of the key elements that saw them come aboard?
SportsVines subscribers include the Australian
Sports Commission, Australian Institute of Sport,
Australian Grand Prix Corporation, Athletics Australia,
Netball Australia, Softball Australia, Melbourne Cricket
Club, Carlton Football Club, adidas Salomon, IMG,
Fox Sports, Telstra Stadium, Suncorp Stadium, Freehills,
Lander & Rogers, HOK + LOBB Sport and networks
Nine and Ten.
We too have an extensive range of local and community-based
sports organisations that are keen to be kept abreast
of the issues facing sports business today.
has the sports reporting and publishing business changed
over years, and who do you see the relationship between
online and offline media?
sports profile has steadily increased, so too
has sports coverage, to the point that, to quote HG
Nelson, too much sport is barely enough. But in many
respects it has reached saturation level, and in many
respects I am glad I am no longer reporting on-field
happenings for mainstream media given the cut-throat
nature of the profession.
example, when I was employed by The Sun back in 1989,
journalists all worked towards a common cause. It
mattered not as to whose byline appeared as long as
the newspaper got the story. Today journalists compete
against eachother within the organisation, and there
is no level playing field. Hidden agendas often dictate
where, when and how stories appear, and nepotism is
covered team sports for two decades, I left mainstream
print media somewhat disillusioned as it was my firm
belief that the team ethic no longer applied and people
put their own selfish interests before those of the
were the challenges when you took on the position
of editor, just prior to the 2000 Sydney Olympics?
funny, I took on the editorship of The SportsVine
with a great deal of trepidation as it was barely
a fortnight before the Games and I honestly felt Id
been thrown in at the deep end. In retrospect the
timing couldnt have been better, as all the
big business deals for the Games had already been
well and truly locked away, and so I was eased into
the editorship of the sports business service.
elevation to the editorship meant I wasnt able
to attend the Games, but now that The SportsVine has
established itself three years on, its been
well worth the sacrifice.
do you think Melbourne generally gets more live crowds
dont think its a secret that Melbourne
crowds are truly passionate about most sports, particularly
those involving the best. Melburnians of my generation
and those older and younger have been weaned on sport.
In my case Ive been a lifelong supporter of
AFL club, Carlton, having been indoctrinated as an
eight year-old by my father who in turn was
indoctrinated by his father an Italian migrant
who first settled in Carlton and first saw the Blues
play in 1930.
other factor is location, location, location. After
all, the MCG, Rod Laver Arena, Telstra Dome and the
Glasshouse are all within walking distance of the
Melbourne CBD, and all are truly user-friendly amenities.
exactly are people becoming aware of your service?
we are only a small news service with a tight budget
we cannot outlay a lot of money on sponsorship or
advertising. To that end were totally reliant
on word of mouth and thankfully enough people are
thinking highly enough of The SportsVine to seek us
out. That is solely based on what weve done
in the four years since The SportsVine was established
and for that were truly grateful.
is your unique value proposition?
like to think that The SportsVine can provide organisations
with relevant business intelligence that they
can in turn act upon to further their own business
has your online presence helped you?
The SportsVine was and still is a weekly news service,
the new website www.thesportsvine.com also allows
us to get the message out there to a broader audience
the most interesting story you have ever reported
would have to say it was breaking the news of former
world featherweight champion John Famechons
horrific road accident in Sydney. Fammo,
who was always punctual, failed to front at the Preston
Town Hall to present the John Famechon Medal to the
best amateur boxer this particular evening, and the
alarm bells rang. After making a few inquiries I discovered
that Fammo was fighting for his life in
a Sydney hospital, and no-one knew who he was. This
was because that Fammo was out jogging
in his tracksuit when a car hit him, and at that critical
moment carried no identification.
story was a world exclusive, but the then editor of
the newspaper for which I reported wasnt a sports
enthusiast and news of Fammos accident
was buried on page two.
responsibilities do you think professional athletes
have to the community and as role models?
do think we demand an awful lot of our athletes, particularly
those in non-team sports, but society now demands
certain standards both on and off the field to which
all athletes must abide.
you think there is too much pressure on Australian
athletes in regard to what they do off the field?
do you think the credibility of sport has suffered
in the past few years, and what do you think the solution
recall the Australian Sports Commissions CEO
Mark Peters, in an interview published in The SportsVine
last December, stating that one of the gravest issues
facing sport was the issue of credibility, given the
incidence of abuse of umpires and officials, drugs,
flagrant club breaches of salary caps, etc. To their
credit, national sporting organisations are leading
the way by putting structures in place to safeguard
sports future against such practices.
journalists do you respect the most?
envy the great feature writers, most notably Geoff
Wells, Les Carlyon and Garry Linnell.
you ever received a death threat?
although I would like to think it was an idle threat.
Without going into too much detail, I had it on good
authority some years ago that an athlete implicated
in a drugs-in-sport scandal actually had the drug
illegally injected by his mother, a registered nurse.
When the athlete later discovered Id contacted
his mother with the allegation, he threatened to kill
me. Im still not sure if he was joking.
the wisest piece of advice you have ever been given?
have to commend the then news editor of Truth, Geoff
Hawkeye Hawthorne, for a sound piece of
advice he gave me more than 20 years ago. It came
after I covered a court case involving a baby and
while I cannot recall the specific details of the
case, I do remember the word bassinette
being mentioned in evidence.
cut a long story short, on returning to the office
and sitting down to write the story I remember striking
a snag with the word and asking Geoff how to spell
came the reply. Keep it simple.
never forgotten that particularly now, where
online news definitely demands a greater economy of
words of advice would you give an athlete looking
to secure sponsorship?
athlete should get out there and seek a person-to-person
meeting with the prospective sponsor (as the diver,
Dean Pullar, has done to great effect). Further, if
the athlete participated in Sydney 2000 he or she
ought to target an Olympic sponsor, reminding that
if he or she was thought of highly enough to be sponsored
during the Games then he or she should be financially
supported out of competition when its needed
on the subject, I have to commend Adam Gilchrist for
his subtle useage of orange keepers gloves,
orange batting gloves and orange sunglasses during
the recent World Cup of cricket in South Africa. Gilchrist
boasts an extremely lucrative arrangement with Orange
and while the World Cup was stringently policed against
ambush marketing, the governing authority could hardly
ban a colour even though the colour in this
particular instance represented the brand that sponsors
the best and worst example of sportsmanship you have
seen or covered?
Landy-Clarke incident at Olympic Park, where John
Landy stopped to help Ron Clarke to his feet in a
mid-race stumble, remains the best example of sportsmanship
50 years after it took place. Its more difficult
to pinpoint the worst example, although the underarm
incident at the MCG earns a dishonourable mention.
do you manage the balance between sports reporting
and having a social life, or do you find there is
a certain crossover?
The SportsVine is distributed of a Thursday morning,
Thursdays and Fridays tend to be the less frenetic
days of the week which is perfect leading into
the weekend. In recent years I have taken advantage
of these two days to complete my writings of books
recently-released by Harper CollinsPublishers. The
first book, Silvagni,
covers the career of the recently-retired Carlton
full-back, Stephen Silvagni. The second, In
Search of Kings, deals with what became of
105 passengers who, together with my grandfather and
his two brothers, disembarked the passenger ship Re
dItalia (King of Italy) in Melbourne from Italy
on Thursday, November 24, 1927. This book was launched
on November 24 2002 75 years to the day that
the ship arrived with more than 220 people,
many of them descendants of the passengers themselves,
that the books have been published, I can devote more
time to helping my wife Kate raise our two children
Carlo (now 21 months) and Sofia (four weeks old) and
working from home certainly helps in this respect.
is the most controversial figure in Australian sport,
got to be Shane Warne. Great cricketer. Not so great
you think women should be barred from any sport?
surfing be included as a sport in the modern Olympic
Games, and why?
In my opinion, the Olympics ought to involve those
sports that would otherwise not receive coverage,
although I suspect the television networks would beg
are the greatest sports moments of all time?
mine, the greatest sporting performances are those
against all odds. Carltons one-point victory
over Essendon in the 99 Preliminary Final was
one of them and I was at the MCG for that one. Another
was the Ali-Foreman fight in Zaire in 1974, which
was screened live on television in the days prior
to pay-for-view. I must have been in year eight at
the time when the then science teacher, Ian Bibby
called for silence and said; Boys, there will
be no lessons today. Were all going to watch
the heavyweight championship of the world. God
are your future goals?
continue to strike the right balance between work
and family, because family is the most important thing.
more information, visit: www.thesportsvine.com