In Between The Conventions: Politico Positions Itself As ‘The ESPN Of Politics’ — Yes We Can?

imageIt’s a good time to be covering politics, given the interminable campaign season. In between the two big conventions, Forbes checks in on, a news site founded in 2007 by former Washington Post reporters John Harris and Jim VandeHei. The company, which operates a website, a print version and a video operation, has had a few months here and there of profitability.

While the site has generated around 2.3 million uniques last month, according to Nielsen, it has topped the 3 million mark. And if you look at comScore (NSDQ: SCOR) numbers, Politico is much lower, drawing roughly 1 million uniques last month). And with the campaign over in little more than two months, how does it plan to grow? Essentially, by covering politics as intently as ESPN (NYSE: DIS) covers sports, says CEO Frederick Ryan.

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Yes we can — advertise: The site’s biggest advertiser has been Barack Obama’s campaign. has attracted about $2.4 million in online ad sales since January — the Obama campaign has spent $444,000 on the site since then, according to Nielsen AdRelevance. After that, the next big spender has been the Democratic National Committee, which bought $127,700 worth of ad space. That could be a problem once those two have no reason to advertise. But VandeHei claims those numbers are flawed, insisting that only 20 percent of’s revenues come from ads tied to the campaign season. Furthermore, despite the decline of newspapers and the rise of the web, VandeHei says 60-70 percent of its revenues come from the “mostly free” 25,000-circulation newspaper that’s distributed in Washington.

An ad network and a wire service: The typical way to try to boost ad sales these days is to form a vertical ad network. is prepping one with 25 newspaper sites. The idea is, with newspapers cutting back on their own staffs, Politico can serve almost like a wire service for DC coverage. Its sales staff is offering to sell politically-focused ad inventory in exchange for syndicated Politico content. The company just made three additions to its eight-member sales staff and is trying to bring in large marketers like Lexus and American Express.