SF Chronicle Sends Holiday Retail E-mail, Skips Content Entirely

SFGate, the online arm of the San Francisco Chronicle, sent out an e-mail last night that struck me as intriguing. The message was dedicated to the site’s “Fan Shop,” while featuring merchandise for San Francisco 49er and Oakland Raider fans.

And nary a news story appeared. No content at all. Just merch.

The message uses the subject line: “SFGate: Give sports gear gifts this year! Visit our FanShop!” Three HTML images dominate the design, one each for men’s, women’s, and kids’ categories. A click-through on any of the pictures pushes the recipient to that specific product category.

Interestingly, SFGate’s Fan Shop isn’t just selling items for the local teams, but for all NFL squads, as well as teams for MLB, NHL, NBA, NCAA, and NASCAR. The Hearst-owned site appears to have made a low-risk bet on e-retail to create another revenue stream for the financially troubled Chronicle.

It has hooked up with Plantation, FL-based Dreams Retail Solutions’ entity, Fan’s Edge, to facilitate everything from customer service to product fulfillment on the back end. It looks as if SFGate only has to worry about hosting the retail network and collecting its part of the cut for the number of converted leads that the newspaper portal drives.

Truth be told, if published reports about the Chronicle’s money problems are accurate, Hearst has little time for an internal debate about a newspaper’s traditional “separation of church and state” credo. It’s probably not the easiest pill to swallow for the 144-year-old news organization.

But on its face, selling licensed sports merchandise — seemingly in steady demand year-round – appears to be an OK strategy for driving revenue in the short term. Especially if it keeps a city’s newspaper afloat and gives someone like me a desk to sit in.

Here’s the e-mail body:

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