Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Interview With Umpire Empire Owner Warren Workman

Today's interview is with the owner and creator of Umpire-Empire, Warren Workman. Umpire-Empire is a very popular umpire site that features interviews, product reviews, and a popular forum board. U/E has recently made some major revisions to its site and partnered with providers of umpire products and services for discounts for its members.

MWU: Thanks for doing this interview. I’m happy to finally get to ask you a few questions.

Workman: Glad to do it. I've enjoyed your blog since the beginning.

MWU: Tell a little about yourself and your umpire background.

Workman: Well, I'm just your run-of-the mill high school level umpire. While I live in North Carolina I call the vast majority of my games in the nearby areas of Virginia. I actually turned to umpiring for what I now consider the wrong reasons. I had been a soccer referee through high school and college and enjoyed it, but was never passionate about it. I stopped after I got one of those "real jobs." Then I was in a time in my life where I needed some extra income, but something which would be flexible around my "real job." I then decided to return to being a soccer ref and contacted my former association. They said they'd be glad to have me back, but since so much time had passed I'd be treated just like any other new referee; taking the classes, starting at the bottom etc.. which I was fine with. But they also told me I'd have to pass the physical abilities test which included things like running 2 miles in under a certain time and some other things which I knew at the time I wouldn't be able to do. So I did not return to soccer.

I was telling this to my long-time best friend Joel, who is an umpire. He suggested I try umpiring baseball. While I love baseball it would be very generous to say I was an absolutely horrible player. So I didn't give it too much thought. In college I briefly worked in the intramural department refereeing anything they would give me. Soccer was obviously what I did most, but I also did innertube water polo (awesome!) and some softball. I went out to the softball fields not having the first clue about softball and I was awful and people let me know how awful I was. It was not a good experience and gave me additional reason not to umpire.

About a year later he finally convinced me to try and I was hooked immediately. I currently call everything from machine pitch to college fall ball and club level, but the majority of my games are high school, legion and adult league. I'm hoping to break into the full time ranks of college level ball through my association in the not too distant future.

MWU: What made you decide to open an umpire website?

Workman: I think it's quite obvious I'm an internet junkie, so as I was beginning to take umpiring seriously I went looking for umpiring sites. I found places like The Amateur Baseball Umpire Baseball Homepage which I learned a lot from and was a major influence on me as an umpire. That site shut down but thankfully Brent has since brought it back even though the content is no longer updated. I also found forums like umpire.org and officiating.com. I was intrigued by these sites. Once again I learned a lot and spent a lot of time at those places.

After a while I found myself saying, "I wish these places would..." and I kept finding myself saying this again and again.

Obviously, it would be absurd for me to think those sites would change for me and one day I found myself saying, "I think I could do this better." So I went for it without looking back.

MWU: How did you select the name “Umpire-Empire?”

Workman: I wanted something which conveyed the idea of a group or community about umpiring. Then when writing one of my first articles I was going to put on the soon to be site I misspelled umpire and Word gave me the suggestion of empire and there it was. It got stuck in my head and even while trying to think of other names I couldn't shake Umpire Empire. I told a few friends who were umpires I was building a umpiring site and wanted their feedback on the name Umpire-Empire. They all hated it. I tried some more to come up with something different but Umpire-Empire was stuck in my head.

MWU: Did you expect Umpire-Empire to become a popular forum site, or did you have other ideas for the site when you started?

Workman: I had no idea what to expect. I knew I wanted a forum, and an articles section, but I also wanted a comprehensive reviews section about umpire equipment and suppliers. That was my starting point. Things started slowly at first but I kept going.

As for popularity I once again had no idea what to expect. I wasn't one of the know-it-alls or popular people at the other forums, but one of the best things that happened was I was able to bring aboard a handful of people I had developed relationships with elsewhere to Umpire-Empire. People like Dave (majordave), Stan (Stan W.), Larry (LMSANS), Michael (mstaylor) and Pete (Pete Booth) along with any number of other people, including you, I could name were instrumental in turning the site into the success it has become.

MWU: What do you think is Umpire-Empire’s best contribution to the umpire community?

Workman: I have to say the number one thing is the atmosphere which is informative and friendly. We are as welcoming to the person considering giving umpiring a try for the first time as we are to the hardened veteran. The site is a place where people don't have to fear "jumping into the deep end." They can ask a question and get a legitimate response without fear of being scorned.

Another contribution to the umpiring community is the comprehensive reviews system. This was a huge priority in making the original site. As I was coming up I had so many questions about products and suppliers and didn't know where to turn. I wanted to provide a resource for people to share their thoughts on equipment and where to get it in order to help people make the best decisions.

MWU: You recently committed a lot of personal time, money, and effort into the improvement of Umpire-Empire. By the way, it looks great! Why did you decide to overhaul the site?

Workman: The answer is two fold and the answers are somewhat related. I want to provide members with the best experience possible and the technology I use plays an important role. I felt the software I was using had reached its peak and was on the way down along the lines of WordPerfect in the early-mid 90's.

About a year ago the company which produced the software that use to run the forums, vBulletin, went through a major change. They changed the terms of service of their product, then released a new version which from my reading and general opinion was seriously flawed. I choose not to go with the newest version which meant within some period of time my software would reach end of live, meaning my version would no longer be supported or updated. I started a search and found a product I liked a lot better which is Invision Power Board. Before the site had 5-6 unaffiliated programs I was trying to make work together the best I could, now I'm down to 2 programs which work together pretty well.

I ran a demo site with the new software for a few months and the more I used it the more I liked it. It is more user friendly and intuitive.

MWU: Explain the new Umpire-Empire membership program.

Workman: As they say membership has its advantages. Umpire-Empire has been able to form "virtual partnerships" with Ump-Attire.com, The Wendelstedt Umpire School & Mid-American Umpire Clinic to offer Premium members some great benefits.

Ump-Attire.com has offered all premium members 10% off purchases. That alone will more than pay for the cost of the membership especially if people register now for membership and enter coupon code "intro" at checkout to save $5.

But wait there's more (couldn't resist). The Wendelstedt Umpire School is offering $150 off tuition at their 5 week camp and 10% off their local clinics. They offer many more clinics in more places than their nearest competitor. It is a value many will be able to take advantage of.

Last, but certainly not least, the Mid-American Umpire Clinic is offering $25 off tuition at their annual clinic.

All three of our partners have an incredible reputation and track record of being top notch and I'm honored that they have let me partner with them

MWU: What “premium content” will be offered by Umpire-Empire?

Workman: Our partners will be periodically providing us with some content exclusive content for Premium members. I don't want to give all the details yet, but I'm really excited.

MWU: What other features have been added to Umpire-Empire?

Workman: The overhaul isn't necessarily about new features, but enhancements of features the old system had. My favorite is the new reviews system. The prior reviews systems I had were good, but this is great. I really like how it summarizes the review and adds a "did you find this review helpful" button similar to Amazon.com. I think readers will find the new reviews system extremely useful.

Some enhancements are the integrated link directory and classifieds systems. The prior site had both of them but had integration problems and were the target of frequent spam. The new ones are a lot better in nearly every way.

The articles section is another major enhancement. Like before this system allows members to contribute articles for the umpiring community. Also like before it allows discussion of the articles.

But some of the new features do include a more social experience. Members can customize their profile page, create status updates like facebook, and much more

But the feature for the Umpire-Empire addict is the site is now also Smartphone friendly. You can access most of the main features of the site with your Smartphone.

MWU: What future plans do you have for Umpire-Empire?

Workman: I will continue to offer the best online experience to the umpiring community through my partnerships and technology and be responsive to the members of Umpire-Empire.

Many of the improvements I've made to the site over the past 3 years have come as a result of member suggestions. While I may not be able to implement every member suggestion I have received, I do take each one of them very seriously.

Ultimately I want to go beyond just a forum or umpiring community; I want to add products and services that umpires of all levels will appreciate.

Thanks to Warren Workman of Umpire-Empire for this interview, and for all of his hard work on Umpire-Empire. Midwest Ump wishes Warren and U/E continued success with the revamped site and his future projects.

No comments: