Bleacher Report Leverages Benefits of Web 2.0 to Improve the Fan Experience, Secures Series A Funding

SAN FRANCISCO, CA  Marketwire  Following months of beta testing, Bleacher Report  formally launched its community-driven online sports network today, providing all sports fans one place to create, critique and consume compelling coverage on their favorite college and professional teams. Bleacher Report’s open, collaborative platform features a peer-editing system that helps ensure high quality fan-generated coverage on the site. While in beta, the site grew to more than 400,000 monthly unique visitors and 2,000 original sports editorials published per month — drastically outpacing similar outlets in both web and print media. In addition, Bleacher Report announced it has raised a Series A round of funding led by Hillsven Capital, a partnership of Bobby Lent and Boris Putanec, former co-founders of Ariba Inc., along with other investors.

The Idea behind Bleacher Report

Bleacher Report was founded by Dave Finocchio, Alexander Freund, Bryan Goldberg, and Dave Nemetz, four lifelong sports fans from Silicon Valley. The group shared a belief that mainstream sports media didn’t offer the range or depth of coverage to satisfy diehards, and that some of the most insightful analysis comes from the fans who know their teams best. With Bleacher Report, they created a platform to empower all fans to become fan-journalists, producing high-quality content and sharing it with a built-in readership of hundreds of thousands.

“This site is about unleashing the ‘wisdom of the fans,’” founder Dave Nemetz said. “As sports culture junkies ourselves, we’ve found that the people who eat, sleep and breathe the game read release.

The site looks good to me, but it’s hard for me to tell if there’s enough room for ALL the user-generated sports sites coming out of the woodwork. I guess we’ll see.

Soccer team lets fans make some calls

Fans of Hapoel Kiryat Shalom, in Israel’s third amateur division, can now use the team’s Web site to vote on the starting line ups and to give instructions to the field coach.

Here’s more on this from Reuters UK read it here

I’m not saying this will never happen in the NFL, but it will never happen in the NFL.

Thanks to Dr. Bob Goldwasser, globalsportsfans , for the tip.

The New NFL

NFL relaunched recently. I like the new site, but it’s tough to please all the people all of the time:

I haven’t have time to study the new site, but I can tell you that my hat’s off to the nfl  crew. I know how hard it is to relaunch a site for one nfl team. I can only imagine how hard it was to get this league site back up off the ground!!

Things that make you go & eeeee

“I’ve never had a conversation like this at work,” she said.

“It’s OK,” I said, “we’re in the cone of safety. We have to talk about this stuff.”

The “stuff” to which I refer is human genitalia and the “conversation” we were having was one in which we were trying to decide which photos can stay on mycolts, and which needed to come down.

Ahh the newfound joys of community management!

While offending photos are the exception, they are taking an inordinate amount of our time as we attempt to establish more specific guidelines for ourselves.

“OK, so speedos are OK, but if they’re wet and transparent, then…”

“…if the photo is obiously taken in a strip club, then…

It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it!

Tony Dungy blogs about Super Ring Party

Anyone interested in reading more about the ring ceremony should check out what Coach Dungy has to say in his latest blog post inside MyColts .

I mention Tony’s blog post for two reason:

First, it gives me a chance to mention that today, at NOON, our social net will go live at its official .

Also, Tony’s blog gives me a reason to talk more about the ring ceremony. Apparently, the Super Bowl ring event generated a lot of interest out there in the blogsphere.

My post yesterday got picked up by deadspin and generated more buzz than anything I’ve ever posted. My blog typically gets about 100 daily visitors, but yesterday it got over 1,100! (See Google Analytics chart below. That spike on the right side is yesterday’s traffic). That spike is mostly due to a blog called “Deadspin“.

There’s quite a thread of comments, mostly quite negative about me, on the Deadspin blog. I suppose that’s where all the traffic comes from. Yikes. It’s like playing with fire!

Back to the land of the civil:

Several of the guys at the office wore their rings to work yesterday. I did not. I didn’t wear it because I feel awkward about it. After all, I did not play in the game. It’s an honor to be included as “part of the team”, and a privilage to actually get one. It seems to me the rings are best worn (in public) by the players and coaches, but I’m glad others are wearing theirs…as everywhere we go, people want to see them first hand (so to speak).

The new beta is here & SOMEBODY!

OK, sometimes I stretch movie lines a bit too far. But the emotions expressed by Steve Martin in his movie, “the Jerk,” seem appropriate. As of yesterday afternoon we’ve invited approximately 50 people into our beta, and we’re still breathing. In fact, I demo’d the site twice yesterday (for potential partners) – from two different Starbucks – and didn’t hit any errors as I showed it off. Praise the Lord!!

We’re far from ready to launch to public, but we’re learning fast and fixing things as quickly as we find them. Here are a couple of features that are unique to our system:

Dashboard to organize your content

AJ Macht insisted that our users should have a dashboard to organize the content they want to “consume”. So unlike other social networking platforms that only allow you to set up a public facing profile page (i.e. what you want the world to see about you), we’re also featuring a “dashboard” page where users can can organize their stuff.

I don’t have anything configured in my dashboard, but here’s a look at the menu of options…we’ve got “managers” set up for each content area that our users create.

Users will land in their dashboard on login and see all their incoming messages, and they’ll see highlighed any updated content from the areas they’ve designated. For example, if you set up your dashboard to notify you when your friends have added content, you’d see it from your dashboard and can more easly navigate to the content you want to see.

Friendlist manager

Another cool tool inside our system is the Friendlist manager. Unlike other systems that only allow you to tag things as “public” or “private” with “friendlist, users can tailor their profiles any way they like.

For example, if you want your cell phone to be visible to some people but not others, then you simply create a new “friendlist” called “closest friends” or something, and you tag your cell phone to be viewable by that list (and any other list(s) you like. This will prevent people on the “public” list from seeing your cell phone when they visit your profile page while your close friends will see that content when they visit your profile page.

“Colts Cred” is the social currency in our community

Most successful communities have some form of “social currency” or reputation management system. For us, that system will be called “Colts Cred.”

Users will earn “cred” for using the system and rankings will be enhanced by ratings given by other users. The screen above is the main leaderboard. We’ll have leaderboards for various subgroups (i.e. “top bloggers).

There’s a lot more to tell…this is only the beginning. It’s exciting to see people using the system that has taken so long to build. We hope people will like it!!

Social Media CEOs share their visions

In the near future… “Brands will stop trying to blast one message to all and (learn to) speak to people who are connected by a passion,” or so says Herb Scannell, CEO of Next New Networks and former Vice Chairman of MTV Networks and President of Nickelodeon Networks.

Next New Media is not live yet, but its plan is to create an online video network of niche content. According to Scannell, media is moving from mass to “micro” nets, or special interest subgroups with which brands will need to relate.

That statement got me sitting straight up in my seat. We are struggling to get big brands to see us as MORE than just a regional media channel. We’re hoping he’s right..

Next I heard Richard Rosenblatt say, “We are buying niche sites that represent vertical markets (like hiking) and adding social media…we don’t think it’s wise to try to build a community from scratch.” Richard is Chairman and CEO of Demand Media, and former CEO of Intermix and Chairman of Myspace before they sold it to FOX, so he apparently would know what he’s talking about.

It’s only 9am on conference day, and already these guys are validating our business strategy! We’ve already got an audience / community. Now we’re adding social features!

The two quotes listed above came from our first session (at EconSM), which featured top dogs from 5 different social media companies: Six Apart, Bebo, NetVibes, Demand Media and Next.

Here are some other pearls of wisdom from the CEOs

“Hits are fewer and farther between”

“Go where the audience is”

“Media is moving…from mass media (broadcast) to channels (cable TV) to Web 2.0 (micro niches)”

“Building your site with content purely via API from other sites could be dangerous – be sure to work out revenue shares on the front end”

“Advertising is over. Brands need to provide a service (add value) to niche media communities that compels members of the community to “opt in”. (Sounds like “sponsorship” to me…one note from my margin: “sponsorship” is a VERB…it needs to be ACTIVE).

“New media is not about “telling”…it is about “creating” a platform for your AUDIENCE to tell.”

Here are the questions rolling in my head:

How big does a “niche” need to be for brands to pay attention?

How can brands possibly participate in enough niche networks, and add value in personalized ways, to get the scale they need??

If someone could invent a way to help brands somehow automatically personalize messages (by community) they’d be RICH

Here are my thoughts for MYCOLTS and the NFL

Perhaps the brands that currently sponsor the NFL would want to build test programs with us to learn how to navigate the social media waters?? Or perhaps not. Maybe the larger the brand the less likely they’d be to jump into these waters, given the inherent risks to reputation. Therefore, maybe smaller brands (with more to gain and less to lose) will be the best prospects for innovative new programs.

Eventually the 32 NFL team sites + NFL will need to form a national network to make it easier for advertisers to buy across the league. If we can establish a league wide social net that demonstrates the value of our community, I’ll bet we could raise the CPM value of banners ads on our dot com sites.

What & is the DEAL with &Twitter

You ever have this experience?

You’re sitting in a room with 200 people. The conversation turns to a new technology. Everyone gets all excited. Immediately everyone starts using it…and you’re just sitting there muttering, “WTF. I don’t get it?!”

That’s how I felt in Austin, TX last week.

Twitter was all anyone could talk about in at the South by Southwest conference this year, and I don’t know why. Now I confess that I’m not using I.M., so clearly my learning curve will be slower. But why would anyone want to get messages from strangers telling them things like “I’m having a bad hair day, thinking of shaving it off”?

Still, I try to resist the urge to write off this kind of stuff, especially when other folks seem to be all excited about it. The anthropologist in me kicks in and I just observe and ask myself, “what’s going on here?” And “how can we make money off this?”

Well, I still don’t know what’s going on here (other than people simply like getting I.M. messages)…but at least one (potential) commercial application for all this digital chatter has emerged.

Woot!, a community built around buying and selling of stuff, is using Twitter to update its community about its latest deals.

Here’s an excerpt from the Woot Blog (which is pretty funny BTW) explaining why and how Woot hooked up with Twitter:

That’s right: you can sign up for a free Twitter account, make Woot your Twitter friend, and receive automatic updates when we put a new product up, when the daily product sells out, or when anything else happens around here. Twitter updates are available through your IM client or as text messages on your phone, along with the standard web-based Twitter interface. Unlike other Woot watchers (which we also love), Twitter is a one-stop way to keep up with us and your “real” friends at the same time. And unlike our own SMS service through SayNow (again, much love), Twitter will be regularly updated during Woot-Offs

Further on in the post it mentions that the idea for linking these two systems came from a Woot community member. In fact, the Woot member actually set up the link between the two systems and handed it over to Woot:

We have to thank a loyal and industrious Woot member, Jesse Newland, for starting this Twitter bot all on his own, and then passing it off to us. Kudos to you and yours, sir! We don’t know if any other online store has been so rash as to leap onto the Twitter bandwagon just yet. We’re not entirely certain that it makes any sense for us to do it. But let it never be said that Woot passed up any opportunity to insinuate ourselves deeper and deeper into your life.

This phenomenon – customers creating new marketing channels for a company just because they can – is pure 2.0 gold. In fact, this is perhaps even more interesting than the fact that you can get Woot product updates through Twitter. You decide.

Again, I am reminded of one of my favorite lines from Jerry McGuire, “…why can’t we have a relationship like that?”

One Percent & Rule is kicking my butt

I heard an interesting “rule of thumb” statistic recently. Only 1% of the population of any online community will create original content for the community. The rest will read or “lurk”. Down in Austin, someone gave me a book called “Citizen Marketers,” which actually provides some research data to support this “rule”.

The 1% Rule – …is simple: about 1 percent of the total number of visitors to a democratized forum will create for it or contribute content to it. Furthermore, we postulate that about 10 percent of the total number of visitors will interact with the contributed content. Interact may be described as writing comments or voting on content items.

This rule is not hard and fast, but here is some evidence the authors have gathered:

I find this data useful for a couple of reasons.

First, I’m wondering how many people will contribute content when we launch My Colts Network. Actually, I’m HOPING some people will create profiles (gulp) and I’m ALSO hoping fans will talk to eachother. So it’s nice to have benchmarks to compare ourselves to.

Second, on this (Sports Marketing 2.0) blog I’ve noticed the 1 percent rule holds true, but I’ve also noticed that not everyone shares content for the group. Instead, many readers choose to reply privately. I wonder why that is?

Over the past few days I’ve posted 2 public invitations to create content.

First, I asked readers of this blog to contribute what they think are the top 5 trends in sports marketing over the next 5 years. Next, I invited readers to work with me to launch a Sports Marketing 2.0 event. This blog gets just over 100 readers each day, so if the “rules” apply, I should see about 10 comments on each post. So far there’s only been one comment on one of the posts. But I’ve also received about five E mails from long time readers who shared very thoughtful and insightful stuff with me privately. It’s curious, I wonder why that is?

What could I do to increase the number of readers who contribute content?

I’m glad to know about the 1 percent rule. Makes me feel like I’m doing OK in terms of inspiring community participation. However, I will say that I hope someday the readers of this blog will break the (1 percent) rule.

I do have some “selfish” ambition. I want big sponsors to discover this blog and create partnerships with the Colts. I want my own thoughts to be out there so that someone might notice ME. But I’m not JUST in this for myself. I don’t have all the answers.

The big reason I’m writing this blog is to inspire contributions from the group. The big opportunity – for all of us – is to use this platform (the read-write Web) to share information and learn. Many minds are smarter than one. I’m trying to crack the code for Sports Marketing 2.0, but there’s no way I’ll do it alone. So I’ll stick my neck out again and ask for your opinions:

what can I do to inspire more participation for this group?

And please, if you have something to say, share it with the entire group (by using the comments feature). I love getting your E mails, but when you E mail me your thoughts you rob everyone else of the benefit of your thinking. Come on, jump in…express yourself online…the water’s fine.

What do we do with Zack Legend?

We’ve got this great fan, Zack Legend, who does homemade videos about the Colts. He’s a season ticket holder who brings his digital camera to the games, films clips (like this Super Bowl video) in the tailgate lot, and inside the stadium. We’ve given him a little section on our site and we run the videos.

He’s careful not to violate the NFL rules and shoot the actual game action. What he does capture, I think, is the emotional reactions of real fans before, during and after the games. When you watch the best of his videos, you feel like you’re at the game because you identify with the reactions he’s having to certain sequences of game action. You were watching the game too, so when he reacts to a critical play, you remember exactly how you felt at that moment, and it brings a sense of that same emotion right back to you.

Zack’s videos are fun to watch and we gladly run them on our website. But we’re wondering, is there something more we could do with Zack’s videos. Is Zack’s brand strong enough to garner sponsorship dollars? Could the emotional appeal and authenticity he brings to video become part of a sponsorship activation program?

I think it could. You may remember the piece I wrote a while back about Prilosec OTC. Their whole strategy is to connect with a target consumer at a time when he or she was feeling emotional about the NFL. Zack has “bottled” those emotional mements. And he’s just zany enough that he could even pop an antacid, on camera, before some crititical play in the game, or after eating too much sausage in the tailgate lot.

Speaking of bottled emotion, why wouldn’t Coke want to place its product into Zack’s world. There’s plenty of room in a tailgate party (and inside the stadium) for Coke products to appear naturally. It wouldn’t seem too canned.

And speaking of canned, instead of high priced athletes on Chunky soup containers, why not Zack? He could really help to drive sales.

And speaking of driving, why wouldn’t Chevy want Zack to drive to games – and tailgate off – one of its great trucks…heck, Zack could even appear in the local Chevy dealer commercials.

Zack could even help us with our social network. He could be our equivalent to Tom in Myspace. Imagine if every new member of MyColts.Net was automatically linked to Zack’s profile. How many of those people would go check out Zack. We need to do something like this anyway so that fans feel welcomed into the system.

And if Zack has some cool promos to announce on his page – like a Coke rewards program – fans would be exposed to a sponsor message through a “friend”. Well, sort of. There’s risk associated with Zack pitching product, but his style is campy enough, I think, that he could get away with somewhat tongue-in-cheek product schilling while still getting the sponsor message across.

The limiting factor to all of this, of course, is money. Right now the Colts don’t make a dime off Zack’s videos. And neither does Zack. This is a labor of love. He does a lot of work to prepare them and send them to us, and we’re happy to post them, but there’s no measurable economic value. I think sponsorship could change that.

But it won’t be easy to sell. Sponsorship of content like this has never been done on our site before. We are just learning how to talk to sponsors about investing in our Website’s traditional inventory (banner ads and football content sponsorship). These wacky videos are on a whole other level.

Still, I can’t help thinking that one of the big brands might get it. Zack’s got a mini cult following on his Myspace page and on Colts . He gets recognized out in public. He gets fan mail. He’s got some brand equity as a “Colts fan”. Hey, 50% of AVID NFL fans will never attend a game in their lives. Zack gives these fans a window into what it’s like to be there. People do live vicariously through him.