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.

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!!

What if every NFL team had a & social net & site?

There are niche social networking sites popping up everywhere. If you’re a dog lover, you can join Dogster. If you’re into saving money, you can join Deals. If you’re a football fanatic, you can join several sites out there trying to cater to the gigantic on-line universe of NFL fans. Before any one of these parasitic (sorry, opportunistic) sites gains critical mass, we believe the NFL ought to flex its muscle and get into the social networking game.

The NFL Internet Network is comprised of NFL, 32 franchise sites and a few other sites. These sites each attract significant traffic, and since they are linked together, they refer a lot of traffic back and forth as well. In fact, 40% of Colts referral traffic comes from NFL . Thanks to the NFL brand, the popularity of our teams and good URLs (like Colts), our fans know where to find us on-line. Less than 20% of our traffic comes from search engines.

While we’re working hard to be among the first in the league to offer a social networking site for our fans, we firmly believe that the Colts Social Networking site will have more value if other teams also have similar sites and if those sites are integrated in certain ways. With integration in mind we’re writing our code in such a way that other teams will be able to “copy and paste” and get their own social networks up and running relatively quickly. Eventually, we’d like to see the entire league (including NFL) running on the same social networking platform. It doesn’t have to be ours, but we’re making ours available just in case.

We’re confident that social networking will catch on partly because we already have traffic coming to our Website. We’re not building traffic from scratch. While the coming launch of My Colts Network has been the talk of the town around here lately, our current team Web site is the key to everything we’re trying to do. It aleady generates significant organic traffic (43% of all traffic to Colts comes directly from bookmarks or typing our address into address window), and it is this traffic that will give My Colts Network the chance to succeed. We’re not building on-line community from scratch, we’re adding social networking functionality to an existing critical mass of users.

All this being said, I was encouraged this morning when I read in Mashable the story of how Demand Media is approaching the social networking front.

Mashable – The short story is that DM has a radically different approach to this space than everyone else: rather than buying social startups, start off with domain names and content sites that already have significant amounts of traffic, then plug in social networking. You gotta give it to them: it’s a smart idea…

…social sites need a critical mass of users before they become useful: do people join MySpace because it’s the best social network, or because all their friends are on it already? What about YouTube, the video site that achieved critical mass through players on MySpace and blogs, among other factors? Facebook, too, built a user base around the top universities before those crucial network effects kicked in. With that in mind, what could be a better starting point than a domain that already attracts masses of traffic?

I’m getting pretty tired of talking about how great our social networking site is going to be. Ever since I opened my mouth in the media, it seems like our site development is going slower than ever. Still, we’re poised to launch the first version of My Colts Network before the end of the regular season, and have a whole slew of “snap on” applications planned for the days and weeks after Phase 1 launch. My hope is that other NFL teams will join us sooner rather than later.

If anyone out there is interested in discussing a broad, league-wide social networking strategy or “renting” our code, just drop me a line.

Great leaders make great bloggers

Tony Dungy set to blog inside MyColts

The highlight of my week last week was a meeting with Tony Dungy. It’s always nice to spend time with him, but this meeting was particularly sweet because he agreed to write a blog this season inside our social network.

I have had several meetings with Tony over the past several months, hoping to persuade him to jump in and join us. I’ve been showing him what we’re building and offering him reasons why he might like to blog (i.e. our fans will love it AND it will be a great platform for him to use to communicate with the world). He finally agreed. It’s gonna be great.

Just yesterday I was reminded (in Church of all places) of just how impactful Tony Dungy IS and therefore how cool his blog might be. My pastor was preaching about loving one another, and reminding the congregation what it says in 1 John 4. To sum up his message, he read a brief story from Sports Illustrated. The story was about Tony.

Tony Dungy is an ALL PRO Dad

The story is written by SI writer, Rick Reilly, and recounts how Tony Dungy, after reading in SI about a father who had lost a son, contacted that father. And not only did he contact the grieving dad, he got to know him. Over the course of months he built a friendship with the man, and even invited him to the Super Bowl so the two could meet.

The whole story is here if you want to read it.

Anyway, my pastor brought up this story as an illustration. He wanted to show us all what loving eachother really looks like. It’s a simple thought, but much harder in practice. But how cool that our football coach is the kind of guy people point to as an example of loving behavior! And it illustrates perfectly why I was hoping Tony would blog. He sets an example in word and in deed for many of us to follow – and his blog will be (I hope) a little window into his world that will allow us to see him in action (off the field).

And happily, Tony isn’t the only Colts leader who is setting a good example…

Random acts of kindness – Jim Irsay reads his mail

On Saturday night I was out to dinner with some friends and I met a guy who told me a great Jim Irsay story. He told me that during the Super Bowl run, his 5-year-old daughter expressed several times that she wanted to meet Jim Irsay and Peyton Manning. One day, he sat down and helped her write letters to both men.

Then one day his cell phone rang…and it was Jim Irsay. Jim had read the letter, picked up the phone and called. The man told me how Jim talked to him like they were old friends. How Jim talked to his daughter for several minutes. And how Jim invited the father and the daughter to come visit and meet the owner and the QB and whoever else she wanted to meet.


Drive by philanthropist.

This is just like Jim Irsay. Nobody would ever know it, but he’s always reaching out to people in need. He never seeks credit for this stuff, in fact he never mentions it. Sometimes he reaches out and writes big checks for people in need. Sometimes he reaches out to call people who have written letters to him. Either way, this is how he operates. He realizes that he has a responsibility to use the position he has been given to help others. And when he sees someone in need and feels his heart moved, he takes action.

I’m proud to be associated with these men. Now if only I could get JIM to blog!! Now that would be cool. Watch out, Mark Cuban, there’s a new owner in town! Maybe. Someday.

Post Script

After church on Sunday a woman came up to me and said, “you have something to do with the Colts, right?” And I said “yes”. She went on to explain that her best friend’s child was dying of some incurable disease, and his last wish was to meet some Colts players. She wanted to know if I could help her get connected.

I told her I was happy to help and would bring her message wherever it needed to go inside the organization. But I also told her that she didn’t need me. All she really needed to do was write a letter directly to the coach or the owner or (hopefully) the player she wanted to meet, and they would reply. In fact, they might even reply faster just because they care about people.

As I prepare to face this new work week, I pray that I remain as generous with my time and attention and gifts and resources as Tony and Jim are with theirs.

We got our rings. This is so cool! | Sports Marketing 2.0

Posted on Thursday 14 June 2007
Last night the Colts held a gala bash to celebrate the Super Bowl victory and award the Super Bowl rings.

Jim Irsay and Tony Dungy stole the show

Yesterday was not just a big day for the franchise, it was also Jim Irsay’s birthday. This photo shows Tony Dungy presenting a gift to Jim. The gift is a photo of our entire staff forming a giant horseshoe. We took this photo last week out on our practice field.

It is so fitting that we took time to honor Jim on this night. He has shown incredible faith and perseverance over the past 30 some odd years, and has guided the franchise to the top of the league. He is also the most generous man I’ve ever met. I can’t say enough…but I can say this, THANKS FOR THE RING, JIM. I’M HONORED!

Before we got our rings, we were entertained by Sinbad.

I had to mention Sinbad for a couple of reasons. First of all, he was flat out hilarious. He started out talking about how he remembers Tony Dungy from his prep days in Michigan, where both men grew up. He was ALL OVER our coach for wearing a big afro, and tight 1970’s shorts, etc. Very funny.

I was OK when Sinbad’s focus was on the coach, but then something surprising happened. He turned his attention to my table. First, he went looking for women in the audience who might have something they wanted to fix about their husbands. So he looks at my wife, Amy, and says, “you look like you’ve got something to say…” And when she says that I’m a good husband, he rips into me for being trained / whipped, etc. I can’t describe all that he said, but it felt like he was focuesed on me for about 5 solid minutes (even though it was likely only about 1).

Later in the show he starts picking on another young woman at our table. He wants to talk about her job. She happens to be a Web coordinator (she works for me) and she also happens to be my niiece. So when she can’t explain to Sinbad’s satisfaction what a Web coordinator does, Sinbad asks, “whos’s your boss?” Of course, she points to me…and now he’s back on my case again, asking “what do YOU do?”

Anyway, I got roasted. And what I didn’t know was that the cameras were on me much of that time so every one of the 400 people in the room were zoomed in on my embarassed face as I was getting the business. Afterward, I happened to run into Jim Irsay, Bill Polian, Chris Polian and several others and the first thing they said to me – even before “congratulations” was, “…man, Sinbad was ALL OVER YOU. You really took one for the team!”

It was all in good fun, and after the comedy, we experienced a dramatic ring presentation ceremony and got to see and wear our rings for the first time. There was a ton of buildup around this event here in Indy. It’s amazing to me how interested everyone seems to be in the rings. Lots of people have asked me, “are you getting a ring? did you get the ring yet?” and other similar questions.

Oh, I almost forgot. Before the rings were presented, a 50 voice gospel choir came dancing in and began singing praise to God. This was TOTALLY fitting! Just at the moment we are all handed our expensive hardware, and just as people might be thinking about how talented or accomplished they are, this song reminded (me anyway) that all good and perfect things come from God. He gives us the talent to do our jobs, and I’m so glad He did not get taken for granted at this moment. I needed that reminder and it was sweet.

The coolest thing, I think, was to watch the players. They were giddy. You could see that this was a huge deal for them, and why not? This is the kind of thing that they’ll never forget. When they’re old and bent from years of football, they can wear these rings and tell stories of the Super Bowl to their grandkids, or to the media or whatever. They’re a the top of their sport. It’s a pretty cool place to be…and I’m just happy to be along for the ride and to be part of an organization that is lead by an owner who cares enough to include EVERYONE in the celebration.