October 29, 2008

SportsBlogs Nation Raises Funding Round to Expand Platform

Long-time readers of louisgray.com know that behind tech, one of my most avid passions is that of sports. Be it baseball, college football, or basketball, I'm a huge fan. I have my team loyalties and want to know all I can about my favorite teams. As part of this sports obsession, I found Web communities like SportsBlogs Nation and Ballhype to help me get the latest and best sports news from fellow fans around the world, as well as engage in community around our shared passion. As I recounted in July, the Ballhype team was acquired by Future US for $3 million, and yesterday, the SportsBlogs Nation team announced they raised a funding round in the single-digit millions of dollars, without more details being disclosed. The funding round was led by Accel Partners, the same team who helped bankroll Facebook, and by Jim Bankoff, former AOL programming chief. The funds will be used to further expand the rapidly growing sports blogs network, and help improve the platform.

Overnight, I connected with SportsBlogs Nation president Tyler Bleszinksi, who I've known through his family of sites since 2005, and consider a personal friend. Below is part of that Q&A done over e-mail:

LG: How large is SportsBlogs Nation today in terms of individual sites and users?

TB: We currently have 152 and we are growing that number weekly. We are very deliberate in our approach in that we only invite the highest quality bloggers, with established track-records, to join our network. Therefore, we will never rush to launch sites just to grow our blog numbers. We don't release any details about our registration base. I can tell you that internal numbers show that we have about 2.5MM people using the sites each month and that we're seen explosive growth across our entire network in all metric categories (in some cases doubling our metrics every six months.)

LG: What is helping to drive the growth of the network?

TB: The growth is likely driven by several factors:
  1. positive macro-trends as new people discover and engage with our blogs each day
  2. more engagement with our existing users as we add great new writers, features and technology - including our new blogging platform which is a huge success. Just last week for instance, we added two of the top sports bloggers on the web: Jeff Clark/Celticsblog and James Mirtle/From The Rink
  3. the declining investment by newspapers and other media in local sports coverage, which makes us the go-to source, particularly for mid and smaller market teams like Oakland for instance
  4. the traffic-driving network effect of intelligent cross-promotion across our network and the general sports and blogging ecosystem
  5. our team/tribe focus where we enable fans to publish and discuss within specific communities built around their passion.
On that note, one important and overlooked fact is that we are the leading regional independent sports network in many areas. For instance, in the Bay Area we have the top sites (Athletics Nation, McCovey Chronicles, Golden State of Mind, Niners Nation, etc) for just about every team, add it up and we're bigger than just about any other media property focused on Bay Area sports. Same can be said for other markets like Chicago, Texas, etc.

LG: How much funding did you raise, and what will it be used for?

TB: We're not releasing the amount, but we basically went after an amount that would allow us to become the top sports social community on the Internet. We're still cheap, even more so in this economic climate, and running this company on a shoestring, only spending where there is a measurable return.

We plan on using the money to further advance our sports-centric social media and publishing platform, which is already, in my opinion, the best blogging platform ever created for sports publishers, contributors and audiences. We want to iterate on it and continue to invest in advancing an open platform for sports fan activity streams.

It will also allow us to expand our leagues much more quickly by getting more man hours working on bringing the best bloggers on board. Our aim is to truly have the best team blog for every team in every sport and we need our league managers to be spending more time working on bringing the best bloggers in.

The other thing is that it gives us a talent like Jim Bankoff on board. And Bankoff is a supremely skilled executive who is laser-focused on making SportsBlogs Nation a large and profitable business. He knows this space well considering his past experience at AOL. He's already working to bring aboard other executives who will be focusing on business partnerships and generating revenue opportunities.

I have been an active participant on SportsBlog Nation for the better part of four years now, and have enjoyed the community at sites including Athletics Nation, Sactown Royalty and California Golden Blogs. My user ID can be found here: http://www.sbnation.com/users/louismg.

Also see:
SportsBusiness Journal: Tech Leaders Back Sports Blog Network