David Katz is heading into a Web site battle against Internet sports powerhouses like the ones run by ESPN, Yahoo, Fox Sports, Major League Baseball and AOL.
At least he knows the enemy.
By the time Katz left Yahoo at the end of 2006 as the head of sports, entertainment and studios, he had guided its sports site into a rivalry with espn.com that still has them trading the monthly lead in unique visitors in their category.
Katz says he believes that his Web site, SportsFanLive.com, which will be formally released this week, will find a substantial following with his versions of customized content, social networking and fantasy games. He says the sites of his competitors have grown overly stodgy and too congested for fans to wade through.
"Those other sites are fundamentally all the same," he said, calling them "imbued with traditional media DNA." He added that they were "not built for the next generation and for the evolving needs of sports fans."
Having spent six months mapping out his plan at his home in Hollywood Hills, California, he speaks about the challenge with a confidence that borders on audacity. Central to Katz's site are features that flow naturally into one another to create a community that he said would quickly turn viral. And rather than connect to existing social networking sites to accelerate his distribution, Katz says SportsFanLive will become its own Facebook.
Users will be able to customize the site (like on MyESPN or MyYahoo) according to the teams and players they love and hate and will receive a flood of regularly updated news aggregated from 4,500 sources - not the hundreds he said his competitors provided.
"Our secret sauce is aggregation," Katz said. "Google is good for a general search but not at understanding the specific needs of specific people like sports fans."
Users can easily route articles to like-minded friends on the site through the FanFeed feature. They can also alert buddies to the sports bars they are congregating in to cheer on their teams with the FanFinder application - a postal code- and map-based function that is a snappy, visual updating of forums on rivals.com, a Yahoo subsidiary.
"Facebook and other social network sites do a good job of connecting you to people all over your life, but it's not relevant to your sports interests," he said. "We're isolating that subset of sports friends and giving you instant communication with them."
He chose not to offer traditional fantasy games, wagering either on fantasy fatigue or on luring fans who lack the time for season-long games.
Instead, he created a feature in which SportsFanLive's users can challenge each other by posting or accepting wagers - sort of an online, user-generated sports book - that will let them earn, or lose, BuxBets, the site's version of funny money. "Fans like to test their wits about anything they think they know best," he said, in a format that lets them "compete on any topic they want, against anyone at any time."
Jeff Price, the president for digital of the Sports Illustrated Group, said, "David understands what sports fans want, but can he sustain traffic and engagement? Sports fans will vote with their mouse."
The Sports Illustrated site, SI.com, chose to build its fantasy platform on Facebook, Price said, "and it's been interesting to see people embrace our bringing the games to them."
Bobby Tulsiani, an analyst for Jupiter Research, said that if Katz succeeded, he would be mimicking other new Web entrants that have challenged leaders in existing categories. But in researching a recent report on Internet sports users, he said, "We didn't find evidence that sports fans are angry with the current online sports space."
Still, Katz is not reticent about predicting his success. The project, he said, was "self-funded" for a time before he approached other investors, whom he declined to identify. But he did say that Samsung had signed on as an early sponsor.
6 months ago