SBD/Issue 128/Sports Media

Yahoo Continues Digital Growth With Citizen Sports Purchase

Yahoo has purchased Citizen Sports Network, continuing its marked expansion in scale and influence within the digital sports media industry. Company CEO Carol Bartz is slated to formally announce the deal today during her keynote address at the IMG World Congress of Sports presented by SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily. The deal seeks to expand Yahoo's profile within social media and on mobile devices, as Citizen Sports Network has engineered a highly successful march into Facebook and the iPhone and Android platforms following a major recalibration of its business model two years ago from its original roots as the niche-oriented fantasy operation ProTrade. Financial terms were not disclosed, but industry sources pegged the deal in the mid-eight-figure range. Yahoo purchased college sports and recruiting hub Rivals.com nearly three years ago for $98M. "This is a fantastic fit for Yahoo," said Yahoo VP/Media Jimmy Pitaro. "We're big on socializing our content and taking the Yahoo experience wherever users go, and Citizen Sports' assets fit perfectly into that. People have only a finite amount of time to spend online, and they're spending more and more of it on Facebook. This in part is a move to get at that." The deal is an outright acquisition of the company, meaning Yahoo will also gain Citizen Sports' thriving Sportacular mobile unit, itself a company Citizen Sports acquired nearly 18 months ago. Citizen Sports and its staff, led by CEO Mike Kerns and co-Founder Jeff Ma, will remain intact working out of its existing downtown S.F. offices. But company execs will remain in frequent contact with Yahoo headquarters in nearby Sunnyvale, California.

GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE: The purchase is also expected to hasten Citizen Sports' existing emphasis on international properties as the company has in recent months aggressively developed fan groups and fantasy games built around EPL and Spanish La Liga soccer, Indian professional cricket and other popular overseas sports entities. "Yahoo was one of the truly global properties out there. And given that Facebook and mobile are also truly global, we see the synergies as really obvious and very, very significant, and for us, a really exciting element of this," Kerns said. Citizen Sports' existing fantasy sports partnership with SI Digital, which also involved a sales component, will be re-evaluated following the closing of the transaction, expected in the second quarter of this year. "It's premature to say what will happen there. We've had no conversations with SI on that yet," Pitaro said. "But we'll take a fresh perspective, and we'd love to work something out." Yahoo will blend some of its fantasy games with those developed by Citizen Sports, as well as create ones, that will play on Yahoo, within Facebook, and on mobile, depending on user preferences. "We've obviously made some very big investments in fantasy games and fantasy content," Pitaro said, referencing in part partnerships with MLBAM, the NHL and PGA Tour, among others. "So we're developing a situation where a user can experience fantasy literally however they want and take that experience across the platforms."

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