SBD/January 24, 2012/Media

USA Today Sports Media Group Acquries Big Lead Sports For About $30M

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The USA Today Sports Media Group has acquired Big Lead Sports, marking a major deal for what had been the largest independent entity in online U.S. sports media. The purchase, announced this morning, was for about $30M, according to industry sources. USA Today parent company Gannett had already owned about 30% of Big Lead Sports, previously known as Fantasy Sports Ventures before a '10 rebranding, and the latest deal represents a purchase of the remaining equity. Big Lead Sports, in addition to prominent sports blog The Big Lead, operated a network of more than 500 sports blogs and content sites, and had been a regular fixture in the top 10 most trafficked sports sites each month according to comScore. USA Today, prior to the deal, also had been a top 10 comScore mainstay, meaning a combined traffic total might only trial industry leaders Yahoo Sports and ESPN. "The sheer scale of Big Lead Sports is very significant," said USA Today Sports Media Group President Tom Beusse. "What they've done is build up a fantastic network of sites with a strong, original voice, and that's not easy to do. And this gets us into the fantasy business in a meaningful way. Quite frankly, there's an awful lot we can do with this." Beusse said operation of the Big Lead Sports properties will remain essentially intact. However, after a transition period of several months, Big Lead Sports CEO Chris Russo will depart the company he helped create more than five years ago. "I want to build something else after taking a bit of time to recharge," Russo said. "I enjoy the entrepreneurial world, and I want to figure out what the next challenge is."

TALKS BEGAN LAST YEAR: Talks on the deal began quietly early last year, soon after Beusse took his current position. The sale price for Big Lead Sports is less than a third of what Yahoo paid for Rivals.com in '07, and similar to what Yahoo then paid for Citizen Sports Network in '10. Both of those independent online companies held much less scale in terms of traffic and far smaller advertising businesses than what Big Lead Sports has, with Rivals.com in particular focused instead on subscription revenue. But Russo branded his deal a positive one. "We're very pleased. We believe this is a meaningful exit, and one of only a handful that have occurred in this space in the last few years," he said. "We have great content and a lot of scale. They've got a great brand, are obviously a larger entity, and this is something where combining resources we think makes a lot of sense."
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