SBJ/Feb. 16-22, 2009/This Week's News

FSV buys stake in reference sites

Fantasy Sports Ventures has made an equity investment in Baseball-Reference.com and a set of other sports reference Web sites, the latest outlay for the growing Internet rollup.

FSV paid a low seven-figure sum, according to industry sources, for the minority interest in Sports Reference, the Pennsylvania-based outfit that runs the popular baseball destination along with four other reference sites.

The Sports Reference sites combine to generate more than 1 million unique users per month, according to internal analytics. Company president and former college math professor Sean Forman has become something of a folk hero to baseball fans for the massive depth of data stretching to the 19th century and for the ease of navigation within Baseball-Reference.com.

Baseball-Reference.com is already part
of Fantasy Sports Ventures’ network.

The reference sites had already been part of the network of sports sites operated by New York-based FSV.

“This was a very unique asset where we had the desire and saw an opportunity to get involved at a much deeper level,” said Chris Russo, FSV chief executive. “We think we can help them grow and continue to build scale. We also hope to use this relationship and build some custom market opportunities for advertisers within the Sports Reference group of sites.”

With the deal, FSV now has ownership stakes in 15 sites in its network of 370 sites, with those 15 being among the more heavily trafficked sites in the network. Together, those sites draw about 25 percent of the total rollup traffic.

Sports Reference’s history dates to 2000 with the formation of Baseball-Reference.com. Forman, who had been running the site in his spare time, quit his teaching job in 2006 to run the operation full time. The following year, the company as it now exists was created.

With the FSV investment, Forman said he intends to expand the company’s focus beyond the major professional and Olympic sports and into the collegiate arena. FSV is also aligned with USA Today through an investment by the publication in FSV, so there may be content sharing between Sports Reference and the newspaper.

“We have a number of new areas we’re looking to get into,” Forman said. “We’ve basically been in the big four sports and Olympics, so this investment gives the capital to go pursue that.”

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