SBJ/Jan. 31-Feb. 6, 2011/Media

SportsBuzz launching expanded model of athlete-driven websites

The fast-reviving realm of athlete websites has gained another new entry with the arrival of SportsBuzz.com.
The Virginia-based portal, operated by Buzz Networks LLC, soft-launched in November but this week is preparing to launch an expanded model that will offer a mix of free and premium content. The core, subscription-based athlete-generated content will be supplemented by free material that includes videos, blog postings, photos, personal updates and tweets.

SportsBuzz.com has about 40 athletes in its portal, most notably Washington Redskins tight end Chris Cooley, New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush and Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson, and is an official licensee of the NFL Players Association. The site is developing similar relationships with hockey and basketball players and their unions, with several new deals likely to be signed in the coming months.

SportsBuzz will take an active role in helping its athletes produce original content.
The arrival of SportsBuzz.com recalls the run of athlete websites such as Broadband Sports from the initial Internet boom of the 1990s. Much more recently, competitors such as South Dakota-based Ultimate Pros have embarked on their own expansion plans, aided in part by significant followings many athletes have created in recent years within social media.

SportsBuzz.com is seeking to differentiate itself by taking a highly active role in content creation. The company has positioned staffers in several major cities to be near the athletes in its portal to help develop original content, shoot video, and aid in their overall outreach through the site.

“Fans want to be as close as possible to their favorite athletes, but it’s still not easy for the guys to put themselves out there, even within social media,” said Paul Hourigan, Buzz Networks’ chief operating officer. “We want to ensure we have the best quality content we can, so for us that means working directly with the guys and helping them develop great ideas.”

The company was co-founded and is led by Ray Cohen, who was chief executive of TravelClick before selling that company in 2007 to GenStar Capital for $300 million. SportsBuzz.com subscriptions begin at 79 cents a month, per athlete. Individual athletes then participate in revenue-sharing agreements based on the number of followers they attract.

Subscription plans also include a fan mail component in which athletes will receive online letters directly from fans.

“This is a really unique opportunity for athletes. I think it’s moving toward what athletes will be doing in the future,” said Cooley, who before SportsBuzz.com’s creation was already drawing up to 15,000 unique users a day to his popular and irreverent blog. “It’s tough for players to really be themselves in conventional media. But here, if you make a faux pas, it’s just edited out.”

Atlanta wide receiver Brian Finneran is among many players in the SportsBuzz.com portal who previously had no presence in social media or anywhere else online.

“I really wasn’t doing anything before,” he said. “But they’re putting in a lot of time with the teams and players to build relationships, build content. They’ve made it very easy for people like me.”

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