RealTime IT News

Ignite Aims to Bridge Sports Teams, Fans

There are perhaps dozens of sports news sites, and every professional sports team has some kind of official online presence of varying quality. Today, Ignite Sports Media, seeks the middle ground.

Its mission is simple: use the Internet to build a bridge between sports teams and their fans.

"We approach this from the fan's perspective," said Chief Executive Officer and Founder Hank Adams. "Most people aren't fans of a sport, they are fans of a particular team. So we want to connect the teams and the fans in unique ways." The initial strategy is to apply its proprietary publishing system and essentially "take over" existing team sites.

Only one team, the Washington Capitals, has so far signed up with Ignite. The company is in latter-stage negotiations with four more. Adams sees no reason they will not eventually sign up the 150-or-so professional teams in existence, but adds, "If we get 30 teams, we will be very successful and I'll be a happy man."

There is a template. Each site contains team rosters, the latest scores, standings, schedules and a way to purchase tickets. Even within these parameters, each site looks different. The team provides art direction but the real content--legacy and personality--is not interchangeable with any other team. It can include videos of its greatest plays, and build a unique bridge to the community.

Exclusive contests are another way to build online interest.

"You can raffle off rides on the Zamboni or a chance to sit in the dugout during a game," Adams said. "These are prizes that you can't buy anywhere."

Adams, 32, talks like a fan. He also has a track record in developing successful Internet sports publishing ventures. He founded Real Fans in 1995 and subsequently sold it to AOL. He continued to run Real Fans, but when AOL turned around and sold it to CBS Sportswatch he bailed. He didn't want to move the operation to Dulles, Va. or New York City. So as Real Fans continues under the framework he created, a new team is maintaining the content.

Kettle Partners' Lee Rosenberg, who is on the Ignite board, said the process went smoothly. When asked what is special about the company his answer is simple.

"It's Hank," he said. "He's a proven winner in this area. His accomplishments speak for themselves. When he decided to do it again, backing this venture was an easy decision. Sports in general is a large area for entertainment and content, so there is a lot of upside in this arena. It represents a dramatic investment opportunity that will generate returns."

Adams said the funding came easy, he had the money in place before fully developing the idea.

The company went through its first round of venture funding in June, raising $3 million. It was led by Kettle Partners LP with Austin Ventures, New World Ventures and Carlin Ventures participating.

Part of the impetus originated from the development of multimedia chips, which may change the whole entertainment experience over the next five years. Soon enough, games will be broadcast over the Internet. By building relationships with each team now, Ignite will be in a good position to secure those broadcast rights when they become available.

Improved multimedia also has some astounding possibilities. Imagine a video game that allows you to "race" in real time at the Indianapolis 500. When that happens, Adams said, sponsors will clamor for a piece of the action.

Adams, the 35-employee company's most valuable resource, says he doesn't intend to build Ignite just to sell it off.

"I'm in it for the long term." he said. "I believe this is the direction in which sports publishing is going."

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