RealTime IT News

Trail Blazers Hope to Score With Social Network

Affinity Circles, best known as a provider of private social networks to more than 60 university groups, is going pro. NBA pro.

The Mountain View, Calif. software vendor just announced a partnership agreement with the Portland Trail Blazers to launch what it said will be the first official social network for a professional basketball team.

While all NBA teams have information-rich Web sites and there are many fan-supported sites and blogs dedicated to specific teams, the Trail Blazers said it hoped to offer a more comprehensive online destination.

The Affinity Circles software platform is designed to let basketball fans connect with one another online, create profiles, join groups, share photos, and post blogs.

Phil Taylor, a Senior Writer for Sports Illustrated, said the Blazers investment should be popular with fans.

"I think the fans would love anything that lets them communicate better with each other," Taylor told internetnews.com. "But with a team like the Blazers it could backfire if they give fans an easier way to gripe and complain about the team.

"Web sites and blogs are icing on the cake if you're a good team, but if you don't win it doesn't help."

Jeff Clark, who runs the highly-regarded CelticsBlog.com credits the Blazers for promoting more fan involvement.

"It shows they understand and respect the growth of message board and blog communities," Clark said in an email to internetnews.com.

"On the other hand, I have to wonder how it is going to be moderated. If the team restricts negative comments about the organization, people won't respect the credibility of the site. But if they don't moderate it, the site will fall into chaos and nobody will want to participate. It all depends on the people that help out," said Clark who relies on several regular volunteer contributors for content at CelticsBlog.

This isn't the first time the Trail Blazers have moved aggressively with new technology. It was one of the first, if not the first, professional team with its own Web site. Billionaire Paul Allen, who co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates, owns the Trail Blazers.

"Portland fans are passionate about the Trail Blazers, and about technology, so merging the two to create an official online community to support our team makes perfect sense," said team president and general manager, Steve Patterson.

The deal is the first of many vertical offerings Affinity Circles has planned, according to CEO Steve Loughlin. He said a user of one of the university-branded Affinity-driven networks worked for the Trail Blazers and initiated the contact that led to the two organizations teaming up.

"We're a big group of sports fans at the company and we were already planning to go after different vertical markets so this was a great opportunity," Loughlin told internetnews.com.

As a hosted solution, Affinity's network is designed for easy and fast deployment, and can grow as fast as the team and fan base requires.

Loughlin said there are other specific advantages branded social networks have over independently run Web sites and blogs. Trail Blazer fans will drive most of the content, but as host the team will likely facilitate some of it. Also, the team may offer prizes and promotions to fans via the network.

The Trail Blazers plan to begin testing the new network in time for its home opener against the Minnesota Timberwolves on November 4.