Sportlobster CEO Andy Meikle plans US expansion after gaining 1.6 million users
Sport is capable of driving consumers to new technologies like nothing else. Satellite broadcasters, high-definition television manufacturers and 4K content providers will tell you that. But can it convert web users, Facebook addicts and prolific Tweeters to a brand new social network?
Andy Meikle, CEO of Sportlobster thinks it can, claiming there is a trend driving people towards niche social networks -including social networks specially geared to sport. Sportlobster has attracted 1.6 million users since it launched in April 2013 and Meikle says it is adding 17,000 users a day.
The overwhelming majority of these users are sports fans, eager to chat and read about sport, but an increasing number of sports organisations and individuals are also using Sportlobster as a way of engaging fans in a way they can’t on other social networks, which have a broader audience.
Connecting and aggregating
The Internet has had a huge impact on sport. Virtually every sporting event, from the Gaelic Athletic Association’s hurling and football championships to the Greek basketball league, can be viewed through a live stream, with breaking news, match reports, video highlights and fantasy leagues available at the click of a mouse.
But Meikle says this experience is “disjointed” and says Sportlobster is a way to aggregate all this content, while providing a platform for sports fans to chat and share their views through blogs.
“It was born out of a frustration that a fan faces, whether it be downloading multiple apps or visiting multiple websites to get their sporting fix,” he told TechWeekEurope. “The idea first came about when I came across a blog about Novak Djokovic, which was written by a fan.
“It was a really good blog with loads of comments underneath it and it occurred to me that there’s probably millions of Djokovic fans around the world who probably didn’t know it was there.”
One of the main differences between Sportlobster and other social media platforms, besides a narrow audience, is that it permits posts of up to 500 characters – useful for rants which can’t be contained within 140.
Users can follow other fans, players or clubs and tailor news feeds to their own sporting preferences. A quick glance at Manchester United’s page, or Fanzone, shows that many aren’t happy with the team’s 2-1 defeat to Swansea at the weekend.
“The idea of Sportlobster was to take all that and bring it into once place and tailor it to each individual’s preference for sports,” he added.
But of course, any social network lives or dies on the activity and quality of its community. In an effort to drive users, Sportlobster has recruited the likes of footballers Cristiano Ronaldo and Giorgio Cheillini as ambassadors, who post on the site and are featured on the company’s tube adverts, but Michael Owen and Mark Webber have been so impressed by the project they are investors.
Meikle claims that this type of user is increasing organically too, with 200 verified accounts, including Lewis Hamilton, now featured on the network.
“We are seeing more cluibs, organisations and governing bodies signing up as well as another social media tool,” he said.
It’s all very well having these users but Sportlobster needs to monetise them. Meikle says there are plenty of opportunities to generate revenue from its platform given it has such a specific audience.
These include revenue sharing from merchandising, ticketing and broadcaster pay per view sales but Sportlobster promises they have to be non-intrusive to users. Betting sites have apparently been circling, but the company has so far resisted their advances, and the company has no intention of being a content producer.
Sportlobster is based in Hammersmith and has grown from a team of 12 last September to 46. The decision to base itself in London was because of the talent pool available and because of London’s position as a sporting capital of the world, but just 14 percent of the social network’s users are based in the UK.
Indeed, 13.5 percent are based in the US – where Sportlobster has had no marketing presence – and the company is about to launch an office on the West Coast, probably in San Francisco. Meikle says the US is a “huge opportunity” given how popular and influential sports are in the country.
It remains to be seen if Sportlobster can achieve its ambition, especially since Twitter has proved to be an incredibly popular platform for sports fans already. The recent World Cup in Brazil broke all of the social network’s traffic records, while Facebook and even BlackBerry Messenger noted spikes in usage. Meikle says the growth of his site demonstrates the appetite for a sports social network.
“Social networks like Twitter and Tumblr cater to tens of millions of users and are multi-billion dollar companies, but it speaks volumes that we have moved faster than these social networks in the first twelve months,” he said when Sportlobster reached the one million user mark. “Obviously, they are a few years ahead of Sportlobster, but our growth-rate exemplifies where we are in the social media world.”
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