When New York Yankees slugger Mark Teixeira made his Major League debut a little less than a decade ago, the sports media landscape was dramatically different from it is today.
Social networks like Facebook and Twitter were not yet invented. By the time you obtained a score on your cell phone, the game in question was probably over. Newspapers, radio and television were the still the primary ways to obtain sports news and commentary. And while the Internet was emerging as a viable and vibrant channel, most sports sites at the time were merely copy/paste jobs of what was found in traditional media. The information delivery model was still predicated on small number of journalists broadcasting stories to the masses.
"Ten years ago, I would do a radio, TV or print interview," explains Teixeira, "and it was just somebody relaying my words. Now, I can connect directly with my fans."
And fans now can directly connect with others across the globe with similar sports interests.
Taking a swing at a startup
As a self-described "sports nut" (he is a fan of the Knicks, New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons and the football and basketball teams of his alma mater, Georgia Tech) and somebody who spends a large part of his job talking to the press, Teixeira was instantly intrigued when the opportunity to become a partner in a social sports media startup presented itself.
Teixeira is also a seasoned veteran when it comes to social and mobile media, who travels with an iPad 2 and iPhone 3 (you think a $20 million a year player can shell out for an upgrade!) and is an avid user of Facebook, Pandora and Twitter. When his friend Kenny Dichter (co-founder of Marquis Jet, which sold to Berkshire Hathaway last year) approached him to be involved in a venture called SportsYapper, Teixeira said he "was in within five minutes of hearing about it."
Co-founded last year by social media entrepreneur Eric Goldstein (who sold clipmarks.com to Forbes in 2007 and amplify.com to Clipboard in 2011), SportsYapper aims to be the primary social network for sports fans to share quips and opinions with one another around their favorite teams. Since a soft launch on iOS and Android devices two months ago, the app has generated about 10,000 downloads.
Goldstein is betting that his sports-exclusive social media property, combined with the promotional capabilities of partner Teixeira and other sports celebrities involved (including former New York Knick Greg Anthony and football commentator Todd McShay), will eventually scale and become a meaningful alternative to Facebook, Twitter and other channels.
While there are myriad reasons why individuals connect with others on Facebook and other social networks, following the same sports team is not high up on the list. Here, Goldstein sees a hole up the middle of the field.
"My social graph [on Facebook] isn't specific to my passion for sports," he said. "Typically, my passion for sports and teams has nothing to do with how I'm connected to those people. I don't think [the Facebook model for sports fans] scales well. This isn't because of technology, but because of human nature."
SportsYapper enables fans to "become their own moderator" of sporting events as they happen, and others can choose to follow or not like Twitter, without the need for reciprocation. Currently, users can invite their Facebook and Twitter contacts to SportsYapper, and follow teams from the major four sports leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL) as well as major NCAA Football and Basketball programs.
It is difficult to sense how impactful SportsYapper might become at this early stage. At this point, none of my 2,000-plus contacts from Twitter and Facebook are signed-up for the service. The activity around my favorite teams (the Chicago Bears, Bulls and Cubs) is minimal. But you have to start somewhere. Goldstein says the marketing plan involves reaching out to fans of teams playing on the largest stage (the company recently targeted basketball fans in Miami and Oklahoma City, for instance) and have things grow organically from there.
"Everything we do from an outreach and marketing perspective is building a critical mass of every team," he said. The ultimate plan is for SportsYapper to become the go-to "play-by-play" application on users second screens while they are watching live games.
"I believe we can be the ESPN for social media," Teixeira said.