Andrew Miller thinks there’s a big mistake that sports media properties are making these days: they’re all giving social platforms like Facebook and Twitter their best content for free. “They’re getting their lunch eaten,” he says, by letting top writers put most of their best content—analysis, opinions and breaking news scoops—in tweets that don’t bring any money to the employer.
It isn’t a brand new insight. And many news outlets producing content for Facebook (FB) or Snapchat say that even though it directs traffic away from their own site, it raises a publication’s profile and helps with that oh-so-elusive sense of brand buzz.
Miller, CEO of the Boston-based website Football Nation, wants to break out of the cycle by getting writers and readers to submit original content (mainly live video) to his site, and not to Twitter or Facebook. To that end, Football Nation has acquired the assets of Fancred, a much-hyped mobile sports app for user-generated video that shut down earlier this year.
Fancred launched in 2013, raised $4.5 million in venture funding (led by Atlas Venture, an investor in DraftKings), got Red Sox slugger David Ortiz to promote it, and amassed hundreds of thousands of users, until it hit a wall and closed its doors this year. Football Nation has bought what is left of Fancred, including the rights to its brand name, for an undisclosed amount, Yahoo Finance has learned.
Competing with Facebook and Twitter on video
So, what is left of Fancred? For starters, 100,000 users on its mobile app (even though Fancred has zero remaining employees and isn’t updating the app). Football Nation didn’t have a mobile app. And while Fancred wasn’t just for football content, 75% of its user base was around the NFL.
In addition, Miller says, “We acquired a live-video product built by incredible technologists that was the reason they got all their money. It really puts us in the same playing field as Facebook Live, Twitter and Snapchat.”
That may sound overly ambitious, but Miller is betting on hardcore football fans. Football Nation launched in 2012 as a blogging platform where amateur sports bloggers could get their work published; some of its early contributors have gone on to full-time writing gigs at more mainstream publications. Over time, it transitioned to a larger news hub covering NFL and NCAA football, with community contributors and paid writers creating posts on everything from fantasy football to breaking news to trade rumors.
Football Nation has made a variety of acquisitions, buying sites like FFChamps.com, ColdHardFootballFacts.com, and FantasSpin.com. It also has a weekly live program during the NFL season, “The Fantasy Football Champs,” that runs on Football Nation and on Patriots.com and is sponsored by DraftKings. But buying the bones of Fancred is its biggest move yet and will re-shape the platform, focusing it on video.
Going for football fanatics
For the start of the new NFL season, Football Nation will relaunch the Fancred app, rebranded as Football Nation.
“This season we are going to be all in on live video,” Miller says, “and we think we can do it faster, leaner, than Facebook and Twitter, who have a big ocean to cover.” Miller believes that even amid the now widespread rush to produce video for Facebook Live, Snapchat or Periscope, “We’re in the first inning, at best, of live video.” His hope is that Football Nation readers will choose to upload video, whether from a high school game, or a tailgate, or inside a stadium (“as long as it’s related to football, it’s great”), to Football Nation instead of Facebook or Twitter.
That could be a hard sell. Facebook has more than 1.5 billion monthly active users. Twitter (TWTR) has nearly 500 million. Earlier this year, Facebook launched a new section for live sports chat; Twitter has inked landmark new deals with the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL to live-stream games.
Football Nation has 1,000 contributing writers, an engaged but tiny core audience (it won’t share numbers), and no established brand name. ESPN, Fox, Yahoo, Sports Illustrated, Buzzfeed, Deadspin, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation, just to name a few among many sports properties, are already all over Facebook Live video and Snapchat. Can Football Nation get a foothold?
Miller’s bet is that the appeal for users will be the chance to share video with a football-dedicated audience, and not to their entire, broad friend groups on Facebook. “Maybe you’re at the high school football game of your son, and suddenly he’s on the three-yard line to win the game or win the state championship, and you pull out your phone,” he says. “Do you do it on Facebook Live, or do you do it to an audience who cares about football only?”
Fancred cofounder Kash Razzaghi says he met Miller back in 2013 when Fancred first launched. Now, he tells Yahoo Finance, “His vision for our platform, along with Football Nation’s core audience, made perfect sense for this acquisition.”
As a result of the acquisition, Football Nation will launch a new high school football section, and it will make some new executive hires. “Our job,” Miller says, “and I think this is where Fancred failed, is to show our audience the way, to speed the content, to teach them how to do it, to reward them and create competitions and contests. We will come up with ways to incentivize readers to shoot and share videos.”