I read Mashable almost every day and this “Indianapolis Colts to Launch a Social Network” post and it really caught my attention. What do I think? Genius!! Why the hell is ESPN not doing this for every single sports team on the planet?? They’ve got some of the elements like message boards, but could do a lot more in my opinion. Talk about a killer social network- it would almost be TOO easy to produce vibrant conversation on such a network. Think of how many Die-Hard Steelers, Browns, Yankees (sorry- gotta rub it in again), Red Sox, and Celtics fans (among others) there are around the globe would post profiles and join player/team fan clubs. Since “Humans have an underlying NEED and WANT to communicate with others,” there is the very large potential to draw a huge number of eyeballs ($$) to a site that brings passionate fans together. I think there is an argument to be made that ESPN could easily be the most active and engaging social network in the world for males ages 18 and up- it’s just a matter of executing. They already have the branding down pat and draw loads of traffic to their web site- so if they just figured out how to REALLY engage people, they would tap into the large gold mine sitting right underneath their noses! Come on ESPN- knock one outta the park!

On a somewhat related sports note- is there any site that provides RSS feeds for a specific team’s scores? I’d love to get Sonics scores via my RSS reader this season…

  • I agree that this is a “killer app”, and I agree that ESPN could do it, but from what we’ve seen, the actual team has the best chance of gaining critical mass, especially in the NFL. Colts fans, for example, are visiting ESPN but they are diluted amongst all the other traffic. There are dozens of Colts groups out there on the Web, but none is very strong. On colts.com, they are concentrated. I’m not saying that teams are the only ones that could succeed in this venture – I’m saying they’ve got the best chance, but only if they get in gear and get their networks established. We feel a sense of urgency to get our network going sooner rather than later so that no third party beats us to the punch.

  • SportsGuy

    ESPN is already doing this. They were supposed to launch a social network on SportsNation last month but apparently missed the deadline. I disagree that ESPN will be successful. In fact, when ESPN announced their plans to do this, the feedback on some sites, like Deadspin, was mostly negative. SportsNation is popular, but it’s not nearly as popular as other unofficial sites. ESPN is a little too commercial and uncool, and that’s why SportsNation is just an average to below-average community compared with what else is out there. ESPN is also a little too well-known, so it attracts a lot of idiots.

    Pat is absolutely right about dilution. The sports market is highly fragmented. It sounds so great and easy to think that you can attract a large audience. You say it’s “TOO EASY” which indicates that you have little understanding of the sports market. There are already lots of existing communities for Steelers, Browns, Yankees, Red Sox and Celtics fans. Why would they leave those communities, some of which have 10s of 1000s of users, to go to a social network which will obviously face the chicken/egg problem? I’m a Red Sox fan, for instance, and I love the Sons of Sam Horn community. It’s the best Red Sox community hands down. There’s no reason to go anywhere else. All the vibrant conversation is already happening there.

    Any sports social network is going to have to figure out how to deal with the fragmented nature of the market and the 1000s of existing communities if they want to succeed.

  • Drew Meyers

    Thanks you both for the thoughtful comments. A couple things I’d like to point out-
    1) A social network needs a great user interface that is easy to navigate & it would be hard for ESPN to do this from their existing site. I think they would have to build a completely separate version of their site- but one that worked with existing ESPN accounts that most people already have.

    2)Network effects- I agree there are hugely successful communities of diehard fans out there and it will be hard to get them to switch. However, an ESPN social network that allows Joe Smith, the steelers fan, to be a part of other team communities (say he happens to be a huge NY Mets fan as well) within one user interface is a big value-add that someone like ESPN can add to the picture. All sports fans being in the same directory would also add more people to interact with and add as “friends.” A network becomes more and more useful as more people join the network- think about Myspace and what happened when they reached the “Tipping Point.”

  • I’m pretty new to the blogsphere, and I’m finding this discussion very stimulating. It’s great to get opinions from smart people. It occurs to me, however, that opinions are all we’re discussing here. Smarter people than I have misread the tea leaves before now. Everyone has his opinion, but the market for social networks around sports teams is going to evolve in some direction, and we believe it will be a major part of our overall digital strategy. At the Colts, we want to be in the middle of it, learning by doing (and by making mistakes) rather than sitting and prognosticating. We want to stop thinking like a sports team so that we don’t box ourselves into a unecessarily finite market space. Social networking is something that makes sense to try even thought it’s rife with potential pitfalls. We won’t do it perfectly, not from the start at least. I welcome your insights, opinions and suggestions at my blog (www.patcoyle.net) as we walk the lonely road of the pioneer in this arena.

  • Drew Meyers

    Congratulations on entering the blogosphere! You hit the nail on the head with your comment about stimulating discussions- that’s what I love most about the blogosphere.

    One thing that I would highly encourage is experimenting with the new Yahoo API that lets you use Yahoo user accounts on your own site. This would help eliminate one of the major barriers- people don’t want to register for yet another account at yet another web site. Just keep listening to the feedback you receive on the site. I think sports social networking will become a huge market for whoever can do it right. Best of luck!