06 November 2009
A couple weeks back, Yardbarker announced a partnership with Fox Sports that seemed to pique a lot of people's interest.
"FoxSports.com, MSN.com and independent blog aggregator Yardbarker have struck a three-year content syndication and advertising sales partnership that deepens an existing relationship between the three hubs.
Building on a smaller, content-for-distribution deal struck in June 2008, the new pact creates a structure in which FoxSports.com and MSN.com gain the ability to sell Yardbarker advertising inventory. Yardbarker content widgets and individual stories will appear throughout FoxSports.com and MSN.com, and Yardbarker editors will work in regular collaboration with their FoxSports.com counterparts."
Despite the great writeup by the SBJ which is a subscription only publication, a lot of people seemed to want to know more about the partnership and what it meant for both parties as well as the general sports 2.0 industry.
Lucky for me my former boss and Yardbarker CEO, Pete Vlastelica, wanted to share some more details on the deal.
Although there are a handful of companies that look to help sports properties monetize through advertising and sponsorships, Yarbarker is now the first of these companies to have a sales partnership with a major media entity in Fox. When asked about what this new built bridge between sports focused start-up and mainstream media entity meant for the industry and the companies involved, Pete was optimistic that a younger Yardbarker audience and overall content quality was an attractive addition to help Fox augment their content and advertising packages.
"I do think we're entering a new era for sports blogs that's characterized by an acceptance and acknowledgement that the content on sports blogs can be really high quality. This partnership is very good for both sides, and the bloggers in the Yardbarker Network will benefit directly. Yardbarker benefits from Fox and MSN's reach and coverage of the ad market; our bloggers get more traffic and higher CPMs; and Fox/MSN get the ability to sell custom ad programs targeted at a younger audience, which is what every brand advertiser wants right now."
One of the caveats of the partnership that wasn't clear to me was if Fox was taking over full ownership of monetization of the Yardbarker's network which Pete gave some more details on.
"It's actually a shared responsibility. It's a non-exclusive deal, meaning we'll still be selling the Yardbarker Network ourselves, but the intent on both sides is to dive into a truly collaborative partnership where we're working together to grow the pie that we're both going after. Our offerings are very complimentary and we each stand to benefit from selling together, so the collaboration should be a natural one."
Yardbarker athlete blogs will continue to housed on Yardbarker.com but will get more attention on foxsports.com as well as msn.com. I was always of the opinion that ESPN had a roundabout way to not really source some of the great info found from Yardbarker blogs. Myself and the awesome Alana G have both successfully chided ESPN on this issue, so I think its extremely exciting to see larger web properties working directly with Yardbarker to really push this content more aggressively and sourced accurately.
Another interesting note from the Fox deal is the fact its a 3 year deal, which is really the equivalent of 9 years in start-up years. I have always been really intrigued by some of the bigger sports 2.0 partnerships with larger companies as its been my belief that these partnerships could serve as corporate foreplay for a possible future acquisition. Bleacher Report is working closely with CBS who previously bought Sportsline.com for 30 million dollars while SB Nation has very successful partnership with Yahoo Sports and who purchased the Rivals network of sites for somewhere around 60 million dollars. The acquisition of Rivals came a couple of years after Fox purchased the competing Scout network for around 50 million dollars.
With all this in mind, you wonder if these companies are taking a good look at the next wave of sports media entities and are utilizing various partnerships as a first date before bringing the start-up home to Mom and Dad (CFO and CEO). Pete really didn't embrace or dismiss that possibility.
"I guess that's one way of looking at it. You mentioned some great start ups there -- as long as we all stay focused on creating value, the rest will take care of itself."
Although Bloguin and Yardbarker overlap a bit, it was reassuring to hear Pete's thoughts on what key to improving monetization of sports would be innovation and collaboration rather than competition.
"The key is growing the pie. We can't all keep fighting for the same small piece of the digital marketing pie, and if all we're doing is selling banner ads, we're going to lose a lot more than we win. We have to invent a new category and convince brands to allocate dollars to it. It's starting to happen. I completely believe that sports blogs can be the backbone of the next generation of all sports marketing."
While its nothing new that a large sports media entity has taken an interest in the content of a sports 2.0 company, it says a lot that this partnership carved out an opportunity for Fox to augment Yardbarker's sales efforts.
I think what's most important is that Yardbarker got some level of a guarantee. Regardless of what type of guarantee Yardbarker will receive, the guarantee will effectively serve as a motivation tool for Fox's sales team as well as an insurance poicy for Yardbarker. If Yardbarker is guaranteed any amount of revenue from Fox, the partnership brass and sales management will be motivated to close sales partnerships that would ensure the partnership would be profitable rather than paid out of pocket. Obviously they felt comfortable enough and confident enough that they'll be able to deliver here and are likely excited to diversify their packages and inventory.
I would also imagine that Fox felt a need here to have some inventory that skewed to a younger audience due to some feedback from clients. A lot of advertisers have began to embrace sports blogs and companies like Yahoo, Brash, Yardbarker, and FSV have been able to cash in here. Fox now has put themselves in a strong position compete for ad dollars that are meant to go to a younger audience through access to Yardbarker's network. More than likely there is some type of mechanisms that will remove channel conflict between Fox and Yardbarker in sales opportunities as Yardbarker will still be hitting the pavement trying to secure ad dollars independently of Fox.
Kudos to Pete and my YB peeps who I miss like crazy for making this happen. While it may not have an overnight effect in the sports blogosphere, I think other larger media companies will watch this partnership and begin taking a more serious look at working with sports bloggers.
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