LockerDome, a social media publishing platform designed to connect sports fans with their favorite athletes, teams, brands and sports properties, announced today that it has raised $6 million in Series A financing. The round was led by Cultivation Capital Growth Fund, a new venture fund created by Square co-founder Jim McKelvey, with contributions from St. Louis Cardinals President William DeWitt, III, a Milwaukee Brewers exec and veteran NHL defenseman (and Hart Trophy winner) Chris Pronger, among others.
When we last covered the St. Louis-based startup, it had just raised $750K in seed capital from McKelvey and others, leading the Square co-founder to join the startup’s board of directors. LockerDome founder and CEO Gabe Lozano tells us that McKelvey has taken an active role in the company’s development as a member of the board, an advisor and has invested both personally and through his new growth fund, Cultivation Capital. The new capital brings LockerDome’s total investment to just over $8 million.
At the time of LockerDome’s seed raise, Leena likened the startup to the “LinkedIn for sports,” based on its mission to create a social community in which athletes could create their own persona and profile. Looking to become a sort of private social and professional network, the startup worked with everyone from youth sports programs to professional athletes to “create profiles, upload media” and their own personal messages to amplify the reach of the pros and help the rest boost their national exposure.
Since then, the sports-centric social media publishing platform has created 1,500 of these “networks” for professional athletes, brands and sports properties. The startup re-launched (and re-designed) its platform in January and has been seeing 14 percent growth (across the board) since then. This week, LockerDome officially passed 10 million monthly unique visitors for the first time, having grown by more than five million uniques in the past two months, Lozano says.
The founder attributes LockerDome’s growth to its transition from a focus on profiles and acting as a “LinkedIn for sports” to one that encourages sports fans to become part of interest-based sports communities, where users can interact with content and other fans around their favorite athletes, sports, and so on. At the same time, the startup has also become more focused on recruiting professional athletes as well as publishing and media companies, providing them with a channel and the means to amplify their following across their social media properties.
Today, the startup is working with NFL stars like Steelers linebacker Troy Polamalu, Cardinals’ wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, Maurice Jones-Drew, Antonio Brown and Marshawn Lynch, along with MLB All-Star and Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez, Pete Rose and Wade Boggs and well-known NBA names like Blake Griffin, Rudy Gay, David Lee and Stephen Curry, to name a few. Earlier this month, LockerDome inked a deal with USA Today’s digital sports properties, which means that the newspaper has begun selling ads on LockerDome, and in turn, the startup’s traffic is now included as part of USA Today’s network.
The basic idea, the CEO tells us, is to help brands, professional athletes and publishing companies like USA Today amplify their social media strategies. LockerDome’s platform works best, he says, for those who have sizable existing audiences — they may have 20 million likes on Facebook, but only 10K followers on Twitter, for example — and want to ramp up distribution across their social properties, be it Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook or Instagram.
Many of the biggest sports properties already have sizable audiences, Lozano said, but usually they don’t know how to best expand their footprint on social media. So, LockerDome offers a suite of management tools (and, more specifically, event-based team management tools) that allow teams and media properties to upload their rosters, schedules — essentially, everything aside from statistics. Today, over 500 amateur sports teams are using these management tools, the LockerDome CEO tells us.
The startup also enables brands and professional athletes to leverage its media tools, like photo and video uploading, contest widgets and polls to run mini promotional campaigns and giveaways around live events, for example, to help build their following on social platforms and connect with their fans. As media companies begin to focus more on amplifying their “second screen” experience for viewers around sporting events, LockerDome wants to help them do that — not by building those second screen tools themselves — but by helping them engage a brand’s twitter followers, for example, around a live event.
“We want to help brands identify the barriers preventing them from getting their TV viewers online and figure out what’s preventing them from tweeting about that event live, while it’s happening,” the LockerDome CEO says. “Our goal is to help brands turn one TV viewer into four via social media.”
When the site first began, it charged publishing companies and users $99/month to use its platform, but recently, the company has walked away from that, as Lozano says that the pay wall tended to add more friction to customer acquisition. So, going forward the company is focused on finding new ways to monetize its growing traffic — one that the CEO says has become increasingly loyal, as 92.4 percent of users who visited in January came back in February.
Naturally, part of that strategy involves encouraging media companies to advertise against that audience and its partnership with USA Today means that it has a sizable inventory with which to work. With its new capital in the bank, the CEO says that the startup will be looking to hire a new team in New York that will be focused exclusively on monetization. The idea is, by this time next year, to have turned those 10 million monthly uniques into big, recurring, dollars, the CEO says.
For more on LockerDome, find it at home here.