“There’s a major piece missing from the social graph,” Chris McCoy tells me over coffee, “and it’s sports.” Naturally, McCoy is a former baseball player, Quora devotee and a religious consumer of all things sports. But, perhaps surprisingly, he’s not alone in the way he views the current sports landscape.
While ESPN, BleacherReport, Twitter and countless others are busy digitizing the consumption of sports content, the problem, McCoy says, is that the mainstream sports media only covers a small percentage of the sports market. And not only that, but it hasn’t yet figured out an effective way to integrate local content, personalization and social discovery — the stuff we’ve come to expect in The Facebook Era.
So, McCoy and team are today officially launching YourSports, an ambitious project that aims to rethink the “Sports Section” and reinvent how we create and consume sports content by combining elements of Quora, Facebook and ESPN in one package.
The YourSports interface will be familiar to anyone with a Facebook account. So, in short, most people, including your cat. The theory behind YourSports is that sports itself is inherently social, and yet the ecosystem lacks a dedicated social network, or sports graph — to use the buzz phraseology of the day. In turn, we sports fans all have our individual sports identities that are defined by social relationships — whether they be to teams, games, cities, other fans or particular sports.
The “socialization” of sports is best seen in how popular Twitter and Facebook have become as tools to discuss games, events and news in realtime with other fans — as a second-screen experience. In other words, while watching the game. But there is a lot of noise on Twitter, and while there are hashtags like “#mlbplayoffs” to follow what people are saying about the baseball playoffs, it’s not a dedicated sports experience, and there’s a lot of stuff there that has no relevance to you.
So, YourSports is attempting to create a social/local network to have those conversations with your friends — on any sport, not just the NBA, NHL, MLB and NFL. Users sign in to YourSports via login or Facebook. The latter auto-creates a profile using your name and Facebook photo. From there, you can follow teams, cities, sports media properties, etc., and the content posted to those pages ends up in your news feed. If you become a “fan” of a team, for example, you’ll see content related to that team, and if you become a “foe,” you won’t.
Like Facebook, there’s a “Front Page” or main feed, where you can check out the links to articles people are posting and see notifications from within your network, reading articles newsfeed-style in realtime. You can reply to those articles (and the people posting them), share your replies on Facebook and Twitter and, obviously, post your own sports-related content, whatever it may be.
Again, it feels a lot like a Facebook for sports, as the team has spent the better part of two years building a sports database, which now includes over 500K profiles for athletes, schools and venues, from high school sports to Olympic events. Of course, that doesn’t mean that all of these brands and people have claimed their YourSports profiles. Far from it. But in a way it’s similar to how Identified and BranchOut looked at network development, pulling in data from Facebook to build basic profiles for people, with the idea that they will then claim those profiles and become admins, building it out and enriching the data.
Though, that being said, McCoy tells us that they have signed a handful of athletes, writers, teams and leagues as early adopters who will be experimenting with the startup’s version of sports content consumption and presumably claiming their own profiles.
Because McCoy is a Quora fan, the popular Q&A site has provided a lot of inspiration for the way YourSports established its network. In particular, Quora enables users to distribute their Quora content to the followers of a certain topic, using a complex algorithm to determine who sees what content. But for most people, McCoy says, how Quora Topics work can be confusing.
So the idea he says with YourSports is to democratize content distribution in the sense that they want a random fan to be able to get as much distribution to the followers of the San Francisco Giants as the lead sports writer at the San Francisco Chronicle. How much play a particular post or link gets based on the number of reposts, shares and reactions, but the real key is that it provides, in theory, a better way to get your content out to the followers of your favorite sports team than Twitter.
Even if you use “SFGiants” in a hashtag, your content won’t go out to the Giants followers — something YourSports wants to change. Of course, writ large, when and if the platform hits scale, that can make for a lot of noise for Giants fans.
The other part of YourSports’ approach that’s different from the rest is how it’s trying to create “dynamic networks” that connect what happens at the team level to the school, league, association and so on. For example, a league can send a message through all of its schools and teams within the YourSports network. On top of that, YourSports has built its platform on top of geographies, so that when news that happens about a team associated with a particular city, it shows up at a state and national levels as well.
The goal, then, is to be able to tell — at the city, state, country and regional network level — what the community is talking about, which particular teams, issues and pieces of content are most popular and least popular. At some point in the future, McCoy says, they want to add check-ins and tags so that users can see which high school or D3 basketball teams are the most active, etc.
YourSports has a long road ahead on the product side, so the team hasn’t yet decided on a business model. Though, in terms of future commercial expansion, McCoy sees an opportunity to extend (a la Foursquare) check-ins and trending teams to, say, restaurants, so that users can see which bars or burger joints are most popular among Stanford football fans. YourSports is also gearing up to launch its mobile apps, and because it knows you’re at practice or at a 49ers game, it could push that info to your phone when you’re on your way out of the stadium, rink, etc.
Putting all this together, McCoy believes that YourSports is the first to try to build a dynamic social network based on relationship tags (that works at a local level) for sports. The big picture concept (and end goal) is certainly unique, even if the user experience at this early stage is familiar (i.e. almost too reminiscent of Facebook). Like any network in incipience, a lot of YourSports functionality feels superfluous.
If it grows into its user base, that will become less and less true. But, taking Foursquare: The company spent several years collecting check-in data before it actually became a useful application and started geo-tagging deals, showing you where your friends check in, the most popular spots, etc. At scale, YourSports really could have the potential to change the way we consume sports, connecting what are currently disparate pieces into a whole.
Most people have sports identities that do include both local softball teams and favorite national, professional sports teams, but they often don’t (and don’t like to) conflate the two. There’s a reason the major sports properties haven’t touched local. But, as it’s already pulling in news from 5,000 newspapers, blogs, Twitter accounts and distributing to over 1,000 teams, YourSports has started to lay the groundwork for a model that could justify bringing the major Sports Tiers (youth, high school, college, professional, etc.) together. And it is even showing the potential to make it a profitable business, though it’ll take time to prove the skeptic in me wrong on that one.
Of course, there’s always venture capital: YourSports has raised $400K in seed capital from a number of angel investors and is currently in the process of raising its series A.
YourSports represents an important experiment and some big ideas, but it also feels like it’s just pulling to the starting line and there’s a marathon yet to be run ahead.
For more, find YourSports at home here.
Readers who want to bypass the sign up screen can use the code “techcrunch” to get access. YourSports will open it up to the public in the next week.