Exiles Is Building Online Communities For Uprooted Sports Fans

Exiles is hoping to build the online home for sports fans who aren’t rooting for the local team. The company hasn’t gotten much press in the 18 months since it launched, but according to co-founder and president Peter Ragone, it’s ready to expand and start making money.

The idea, Ragone said, is to replicate the hometown experience for “out-of-market” fans. In other words, if you’re rooting for the Giants or the 49ers and you live in San Francisco, you can head over to any sports bar and have a good time with other fans. But if you’re out here and your heart belongs to a New York team, well, you probably feel a bit more isolated.

So Exiles has created sites like Yanks in Exile, where fans can have that communal experience online. For example, if you go to the Yanks in Exile site now, you can browse and discuss news stories, share fan stories of your own, respond to community prompts and surveys, and more. Fans can also form local chapters that host in-person meetups.

The company’s founding team is drawing on some unusual experience (at least for the tech world) to address this problem. CMO Theo Yedinsky led social media efforts for former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (who’s now lieutenant governor of California) while Ragone has a long résumé in politics, including working as Newsom’s press secretary and running a “boutique public affairs firm” that was involved in the recent campaign of New York City mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio. Their third co-founder, CEO Leigh Goldstein, has a more traditional tech background,spent spent eight years at eBay and founded his own mobile startup Discovereez.

By the way, the aforementioned plight of a New York fan in San Francisco isn’t hypothetical — that’s basically how Ragone described his own experience. He added that Exiles is applying some of the same community-building principles of successful politicians like Newsom and Barack Obama to sports.

As for the experience of working on community-focused startups, Ragone said, “It has the happiness of politics without the dread.”

One of the keys to this approach, he said, is to build a separate community for each team. Even though there’s a big community of out-of-market sports fans (more than 100 million in the U.S., by Exiles estimate), people don’t care about out-of-market sports per se — they care about specific teams. Thus far, Exiles has built 10 communities, which collectively attract traffic that’s “approaching 1 million pageviews,” the company says. Traffic is growing 20 percent each month, and Ragone said the company has attracted a loyal audience and is not just churning through users: “The relationship has to be emotional.”

Ragone added that those initial communities were really about experimenting and proving the concept. Now, however, “We have a formula, we can tell you exactly how much it’s going to cost to build an audience,” and Exiles can start launching new communities more quickly, both in the U.S. and elsewhere.

In addition, the company is experimenting with a big piece of its monetization strategy — fantasy sports. Like the rest of Exiles, it’s very team-focused, with people creating fantasy lineups drawn solely from a single team.

Exiles’ investors and advisors include Typekit co-founder Bryan Mason, as well as Hugh Evans, head of venture investment at 3D Systems.