Turning a Team Website into a Profit Center

by David Eckoff · 0 comments

This article was originally published on PaidContent.org on November 17, 2004.

sports.media.tech.logo.175 This is the fourth in a series of posts about the 6th Annual Sports Media & Technology conference.

During the session “Turning a Team Website into a Profit Center” experts from three official team sites — two NHL, one NBA — and an executive from MLB Advanced Media shared their insights.

The topic was particularly interesting to me because I previously founded and published one of the most popular unofficial college team sites on the Internet, Inside Carolina and because I previously built a network of college team sites selling content to fans on a subscription basis as Senior Vice-President at Rivals.com.

That said, you certainly don’t have to run a sports team site for this to be meaningful. The topic is more broadly relevant to a variety of destination websites, not just sports team sites.

George Kliavkoff, senior vice-president at MLB Advanced Media, said that team sites in their network are one component of a larger strategy. “Think cross selling,” Kliavkoff said. “Think of ticketing, sponsorship sales, merchandise and content subscriptions.”

How does integrated cross selling work? Consider my real-life example: I am a Boston Red Sox fan living in Seattle and after watching free video of the Red Sox championship parade on MLB.com, I was swept up in the excitement of the victory celebration — and on the spot purchased two Boston Red Sox championship hats via MLB.com.

— Kliavkoff emphasized that aggregation has advantages. Visitors to MLB.com, find consistent navigation across team sites. And aggregating rights across all teams enables MLB.com to deliver a single package to their partners. That creates economic value for MLB.com.

— In contrast, the folks who manage individual team sites within the NHL and NBA said they value their independence in running their own team websites and would be unhappy with a more centrally managed infrastructure. So what’s behind that? Marty Quessenberry, director of new media for the Tampa Bay Lightning, said that his team competes for the attention of fans in Tampa Bay (which is a more football-centric market); as a result, his team website has unique needs that he believes wouldn’t be met with a more centralized approach.

— One thing everyone agreed with: the Internet enables teams to connect with fans in unique ways. For example, Quessenberry from the Tampa Bay Lightning said that last year the team auctioned in-person delivery of Valentine’s Day roses by NHL players to high bidders, with the money going to charity.

— Another example: Kurt Kehl, senior director of communications for the Washington Capitals, says that team owner Ted Leonsis regularly reads the message boards. Leonis recently took the 25 most active message board posters to dinner. Credit to Mr. Leonsis where credit is due: rewarding your most loyal customers with a unique experience — and listening to their opinions — is smart business.

— Finally, Jeramie McPeek, senior director of publishing, Phoenix Suns says that his goal is to have more original content about the Suns than anywhere else. McPeek also notes that the website helps the Suns sell sponsorships, with the added online component.

As interesting as this panel was, I would have liked to have seen even broader representation among the panelists. For example, NFL.com is doing excellent work with their team sites; and thinking outside the box of official team sites, there’s much that can be learned about turning a profit from experts at the two major unofficial team site networks, such as Bobby Burton from Rivals.com and Peter Gruman from Scout.com.

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