At CBS he was senior VP of strategic planning and interactive ventures, which put him in charge of the network's website as it was first evolving from, essentially, a marketing brochure to a destination with real content. In 2005, after leaving during a shake-up at CBS, he joined then-new head of media Lloyd Braun's team at Yahoo, overseeing sports, entertainment and original video production. By late 2006, perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, he left just a week before Braun did the same.
For the past two years, Katz has been developing his own site, SportsFanLive, which launched last summer. Katz's goal with the site is to bring a more social, more personalized, and more local experience to online sports business currently dominated by sites like ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and his own former Yahoo Sports.
Last week Katz spoke to Technotainment about his new company and the overall industry. In the first of a two part interview, he discusses his goals with SportsFanLive and how it's competing with much bigger players. Tomorrow we talk about new approaches he's taking and the overall online media market.
Ben Fritz: Tell me about the premise of the site. What are you trying to do? Why did you start it?
David Katz: The whole concept of SportsFanLive was... When I was at Yahoo Sports, and CBS before that, those sites had a very good run. Yahoo Sports did incredibly well, became a number one sports site on the Internet, and we saw a lot of potential there, quite frankly, that wasn't even being realized.
Yahoo Sports was great at aggregating news and information, then breaking stories, putting video out there, but my personal belief was that social media was going to play a much larger role in the sports space. When you think about the sports experience, it shouldn't be any dissimilar to the experience that someone has when they walk into a sports bar. There's a socialization process: you care about certain teams, you're there to watch a certain event, you're there to engage with the people around you who either love your team or hate your team.
So the question we asked was, "If you were building a Yahoo Sports or an ESPN.com from scratch today, knowing everything you know about social media and where that's going, knowing everything you know about how the traditional media DNA needs to evolve to include the bloggers and the blogosphere and everything that's going on there, how would it be different – would it be different? – and more importantly, can you innovate in that space?"
That's because a lot of these sites started to look the same. You change the color of the site, you change the logo at the top, and swap out of a couple of the writers they had, and it's effectively the same site powered by the same content coming from the stats.
So at SportsFanLive, we took that step back and said, "Let's just think about the space, and be innovative." And what we built at SportsFanLive was an ecosystem that, we think, had a level of innovation that didn't exist on a lot of the other sports sites, both large and small.
It really came down to to three buckets. One, aggregating the best news and information, personalized to your favorite teams and players. We didn't see enough personalization on these sites and we felt like ESPN didn't want you to know that SI.com wrote a really good piece about your favorite team. I still believe that the majority of sports news is broken at the local newspaper level, and they don't get enough credit for that, so we aggregate all of that stuff from all the sources in one place, and we think we've got the most robust filtering and aggregation system that exists for sports sites.
Two, the community aspect. "Can you pull in the right information from the relevant people, and connect users with their friends and other relevant folks?" When I go on ESPN and some of these other sites, I've never felt the impetus to share what I'm experiencing there with anyone else. I kind of read the article, and if I like it and there are some great articles there, I move on to the next article, or I see the next video clip. Our standpoint is, "Can we build those connections between people?"
Mind you, this was two years ago we were conceiving of this. Facebook was small, but we thought had potential. MySpace was big. YouTube had just been acquired. We opted for more of a Facebook-ian experience, where you bring your friends in and you connect more to what your friends say or do. But we also said, from a social perspective, "Could you come up with innovative features that do not exist today?" and one of those that we came up with was called FanFinder.
The concept of FanFinder was very simple. I'm from Baltimore, I'm a big Baltimore sports fan, I live in L.A. now. It's guaranteed that they will never show a Baltimore sports game here in Los Angeles as long as I live, so I'm forced to go out to a sports bar if I want to watch the Ravens. So I'd go out to these sports bars, and no matter where I went, I was surrounded by Steelers fans, guaranteed. They're everywhere. So I ask myself the question, "Where do Ravens fans in Los Angeles get together to watch these games?" Thus, FanFinder was born. It's effectively a sports bar locater where fans tell you where they're going to watch certain games, and you can sort of cluster around your team affinities.
Well, we decided to take that one step further. We got a lot of attention when we launched around that feature, because from a high concept standpoint, people found it pretty creative, and it solved the specific sports fan need. We were approached two months ago by Panasonic, who said "We love that feature – what can you do that's new and cool around it?" So we created our first iPhone app.
FanFinder Mobile uses GPS to identify where you are in the U.S, will immediately tell you where the ten closest sports bars are to you, wherever you are, and then you can specify the teams you follow, shake the device and it will re-sort to tell you whether there are any sports bars catering to your team's fans within X number of miles from your location.
BF: And Panasonic is going to be sponsoring it?
DK: Panasonic is going to be sponsoring it. I think part of the rationale was that they're excited about the idea, they have a new Panasonic TV that was coming out that's great for sports, and were trying to push that into sports bars around the country. "Here's a way to get people into sports bars." So they were the official sponsor.
We got it up literally the day before the NCAA Tournament, and Apple... you know, dealing with these companies, it's a bit of a black box. You go it, and there's no one you can talk to. You follow the rules in the API, and you do your best to present something you think they might like. Apple loved what we were doing. We got a phone call from them, and they said, "We're approving your app. We love it. It'll be in there for the Tournament," and they actually made it the number one featured app in the entire App Store for the first ten days of the NCAA Tournament.
It was phenomenal. It's the best promotion money can't buy, and it was really just about touching a chord with them that they think is interesting and utilizes a lot of the cool things you can only do on an iPhone.
BF: It seems like regardless of whether you're getting local content for me as a fan, or you're getting information on a sports bar, that's a lot of information. Are you developing a platform around that, or are you having to get that manually in a lot of cases and enter it? Where does that data all exist?
DK: We spent the larger part of almost a year building a platform and the majority of that stuff is automated and filtered. There's a little bit of human intervention in terms of building the databases, in deciding what you're going to be culling from, and pulling from, and where those sources are, but we wanted to make the effort today to get all that stuff so it could run on its own. We have a very small team with limited manpower, and we want to make sure we're putting our efforts towards the most important things.
BF: But is there a database of what sports bars, for instance, are for which teams?
DK: We built it.