With minimal additional investment and no extra hires, fan-based SB Nation is launching 20 new regional sports sites during the next few weeks. The first six went live after midnight: New York, Chicago, Boston, Detroit, Arizona and DC, where the startup is based. The look is similar; all are based on the template at flagship site sbnation.com with its “StoryStream” mixing aggregated real-time sports news,
SB Nation CEO Jim Bankoff explained in an interview: “The reason we are able to do this is that we have already made the investment in paying 300+ writers and developing technology to support 255 sites so we are able to launch 20 sites in about 20 days at a really minimal incremental cost. Eighteen of our 20 regional editors are already SB Nation team writers as are many of the contributing writers to the regional sites so we didn’t have to hire any new people. But we were able to expand the roles and the compensation for many of our existing folks.” SB Nation had 29 full-time employees.
The next wave starts June 10 with Houston and Dallas, followed by Kansas City, June 14; St. Louis, June 15; Minneapolis, June 16; Cleveland, June 17; Pittsburgh, June 21; Philadelphia, June 22; Tampa, June 23; Atlanta, June 24; Denver, June 28; Los Angeles, June 29; Seattle, June 30 and Bay Area, July 1. Some of the timing is a little odd — Philadelphia and LA have teams playing for league championships that will be over by the time the sites launch — but they’ll all be up before the MLB All-Star Break and well underway before football season kicks off. The launches are being accompanied by “meet ups” in each city.
Is SB National Regional competing with ESPN (NYSE: DIS), Fox and Comcast’s regional efforts or the local media? From the outside, that looks like the case. But Bankoff says, “I honestly feel like we are coming at things from a completely different direction. We are grassroots and fan-focused. The people who work on these sites are fans who know how to write and create community and the result is a product that is not like national outlets that try to cover regional or even existing local outlets that have been doing things the same way for a while.” When I suggested that SB Nation relies to some extent on news coverage by those outlets, Bankoff replied, “Now you can even watch press conferences so we create mostly originally content but, yes, like all good new media folks we link out and aggregate with context too but when we want access, we can usually get it. We interviewed Roger Goodell (the NFL commissioner) recently but have access to most events that we want but we often decline it.” Why? “Because our writers are passionate fans and their voice is dependent on not becoming commoditized, not being jaded, not being unbiased. Too much access dilutes your ability to be a fan first.”
Until now, the SB Nation network has been organized primarily around sports or teams, with the flagship site pulling it all together. SB Nation started in 2003 as AthleticsNation.com, co-founded by Tyler Bleszinski (currently editorial director) and Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas Zuniga. The emphasis was on sports coverage and analysis by passionate fans, similar to the way political “fans” contributed to the Daily Kos. Since Bankoff came on as CEO in late 2008, the company has raised roughly $13 million by our estimates, in two funding rounds. Institutional investors are Accel Partners, Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA) Interactive Capital, and Allen & Company; individual investors include Ted Leonsis, with whom Bankoff worked at AOL (NYSE: AOL), Jeff Weiner, and Dan Rosensweig. It’s been attracting more attention: the first mention of this expansion was in an NYT profile for Monday’s Media & Advertising section.