Just when you thought sports media couldn’t get more crowded, along comes For The Win. The site, which launched on Monday, wants to reach fans and non-fans alike through social media and a focus on sports stories with a heavy human interest feel — like the 7-year old cancer patient who ran for a touchdown in a Nebraska scrimmage.
According to executive Jamie Mottram, For The Win is the first sports site designed specifically to reach readers on viral networks like Facebook or Twitter. Owned by USA Today, the site is staffed by veteran sports writers from outlets like Deadspin and the New York Times who are tasked with finding sharable content.
“You don’t have to be a sports fan to laugh at the ridiculous new logo of the New Orleans Pelicans or openly weep at the 30 year old bat boy with Down Syndrome’s reaction to a Reds home run,” said Mottram, in a phone interview.
Mottram, whose pasts gigs include creating Yahoo! Sports’ blog network and AOL’s Fanhouse, is fond of using terms like “viral lift” and “social currency” to explain For The Win’s plan to build an audience through social media.
For The Win’s social-first approach follows the playbook of viral powerhouse BuzzFeed and newcomer Upworthy. Both these sites, which rely heavily on analytics and A/B headline testing, have acquired enormous audiences by looking to social media, rather than their homepages, as a primary source of traffic. Mottram thinks such tactics can give For The Win an edge as it competes with traditional outlets like ESPN and CBS Sports, and with popular digital natives like Deadspin, SB Nation and Bleacher Report.
“I think a lot of those sites are catering to legacy behaviors and technology,” said Mottram. “SB Nation was born on online communities — message boards around each team. Bleacher Report is a search-oriented content farm. For The Win is produced on a basis of really sharable content.”
The site’s distribution and content strategy will also rely on the sprawling sports network of USA Today parent, Gannett Company, which has affiliation agreements with properties like MLB Trade Rumors and Black Sports Online. For The Win’s content will also appear in legacy properties like the paper edition of USA Today.
For The Win is opening shop with 10 writers and editors and, for the first two months, is relying on Right Guard as an exclusive sponsor. Down the road, says Mottram, the site will rely on a dual revenue stream of display and native advertising.
Correction: this story was updated at 11:45ET to reflect that Gannett has affiliation agreements with certain properties but does not control them as previously stated.