An Online Competitor for ESPN

With major backers, SBNation to relaunch as a national sports site.

When it comes to national sports sites on the web, ESPN and Sports Illustrated are considered undisputed powerhouses. But the field beyond is suddenly getting a bit more crowded.

 

SBNation, a network of 212 separate blogs that more or less cover individual sports teams, will launch a new national portal on Thursday, Jim Bankoff, SBNation’s CEO and a former executive at AOL told TheWrap.

 

The Washington, D.C.-based site, SBNation.com, will feature content from its blog network as well as culled from other sources — including ESPN.com and SI.com — in what the site’s creators are calling a “Story Stream.”

 

The “Stream” will be updated by its editors using news and commentary from SBNation blogs, third-party sites and social media — including Twitter. The idea, the company said, is to cover — and update — sports stories from the “fan’s perspective.”

 

“No one is really presenting information like that,” said Bankoff, who spearheaded the development of TMZ and Moviefone. “Advertisers were telling us the same thing.” 

 

SBNation’s blog network attracts roughly 7.5 million unique visitors a month, the company said — traffic that is due, in part, to distribution deals SBNation has with Yahoo! Sports, USA Today and others.

 

ESPN.com, by comparison, gets roughly 14.2 million monthly visitors, according to Quantcast figures. SI gets 8.4 million, Yahoo! Sports 8.3 million.

 

While Bankoff said any sports media site could be considered a competitor, he doesn’t think of ESPN and SI that way. “Our products will compliment each other," he said. "I think sports fans will use both.”

“SI, I would consider a partner,” he added. “For me to launch a copycat of a major sports site would be absurd. We are closer to the Huffington Post than an ESPN.”

 

Yet, the launch of SBNation follows on the heels of a few notable e-sports plays: the Huffington Post’s planned launch of a sports vertical; New York magazine’s launch of a sports blog edited by Deadspin founder Will Leitch; and ESPN’s broad plans to incorporate social media across all of its web properties.

 

There are some major investors involved, including Comcast Interactive, Allen and Company, Accel Partners, LinkedIn founder Jeff Weiner, Quadrangle partner Dan Rosensweig and CNET founder Shelby Bonner — an indication that its heavy-hitting backers are looking for a home run.

 

A $7 million, second round of financing was announced in June.

Bankoff admitted that it will be a challenge to compete on a brand-level with the likes of ESPN and SI, much less with their traffic. “SB Nation is not a household name,” he said. “We sacrificed brand equity early on, and poured our resources into the team sites.”

Those team sites, though, give SBNation a leg up on the bigger branded sports sites on the local level. “We can leverage that deep local dive,” Bankoff said. “National and regional advertisers — we can go after both of those budgets.”