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Does This Social Media Launch Stand a Sporting Chance?

By Rich Duprey - Apr 22, 2013 at 4:30PM

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A sports news website focused on the "social news" side doesn't sound like much of a winner.

Here's something no one ever said: We don't see enough daily sports coverage, so we need a new website dedicated to cover it. Yet USA Today, the Gannett (GCI) newspaper dedicated to giving you national news in bite-size snippets and graphics, is launching a new website dedicated to just that. Calling it "For The Win," it expects the new division to attract fans inside and out of sports.

You'd think with the wall-to-wall coverage Disney's (DIS 1.08%) ESPN division provides, there wouldn't be much more of a market for a new player, but USA Today says the twist it's offering is that the news stories will be delivered with an eye toward having them shared on social media.

This hardly seems like much of a niche. Sure, focusing solely on the "social news" side of the sports business will give it a BuzzFeed-style feel -- but without the boldface font -- yet it's not like it's not an already saturated market. Deadspin already gives the space a full-court press, and there's a plethora of coverage already, from digital media outlets like Bleacher Report, SB Nation, and AOL's Sporting News to more traditional sports news sources such as Sports Illustrated and CBS' Sportsline.

It reminds me of the time when teen retailer Pacific Sunwear decided to launch a women's shoe division several years ago because it argued it was "underserved." Hardly, and after ruining its operations, the surf-and-skate crowd retailer had to abandon the idea.

Not that I think the site will suffer the same fate. I think USA Today's penchant for delivering news in an easily digestible format is actually ready-made for social media outlets. Indeed, Twitter research shows that  tweets that include  multimedia receive three to four times more engagement (i.e., retweets, replies, etc.) than those that don't. The photo-heavy layout of For The Win should resonate here.

Still, sharing a news story -- sports-related or otherwise -- on Facebook is already pretty straightforward, while Twitter's capabilities in shortening links makes content-sharing fairly easy too.

Certainly at a time when the NBA has more than 16 million "likes" on Facebook and almost 7 million followers on Twitter; Major League Baseball is garnering around 4 million "likes" and almost 3 million followers; and the NFL has 7 million and 4.5 million fans on the two sites, respectively, it's easy to see the potential of a social-media-focused brand.

But going up against ESPN won't be easy, let alone the others. ESPN, for example, accounts for around 40% of Disney's value, according to Forbes, and has about 100 million subscribers, arguably offering the most comprehensive sports coverage around. 

While much of that is TV-centered -- ESPN just launched a channel devoted to Southeastern Conference football -- I just don't know if a social-media focused effort is enough to put For The Win on the leader board.

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