How to Conquer the Online Media World with Chris Russo of Big Lead Sports

by / ⠀Entrepreneur Interviews / February 8, 2011

When you think of online sports news a few sites come to mind like ESPN, Fox Sports or Yahoo Sports. However a company you may not of heard of is right behind these giants with over 19 million unique visitors each month and is the #1 independent online sports property in the U.S. is a sports media site that has aggregated over 600 sites across all major sports in a little over a year. Today we had the chance to talk with the founder and CEO of Big Lead Sports Chris Russo about the company and online media in general…

Tell us a little about the company and the idea?

I was the head of digital media for the NFL from 1999-2005. During my time there I recognized that there were a lot of independent content sites in the sports arena but they did not have the best business model. This was when paid subscriptions were going down and their sites were to small to draw the big advertisers.

So I set out to organize the best sports sites and aggregate them to create packages for the big advertisers. Originally it was called “Fantasy Sports” which was for the best fantasy sites but it was broadened over time to include many sports sites which today reach over 19million users a month. We bring it all together on where we offer the best of these sites and then users can go out into each niche site.

The entrepreneurs still run all of the content on each niche site but we represent them and sell ad packages to companies like Coke, Coors and Sprint. Some of these sites are very niche, like covering the NBA draft year round, but we have it so consumers can still enjoy each of these niche sites independently. Currently there are over 600 sites in the network.

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I also want to stress that these sites in our network are run by professional journalists not random people. We have central editors who supervise all of the content and we try to focus on helping those writers and journalists continue to produce content the way they like to.

How do you compete against the big guys like ESPN, yahoo sports etc…

Users who go to our site are more engaged. If you take the time to go from a big portal to a niche site you’re more engaged with the whole experience. We look at ourselves as a digital sports marketing company so we customize ad programs more than the big media companies. We compete in three ways which are engagement, creative sports marketing and we simply work harder. The 3rd one is intangible.

It was “fantasy sports ventures” and you changed it to “Big Lead Sports”. How do you go about making such a huge and critical shift? What signs do you look for and what gives you the confidence to know it has to be done?

We spent about a year in that process from brainstorming to research. The reality was that our business had broadened from just fantasy to many other properties and our name needed to better communicate that.

It helped us target advertisers better and putting our fantasy logo on sites that were not fantasy did not make sense. It was a long and thought out process.

Online advertising is a hot topic and in many cases is looked at as a bad model for people to pursue. What are your thoughts on the industry and its future?

The industry is great if you have enough scale. That is the challenge for the small sites if they are not aggregated into something bigger. Marketers are looking for better solutions so you have to adapt to find better ones and be innovative as a publisher. Three years ago it was all about rich media and if your site could expand ads. Today it’s about using social media and targeting your audience through that. It is ever growing.

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If you have good content and a big audience you can be successful. But you need a creative product.

A lot of online media companies seem to be forming partnerships like this with many smaller sites across their industry online to sell ad packages. Do you see this trend growing and becoming the norm online?

I believe there will be a lot more consolidation is the next 2 years. The M&A market is starting to heat up again. There are only so many sites an ad agency can get to know and comfortably buy from. Think about how many thousands of content sites there are! So at some point only a certain size property can commend attention.

Could you talk more about creative advertising. Are banner ads still selling or what are the big buyers looking for?

1. Video: Marketers want that 15-30sec message in video online.

2. Social media: Can mean facebook but also other elements of social interaction. We have done programs with twitter apps and content widgets that users share.

3. True engagement: Content integration with matched brands so users have a deep understanding of the advertiser.

What is your advice for entering the online media world today?

1. Find a niche or a proposition in the content space and do it extremely well and deep. You have to have something very special. Just a football news site is not interesting.

2. Monetize: Look for partners who can bring you money and scale.

3. Cautious cost structure: focus on efficiency and keep costs reasonable. It is still tight to find capital and funding sources.

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