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Tech firm dials up college sports deal

by Urvaksh Karkaria
September 25, 2009

An Atlanta mobile technology company that serves 20 pro sports teams, including the Atlanta Hawks and Thrashers, is expanding into the more lucrative college sports business.

FanDrive Media LLC has agreements with two sports marketing firms to put its technology inside stadiums and onto the cell phones of fans at about 100 universities, including The University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, the University of Florida and the University of Alabama.

FanDrive, which is co-founded by Washington Nationals co-owner and former Atlanta Braves President Stan Kasten, provides a software platform that allows sports teams to interact with fans, and enables corporate sponsors to run mobile promotions and test market campaigns.

FanDrive is riding the mobile wave. As smartphones wind their way into more pockets, consumers are spending more time on these devices than ever before - watching YouTube, browsing the Web, shopping and banking.

The technology allows fans to receive live score text updates and mobile coupons, play predictive games, and text questions to players. Fans can also text a message or a photo of themselves at the game and watch it broadcast on the JumboTron, FanDrive President J.B. Vick said.

"Most of these applications provide a utility to the fan," Vick said. "Advertisers underwrite this utility in exchange for putting their brand or message around the app."

FanDrive, for instance, created a "text race" for Volkswagen where fans text vote which VW they believe will win a race on the JumboTron.

Professional sports and entertainment companies are seeking new ways to engage, interact and monetize their audience base, Vick said. Advertisers, meanwhile, are searching for interactive and measurable ways of getting their brand messages to fans.

"We generate new digital revenue streams for sports teams," Vick said.

The technology is attractive to bottom-line-watching corporate sponsors because it helps them track the effectiveness of their mobile campaigns.

FanDrive has expanded beyond U.S. shores, and has deals with shopping malls in Australia, soccer teams in Brazil and cricket teams in India.

FanDrive is founded by sports and media executives, including Kasten, who also was president of the Hawks and Thrashers.

While Vick is the operations and technology guy, Kasten brings sports industry experience and contacts to the table.

"My principal input was identifying some of the applications we could have at ballparks and in opening doors at major league venues and with teams at all of the major sports," Kasten said.

As a team owner, Kasten offers the perspective of a FanDrive customer.

The "technology is a way to engage our customers at ball games and generate some new revenues along the way," he said. "Most importantly, it gives the customer a greater way to get involved with the game; enhance their game experience in an interactive way."

While it's not clear if FanDrive's mobile technology will fill more seats in stadiums, Kasten said, "it should produce more revenues from the fans who are here and it will enhance the fans' enjoyment of the product while they're here."

FanDrive Chairman Will Sanders is a former Turner Communications Corp. chief financial officer.

Vick, who launched one of the first e-commerce applications focusing on the sale of digital information, previously worked at Turner and Atlanta-based iXL, an Internet services firm.

Beyond sports

FanDrive's agreements with Plano, Texas-based Learfield Sports and Winston-Salem, N.C.-based International Sports Properties Inc. will generate about $1 million in additional revenue in the first year and about $7 million in the second year, Vick said.


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