Niche social networks can be a tough sell; after all, why should users sign up for yet another service when they can discuss the things they love on existing platforms like Twitter or Facebook? Sports social network JockTalk, which launched this week in private beta, is built on the belief that if done right, users can derive a lot more value from a single-focus sharing community than from a less-focused tool, and JockTalk co-founder and former MLB All-Star outfielder Shawn Green explained to BetaKit why that is.
“We realized there were two big gaps in the way athletes connect with fans on current social networks: Current platforms lack rich engagement tools that let athletes identify their top fans, and where they are based, for example,” he said. “Also, before JockTalk, athletes didn’t share in the revenue ecosystem that sprung up around their social media content – now with JockTalk, athletes can generate income for themselves and the causes they care about.”
Delivering a better value proposition for athletes also means attracting more users, something Green is aware of. “From the fan perspective, JockTalk gives fans the opportunity to establish more engaging relationships with their favorite athletes with tools like the Q&A feature and opportunities to get involved in an athlete’s charitable causes,” he said.
JockTalk is debuting with 60 athletes on board, including representatives from the NHL, NFL, NBA, MLB and the Olympics, to name a few. The network isn’t just targeting players and fans, however; the team thinks it also has the right mix to appeal to sports publishers, marketers and leagues and teams, too. It includes monetization options that intend to take advantage of those possible connections, too, including an e-commerce platform for selling tickets and merchandise. Revenue will also be derived from advertising and content syndication, Green told us. Until those revenue options take off, however, JockTalk is self-funded, and the founding team is currently in talks with investors to help bring in more startup capital.
JockTalk isn’t the first attempted niche social network, and not even the first to try sports-specific networking. Green thinks his model can succeed where others have failed, however, due in part to its launch partner athletes, and also to its hooks into existing social media networks.
“JockTalk posts can be syndicated out to Twitter and Facebook, driving an athlete’s fans to and from the social networks they’re already using to create an integrated experience,” he said. “Fans and athletes can even login with their Twitter account and use their Twitter names.”
Celebrity adoption of social tools has always been a bellwether of a network’s success, and is often seen as a sort of maturation point. For JockTalk, the challenge won’t be getting stars on board, since it’s launching with big names already in tow. Rather, JockTalk will have to prove to users that they can get something more using this tool than they can from Facebook fan pages and Twitter verified accounts, and that could be a tough mountain to climb.