KickApps Offers Sports Fans a Social-Media Hub Powered by Akamai

By Carolyn Braff
Sports fans looking to get closer to their teams have a new social-networking entity. KickApps — an on-demand social-media, video-player, and widget platform — has built social-media Websites for dozens of sports teams, most recently the
San Francisco
49ers (
www
.49ersfaithful.net
), New York Knicks (
www.knicksnet.com
), and New York Rangers (
www.iamaranger.com
). Combining KickApps with Akamai’s Stream OS media-management platform, KickApps clients can now integrate social-networking tools into video-player widgets that, through viral syndication, practically market themselves.
“When we talk about social networking and user-generated content, it’s a perfect fit for sports,” explains KickApps CEO Alex Blum. “Our platform supports niche social networks of like-minded people who need an online forum to share their views and passions about something. There isn’t a community more passionate about a subject than the fans of a sports team.”
KickApps-hosted platforms, which are created in conjunction with a team’s official league-run site, allow fans to create profile pages, join groups, upload photos and videos, interact with other fans through message boards and chats, and run their own blogs, creating a year-round social network of die-hard fans. Blum defines social media as that combination of user-generated content, social-networking capability, and widgets that help fans integrate the social experience into an existing Website but also encourage fans to take that experience elsewhere.
“An end user can grab a widget, like our video player, snag it, and embed it in their blog somewhere else,” Blum explains. “Other people can then discover it at the sports team’s destination or out on the fan’s home page and grab it there as well, so it becomes virally syndicated.”
Says Michael Chin, KickApps SVP of marketing, “The idea is to extend that experience from a game within the stadium or in front of the TV set, just as you would in a real live setting with friends and co-workers. Now you’ve extended that, 24/7, online. That’s the essence of what sports teams are asking of us.”
KickApps links and widgets facilitate navigation between fan sites and their corresponding official team site, as well as with relevant sites on Facebook and other social-networking hubs.
“The mega social networks have announced data-portability initiatives, which means that, going forward, it will be much easier for the 49ers fans from the 49ers fan site to invite their Facebook friends into the 49ers experience,” Blum explains.
The partnership with Akamai’s Stream OS media-management system enables KickApps clients — including those who are not technically inclined — to create, manage, and program their own customized video player, which will fit seamlessly into the other social-networking applications on the client’s site.
“That’s the key differentiator for us,” Blum says. “It’s not enough just to have these applications available on your platform. We’ve created the Web-based tools to make it easy for the average Web developer or non-technical person to come in, customize the experience to fit their style and needs, and then integrate them.”
Blum is confident that, using the drag-and-drop application builder, any Web developer, veteran or rookie, can have a KickApps-hosted site up and running within a matter of days.
KickApps enables Web publishers to create the custom video players, program, deploy and manage their content. Social-media features like rating, tagging, commenting and sharing can also be embedded into the video player, creating another layer of interactivity to avoid publishing static media for its own sake. Bringing Akamai onboard gives those publishers another set of tools to manage their players.
“Stream OS
brings enterprise-level media management to the equation,” Chin says. “With Stream
OS, publishers can do things like manage workflow, business rules, IP
restrictions, geo restrictions, etc.”
KickApps has also integrated the Akamai Media Player Framework into its video players, enabling clients to support streaming and progressive download of content created in Adobe Flash, Flex, and AIR, which is especially valuable when user-generated content is being combined with official NFL video.
“We have media management on the backend of our system,” Blum explains, “so it’s easy for the publisher of the Website to deliver in that player the professionally produced content, highlights from the game, and have that commingled with video or pictures submitted from the fan base.”
In addition, the Akamai Media Player Framework allows integration with many of the major video advertising networks, although KickApps leaves the advertising decision up to each of its partners.
“This online forum is a great marketing opportunity for the teams, but advertising is up to the team,” Blum says. “On some of them, we sell ads. Others choose to sell advertising themselves or not have any advertising on the site at all.”
As for what comes next in this arena, Chin sees integration continuing as teams begin to recognize their own value as media properties.
“I think you’re going to see more e-commerce integrated into the social experience,” Chin says. “The data that comes out of these online communities will begin to feed things like retail, editorial programming, and advertising. As these communities grow, the value proposition is going to become more distinct. I think that’s where the next wave will come.”