Building an online community for individuals and companies is tough. Luckily for us there are experts like Chris Brogan, Seth Godin, and Dan Schawbel who show us the way. But with the power of the Internet, social networking, and other Web 2.0 applications, isn’t it time sports teams start engaging and building a larger fan base outside of the arenas?
Patrick Murphy, founder and CEO of Brand Thunder, believes teams are not doing enough to keep their fans actively involved in the culture of their favorite team. In this interview, Patrick shares his thoughts on the challenges of starting an online business, and tells you how important networking has been to improve his pitch and raise funds. He also explains why every sports team (or brand with a large audience) should have a custom browser theme to better engage current fans, help increase new fans, and increase profits along the way.
Lewis: What was your main vision for staring BrandThunder.com, and why did you want to help collegiate and professional sports teams?
Patrick: The key in starting a business is to make sure you’re filling a need. We felt that a custom browser, with its persistent presence to an online user, would be valuable to brands who spend a lot of money on websites that users quickly click away from. We can leverage all the work that goes into the web site and keep it in front of the user by putting it in the browser in a very cool way.
But, that’s the standard business plan stuff. Now, let’s talk sports fan. We’re crazy, right? I’m depressed for a week after we lose a game we should have won. So, when I can get rid of my boring gray browser, make it look like it came from my team, gives me team news whenever its released, gives me quick access to stats, schedules, tickets, videos, you name it… I’ve got to have it. There’s no better example than a sports team of who should be using a custom browser theme.
Lewis: How does Brand Thunder help expand a teams fan base, and what is the main benefit they receive from your service?
Patrick: The main benefit is that persistence. The average time spent on a web page is less than a minute. The browser is open for hours. I can make sure your team is in front of your user whenever they are online. That gives you a stronger connection to your fan and drives additional traffic to your site. Plus, you leverage the work already done for your site, it improves your return on investment.
Expanding the fan base is a function of the guerilla marketing we do on behalf of our clients. We make sure team browser themes are available at fan sites, sports sites and other areas that offer downloads. The helps the team reach a fan who otherwise may not be visiting their site. We actually saw hockey fans from other teams download our browser theme for the Washington Capitals simply because it wasn’t available elsewhere.
(Click on image to view more browser themes)
Lewis: Why is this service so great for the fans to have?
Patrick: Now the browser feels like my team. In the Internet, we talk about “look and feel” and this definitely has the look and feel of my team. Plus, it has the capability to pull in a bunch of team news and information – like schedules, rosters, tickets, videos, news stories and more. You’re no longer just a fan, you’re part of the team family. You’ll know what’s happening with the team when it happens. And all this is done without interfering with your regular use of the Internet. The designs are clean and functional.
Lewis: What was your main obstacle for getting funding, and how important was networking to raise money?
Patrick: Networking has been critical in so many facets of building this company. That networking includes friends, family, co-workers, LinkedIn, local organizations. Early on, I had to explain the concept over and over again to people in my network. What you find is each time you tell the story, you get better at it.
By the time you start talking to investors, your story must be polished and concise. You typically get 10 minutes to formally present your concept. If they don’t “get it” in that time, you’re done. Think of it as a single elimination tournament. That was both the main obstacle and the importance of the network. I got a range of opinions and perspectives, and each helped me hone that presentation.
Lewis: To become a winner in sports, it’s all about having championship players on your team. How were you able to find the champion caliber employees on the Brand Thunder team?
Patrick: In our industry, it’s simply a matter of getting out to as many Dungeon & Dragons conventions as you can to find that caliber of person. Actually, this is another good example of the value of networking. The core team came out of my telling the concept and looking for improvements or solving obstacles. A few of the people I repeatedly went to for insight eventually agreed to join the venture. Others came as a direct referral from my network. In those instances, the discussion often ended with, “I can’t help with that, but you really need to talk with this person.” And in enough instances, that person was not only helpful but they came on board.
Lewis: What are some marketing or networking tactics you are using to generate publicity and create more sales to build Brand Thunder?
Patrick: Our focus, at this time, is to make sure all our marketing and promotion efforts are geared toward driving sales. We’re a young company and sales is key to our ongoing health. We also know we can’t be everywhere and do everything. So, we are data driven to make sure we have the information we need to focus our efforts.
We do sell into industries other than sports, but sports has been our most consistent producer. As a result, we do leverage our existing client base for referrals. We continue to use our networking to drive leads. We’ll also be participating in our first trade show, the National Sports Forum in January, to leverage that success.
From the publicity standpoint, we are trying to be everywhere. However, since we’re primarily an Internet business, being everywhere means online. The outreach there consists of online journalists and publications, PR sites for our releases, bloggers through participation within their community as well as coverage.
Lewis: What has been the most effective online networking site to generate referrals?
Patrick: An invaluable networking tool for generating referrals has been LinkedIn. It’s a remarkably easy way to find people, once we’ve identified either the team or company we want to introduce to our product. That contact is pretty quickly reached through someone I already know. Helping you find those connection points is what LinkedIn excels at. If you’re not using LinkedIn to help your business, you’re missing out.
Lewis: Why should every team have their own browser theme?
Patrick: Every team should have their own browser theme otherwise they are missing a vital connection to their fans and leaving money on the table.
The key points being, we help you stay connected to your fan and that is core to your business. We do this with little impact to your own business by managing the process so there is little to no resource impact on your organization. We can increase your revenue through incremental site traffic, e-commerce, and sponsor integration. This is all achieved through a small, single download that enhances the user’s browser.
Truly a low investment, high return opportunity for the team.
Lewis: Where do you see Brand Thunder as a company in the sports industry in the next 5 years?
Patrick: We’d like to be in the Final Four of companies providing branded custom applications to teams.
Lewis: Who is an ideal client, and how can they sign up?
Patrick: Hopefully, I’ve described why any sports team is an ideal candidate for a custom browser theme. An additional consideration is how much traffic the sports team’s site is currently getting. Partners with at least 100,000 unique visitors each month have the most to gain.
Patrick Murphy is the Founder and CEO of Brand Thunder. Feel free to email me him at [email protected] You can also visit www.brandthunder.com to see some of the creative ways Brand Thunder is helping teams engage their fans. On the homepage, you can click the “Case Study” image at the bottom of the page to receive a free overview of how a custom browser theme impacted business for the Washington Capitals.
How do you engage your fans? Does your team have a heavy online presense, or are you missing the mark? What are some other ways to engage fans online besides a Brand Thunder browser theme? Write a comment with some tips and pointers on engaging a fan base online and Parrick will let you know if he thinks it has Thunder!