I regard 1995 as the year that Sports on the Internet launched and initially took off in popularity. So, as we celebrate our 20th year, I’ve been thinking back to the digital revolution in Sports … from the internet in the mid 90’s to the mobile space now. A few of my students at Georgetown Univ have asked me what it was like “back in the day” — so I’m doing a write-up of my personal experiences over the past two decades.
Back in early ’94, I left the radio industry to go work for Home Team Sports (now Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic). Terry Chili hired me as an Advertising Manager. The primary role of our team was to develop, implement and execute the marketing plans for this regional sports network serving a 6-state region. Our primary partners were the Washington Bullets (before they became the Wizards), Washington Capitals and Baltimore Orioles.
We marketed via the traditional marketing channels, re cable TV, print, radio, billboards, bill stuffers, etc. But, in the summer of ’94, I attended a ProMax conference in New Orleans and watched a presentation from an executive from AOL — the topic was interactive news. The premise that the consumer doesn’t just read the news but can interact via posting messages, looking at photos and videos, etc. That concept intrigued me and I started thinking how it might apply to Sports.
Then a short while later, one of our consultants, Jeff Grimshaw (a former Turner Sports promotion whiz), scheduled our HTS team to go meet with Bell Atlantic (they were one of the seven Baby Bells after the AT&T was forced to break out into regional companies). I recall Mitch Praver and Anne Levy gave us a terrific presentation about “interactive TV.” In essence, one could watch numerous cameras angles (not just the one director’s shot) from a standard TV production truck, order food online, shop and buy clothes online, buy advance movie tickets, etc.
This was a very intriguing proposition — I thought it’d be great if we could offer these services to our fans watching the Baltimore Orioles games via HTS and O’s TV throughout the region. Also, at that time, Time Warner was also testing the “world’s first interactive TV network” in Orlando, Florida (this would become more relevant personally at the end of the decade).
We did not enter a partnership with Bell Atlantic but I made connections that would change my professional life.
I received a call from Anne Levy in early ’95 — inquiring if I might be interested in working for an innovative technology company based in Vienna, Virginia. Although I very much enjoyed working for a regional sports network, I was very intrigued with this new online / internet sector that was being developed.
Anne had left Bell Atlantic and joined America Online (AOL) in early ’95. I went there to interview with Anne and the GM, Sports — Randy Dean. The three of us completely hit it off. So, although I was only at HTS for over a year, I left in the Spring ’95 to join the AOL Sports team. At that time, I thought I’d work for AOL for 3 – 4 years and then I could launch my own business — as a sports marketer with experience in PR, radio, TV and internet. I had no idea AOL would become a global brand in the coming years.
I ended up staying at AOL for 14 years. It was an incredible and invigorating run. I made professional and personal contacts that have changed my life in such a positive manner. For that, I’m eternally grateful. I have many friends to thank – including the ones mentioned in this blog.
In ’01, AOL and Time Warner merged and AOL Time Warner was the largest media company in the world. And, one of the driving forces to the deal was Jerry Levin, Time Warner’s Chairman, who wanted to leverage the internet and interactivity to drive Time Warner’s various business units (Time Inc, HBO, Turner Broadcasting, Time Warner Cable, Warner Brother Studios, etc). He saw the vision back during the Time Warner’s trials in Orlando that interactivity would have a major impact in media.
I left AOL in ’09 — to start a consulting business focused on digital sports — and I also taught Sports courses full-time at Georgetown University. The combination of consulting, teaching and mentoring was nearly perfect.
But, in the fall of ’13, I had a couple of meetings with the brilliant technology visionary, Jeong Kim. Jeong sold his first company, Yurie Systems, to Lucent, for over $1.1 billion in ’98 — making him one of Washington, DC’s first tech superstars. He also become one of Ted Leonsis’ partners with the Washington Wizards, Capitals, Mystics and Verizon Center. Then, in ’05, he became the President of the legendary Bell Labs.
Jeong introduced me to his good friend, Wim Sweldens, another technology visionary who ran the Wireless and Ventures groups for Bell Lab’s parent company, Alcatel-Lucent. They built that into a global, $4 billion business — building out mobile networks all over the world.
The three of us brainstormed and we decided to start a mobile platform business focused on building a more interactive, personalized and live sports and entertainment experience. Thus, Kiswe (we took the first two letters from Jeong’s last name the first three letters from Wim’s last name) was officially launched on Dec 1, 2013.
As we fast forward to Feb ’15, it’s been an invigorating 15 months as we are developing for the mobile space what we built out for the internet sports space in the mid 90’s to early 00’s. There are a lot of similarities. But, there’s no doubt that we will be able to add value to sports leagues, teams, association, brands and agencies globally. We will develop incremental revenue streams by leveraging innovative, world-class technologies.
Ironically, some of our key offerings, including the ability to switch and watch multiple camera angles, create interactive advertising, offering the ability to touch the screen and order e-commerce, fantasy sports / gamification, etc are what we first observed during the Bell Atlantic and Time Warner interactive TV test trials over 20 years ago. What was just once a dreams in the minds of technology visionaries is now a reality. And, now we are focused on making this available globally on mobile platforms. www.kiswe.com.
With over 2.5 – 3 billion mobile devices globally — and with Sports being among the most popular content categories, I’m excited that Kiswe Mobile will stake a leadership position in the Mobile Sports space — similarly to how AOL Sports did so in the 90’s.
AOL’s former CEO, Bob Pittman, used to always tell us “I’ve seen this movie before.” This comes from his days of co-founding MTV (and sharing those experiences into developing AOL into a global brand). I now truly can relate. It happened to the internet in the 90’s — and it’s happening in mobile right now. Global, Mobile and Social.