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Soccer site for kicks, screams

OleOle gives fans a place to blog about teams and players.

June 23, 2008|Alana Semuels | Times Staff Writer

The Euro 2008 tournament is well underway, pitting the Continent's top national football teams -- known stateside as soccer -- against one another in a spirited fury.

So what could be better than gathering in the pub with a pint to watch Italy's footballers dive and gripe all over the field? How about following the game online while blogging about it?

That's the idea behind OleOle, a Beverly Hills-based website co-founded by Doug Knittle, the entrepreneur behind ticket seller RazorGator. While at the World Cup in Germany in 2006, he realized that a social media website could cater well to football fans, who generally obsess about their sport. Knittle and David Mok, the chief technology officer, launched a test version of the site in late 2006, then opened it to the public last month.

Their intention was "to deliver everything a football fan could want online," Chief Marketing Officer Tom Kuhr said.

That's quite a goal. OleOle, which says it has received 3 million visitors this month, is trying to accomplish it by having fans blog about the game and call in from the stadium with comments. They can create profile pages and discuss their favorite players and teams. The site also features live score updates, videos, photos and information about 6,000 club and national teams in 10 languages.

If you've ever been watching Russia play and longed for someone to type "GOALLLSKIII" on your screen, this is the place for you.

OleOle is another example of the many niche social media sites that have sprung up in the last few years, such as NurseLinkUp, Luxury Social Network and Dogster. They are trying to capture some of the advertising dollars currently being pursued by News Corp.'s MySpace and Facebook Inc.

Research firm EMarketer Inc. estimates that advertisers will spend $2.7 billion on U.S. social networks in 2011, up from $1.6 billion in 2008.

"Outside of the U.S., soccer is probably the most closely and fanatically followed sport or interest around the globe," said Nick Didow, a professor of marketing at University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School.

Didow, who specializes in sports marketing and globalization, said OleOle was an example of what happens when technology brings the world closer together.

To become a global soccer destination, OleOle has been acquiring well-known blogs from around the world. The nine snapped up for undisclosed prices include Harry Hotspur, about London club Tottenham Hotspur; Boca Juniors Fans, a Spanish-language website about Argentina's most popular team; and, perhaps most famously, Arseblog, a 6-year-old site about North London's Arsenal.

Contributors to OleOle also include dozens of unheralded bloggers, such as a Romanian blogger named Horia who updated fans on Wednesday's Sweden-Russia game with such tidbits as "Kolodin shoots from far away. I think he's still hung over from the vodka last night. Why would any defender want to shoot from that far out?"

OleOle has 28 full-time employees and more than 20 part-time reporters and local experts. It may seem strange that the company is based in Beverly Hills, or in the U.S. at all, given that soccer is not as popular here as basketball and baseball.

Indeed, 26% of OleOle's visitors have come from Britain, 33% from the rest of Europe, 9% from South America and only 12% from the U.S., Kuhr says.

Still, Kuhr says greater Los Angeles is the perfect home for the company. It's in a relatively central time zone, so OleOle employees can work with Asia and Europe. It's littered with social media and online advertising companies. And the region is diverse enough that employees can be found for a site that features 10 languages.

"We've been able to find a great localization team here -- passionate soccer fans who are native speakers -- helping us manage translations and content," he said.

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alana.semuels@latimes.com

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