x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Sportlobster, the website that spans arenas

The Life: Novak Djokovic has a lot to answer for. It was a blog about the Serbian tennis star that propelled Andy Meikle towards setting up Sportlobster, a online social network dedicated to sports.

Andy Meikle, the chief executive of Sportlobster, a social networking site dedicated to sports, outside Fulham's Craven Cottage in London. Eleanor Bentall for The National
Andy Meikle, the chief executive of Sportlobster, a social networking site dedicated to sports, outside Fulham's Craven Cottage in London. Eleanor Bentall for The National
Novak Djokovic has a lot to answer for.
It was a blog about the Serbian tennis star that propelled Andy Meikle towards setting up Sportlobster, an online social network dedicated to sports.
"This is good," Mr Meikle recalls thinking as he read the blog. "But how are fans to know it exists? And how is the blogger supposed to attract readers?" He also realised that dedicated sports fans must switch between a number of sites to engage in various activities: checking scores, reading news articles, predicting outcomes. And to interact with each other they mainly rely on Facebook or Twitter.
"I realised ... how disjointed following sports online is - especially if you are a fan of multiple sports," Mr Meikle explains. "I wanted to bring it into one place and make it a one-stop shop. It was thanks to a Novak Djokovic blog that the penny dropped."
At the time, December 2011, Mr Meikle was running The Question Company, a tech company he had founded in Dubai. He had been seeking funding to grow that business for two years and had finally found an investor.
But after a meeting with Arron Shepherd, who became Mr Meikle's co-founder and who in turn introduced him to a potential investor, they raised US$750,000 in two days to get the sports site up and running.
"That's a substantial amount for a PowerPoint presentation," Mr Meikle jokes.
He decided to shut down The Question Company because that investor would put up the money only if Mr Meikle remained in the role of chief executive.
"There were two offers on the table, both subject to my 100 per cent involvement," he recalls. "I love sport. And the experience I [could] take from that two-and-a-half years running the tech company and with the prospect of Sportlobster to be a global social network, it was a no-brainer for me. I had to go for it."
Scottish by birth, Mr Meikle grew up in Dubai and played rugby for the Arabian Gulf under-18 team.
He attended West Virginia Wesleyan College in the US on a soccer scholarship. After graduating in business management, he tried out for football clubs in London but a snapped anterior cruciate ligament forced him to rethink his career path.
Sportlobster launched at the start of April with with discussion forums for 32 sports. The name was suggested by the investor and proved to be the most memorable of the names they bandied about: lobsters also stay partners for life in the same way people support particular sports teams for life. The site currently provides content for seven sports: football, rugby, tennis, cricket, golf, basketball and Formula One. The number of sports covered is to expand to 94 in coming weeks.
The response has been "amazing," according to Mr Meikle. It has attracted 7,500 users from 126 countries.
The number of users and the time they spend online have exceeded expectations. The founders expect to have 1 million users by the end of this year, 4 million users in 12 months and 10 million by the end of 2014.
There are two aspects of the site that have proved particularly popular: first, the prediction function that allows people to collect points by forecasting who will win a match.
Also popular is the news and articles section. Fans can write their own blogs and again win points if other site users "like," "favourite," share or comment on the piece. Writers with the most points make it on to a leader board.
"From that you get recognition and more followers," Mr Meikle explains. "So, if you are writing quality content it's an easy way to be found."
Realising its popularity, the founders are also eager to expand into North America before any copycats beat them to it. This requires $1 million in funding.
Mr Meikle was last week in Luxembourg where he secured the $1m from an investor.
"This will allow us to create mobile apps, penetrate the North American market and add to the list of sports we cover," he says, adding that a trip to scout for offices in the US is hopefully on the cards next month.
Also in the pipeline is a Sportlobster mobile app for iPhones and Android.
Sportlobster has been boosted by users talking it up on Twitter. Mr Meikle is also working on getting celebrity endorsers with one in particular especially keen.
The entrepreneur is for now keeping silent on who it is. But how fitting if it were Djokovic himself.
 
lgutcher@thenational.ae