San Diego has suddenly become a digital sports hub, due in large part to the recent rapid growth of East Village-based marketing and technology agency Digitaria.
CEO Daniel Khabie said his company has doubled revenues over the past 12 months, and is poised to move more aggressively into the digital sports business field.
Khabie said work in that realm now accounts for 25 percent of revenues, and includes such important clients as the National Football League and several of its franchises, plus the Ironman triathlon endurance sport, the Association of Tennis Professionals, U.S. Soccer, Ladies Professional Golf Association, the USA Triathlon, The San Diego Padres and performance clothing purveyor Under Armour.
As a result, Khabie said that John Van Spyk, who heads a team of six, including a former professional figure skater, has been promoted to executive vice president of the unit.
“We use technology, marketing and analytics to solve business problems and generate revenue for such clients as ESPN, USA Triathlon, and several NFL teams,” Van Spyk said.
He said today’s sports fan is moving beyond the living room couch and the desktop computer in the den to access more content via smartphones and tablets, what he calls “second and third screen users.”
This is especially true of the millennial generation of 18-to-25-year-old males — and a growing number of females — who consider email passé, and now communicate mostly through text messaging, as well as social media such as Twitter.
But Van Spyk pointed out that females in this group are quickly catching up, not only in female-only sports, such as women’s professional golf, but in traditional male strongholds, such as football.
He said fans in this generation are highly educated — and very engaged in following their favorite sports.
The advent of social media has pulled more of them into the mix, which underscores the importance of this new interactive media.
“We understand the sports fan, which has enabled us to put together platforms that distribute content across a number of technologies,” said Van Spyk. “It’s been a challenge, but we have been able to make it happen.”
“It’s become a key market for us,” he said.
One of its largest competitors is U.K.-based Perform Group, which provides professional sports content across a variety of media outlets, including television.
But Digitaria Sports has moved into Perform’s backyard with clients NFL UK and the World Tennis Association, which has headquarters in London.
For the NFL UK, Digitaria redesigned and updated the site prior to the new season.
When the site launched, the agency built in an interactive section titled “Coach Stilo,” which instructed British fans on the rules of the game. The site included a “Team Picker” page, which queried visitors about their likes and dislikes, and then matched the NFL team that best fit their personality.
A research report by San Francisco-based boutique investment bank WR Hambrecht + Co. notes that fans worldwide will spend $25 billion in 2012, and that the growth rate in spending is averaging over 6 percent a year over the past five years.
After Digitaria redesigned the website for the LPGA in March, traffic for the Kraft Nabisco Championship tournament increased more than 90 percent, said officials.
“The website and digital platform greatly expands our ability to connect with fans as we have significantly increased content — players, tournaments, video, photos — and created a stronger connection to social media,” said Jon Podany, chief marketing officer for the LPGA, in a news release.
Van Spyk started off his professional career working for the San Francisco 49ers professional football team in the late 1990s, and has developed something of a specialty in matching up the needs of professional football teams with their rabid, but savvy fan base in terms of technology.
He even admits to watching a few games on Sunday when he has a few moments to spare.
The local agency is a unit of advertising powerhouse New York-based JWT Co., with global competition.
In addition to San Diego, Digitaria has offices in Minneapolis, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, and Van Spyk said that he will be putting “employees on the ground” in other locales as the sports side of the ledger continues to grow.
“Our goal is global expansion,” Van Spyk said. “We want to continue the momentum that we have gained so far this past year.”