A Medina native is hoping his solution to searching multiple websites to find sports news from Northeast Ohio will be a home run with sports fans everywhere.
James Yoder, a 1999 graduate of Highland High School, has launched a website — www.chatsports.com — that will take content from more than 10,000 different sources from news websites to official team pages to blogs and tweets and collate them into a personalized home page.
When Yoder was living in Washington, D.C., as a displaced Cleveland sports fan, he found himself constantly searching multiple websites daily to get the sports news from home.
“The average sports fan would have to go to 12 to 15 sites,” said Yoder, chief executive officer of Chat Sports. “You can go to Chat Sports in 10 minutes a few times a day and literally get all of the sports you need. We’ll give you all of it from every source and let you decide and personalize it.”
Yoder’s personal page pulls in information on the Browns, Cavs, Indians, Nationals (from his D.C. days) and Michigan. (He was a little reluctant to admit it, but his dad grew up in Michigan and his brother goes to school there.) A Californian now, Yoder said he hasn’t really adopted the San Francisco 49ers or Giants as his teams.
The service is free, and Yoder hopes the idea will catch on and attract advertisers or eventually a buyer for Chat Sports.
There are other sites that aggregate sports content, but Yoder said he believes Chat Sports’ ability to personalize the user’s preferences with the largest content will give them the edge. The site’s software can add teams to a user’s profile if it is frequently searched and can push popular stories onto a page, too.
To start, the site feeds 40 different stories at a time to a page. Users can see a preview of the story and if they want to read it in full, they will get sent to the actual website, giving page views to the provider, Yoder said.
“We’re certainly not trying to house or steal content. It’s letting sports fans discover content they didn’t know existed,” Yoder said.
The staff of Chat Sports has five employees, a mix of interns and a network of 250 journalism students who agreed to write content about sports teams in exchange for the experience. Yoder said there are about 15 students at Ohio schools, including the University of Akron and Kent State.
Yoder launched his company a year ago in California after coming up with the idea while working for Verizon in Washington. Yoder recruited friends in the industry to help him bring his vision to life. A high school buddy, John Kobs, chief executive officer of a nationwide apartment search engine, www.apartmentlist.com, became an initial investor along with few others from Northeast Ohio — Yoder’s friends and family.
Kobs, who serves as chairman of Chat Sports, also introduced Yoder to some of the investors for his site in San Francisco.
Yoder, 31, raised about $400,000 over the last two years — half of which came from Akron-area investors — and is hoping to raise $1 million plus in capital by the spring.
Yoder also began looking for a technical co-founder, or someone who had the software and engineering expertise to build the program for the personalized sports news site. He chose Nick Cohen, a Chicago graduate student. Cohen, together with another Northeast Ohio native, Kent State graduate Tony Paternite, and other engineers built the program for Chat Sports.
“A lot of deep math” was involved, said Yoder. Some University of California at Berkeley students also helped.
The end result is sports news from 122 professional teams in the NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB. Other areas covered are golf, pro soccer, NASCAR and events such as poker and Ultimate Fighting Championships.
There are also all of the major college football teams in the BCS and Notre Dame.
Articles are pulled into the Chat Sports site and if there is no photo or video to go with the original story, the site pulls the best high-quality image from the Internet. The company pays Google for the service and uses technology to automate the image.
“We can be a firehose of sports traffic,” said Yoder, who recently visited his father’s house in Fairlawn to talk to local investors.
The company had more than 100,000 visitors a month on Google before its official launch in October, Yoder said.
For Kobs, it was difficult to find sports news about Cleveland in San Francisco newspapers — unless the Browns played the Oakland Raiders or the San Francisco 49ers.
“You’re constantly going to those newspaper websites from where you grew up. Chat Sports is a nice, elegant way to satiate that need for hometown coverage” in one place, said Kobs.
Justin McLoughlin, vice president with www.apartmentlist.com, is also a Highland grad with Kobs and Yoder.
Chat Sports is working on mobile apps to go with the website and hopes to have an iPhone and iPad app by December and an Android app by the first quarter of next year.