Graham Vincent

Football supporters the new journalists, says FTBpro founder

The chief executive of a football website that allows fans to become authors reckons mainstream media has “no choice” but to conform to a similar user-generated-content model.

Asaf Peled founded FTBpro in his native Israel in 2011 and quickly grew the site to cover five major European leagues in four languages. The site now boasts around 1600 contributing writers and around 40 million pageviews worldwide per month.

Asaf recognised an opportunity for a user-generated-content driven football publication, and his background in technology enabled him to build upon his idea.

Publications like the Guardian and the Telegraph will have to “mix it up” if they are to remain commercially strong in the social media era, says Asaf.

“The world is going to social media. Social media, and it’s inherent interactivity, allows our UGC platform to succeed. The big publications will have to incorporate UGC within a decade, they will have no choice”.

Editorial integrity is of paramount importance to FTBpro, despite the ease in which a fan can have an article published.

FTBpro employ a 15-strong editorial team in Tel Aviv that mentors writers and check contributions.

Asaf is keen to stress the difference between ‘bloggers’ and, in the case of FTBpro, ‘writers’. Blogging is much more informal, he says, and lacks editorial rigor. He takes pride in the “liberalism” of the self-publishing platform.

The editorial team do ‘enhance’ articles, perhaps 5-10% of submissions, but the vast majority of content is published without editorial intervention, as “every football fan has a voice”.

That voice is set to amplified worldwide soon, as FTBpro embark on an expansion into the four corners of the globe.

As well as the intention to cover Major League Soccer in America, and leagues in France, Turkey, Asia and Latin America, plans are afoot for something major for the World Cup in Brazil next year.

Asaf did extensive research before setting up FTBpro into the worldwide network of independent football bloggers. This has fuelled the site’s rapid, and impending further, expansion.

Asaf says: “We analysed the market, and found that there are thousands of really cool football bloggers without a significant audience and without the capability of getting their content on a mobile app.

“So I thought, ‘let’s become a platform for these bloggers’”.

That’s exactly what he did. Alongside fellow Israeli entrepreneurs Gili Beiman and Yuval Larom, Asaf has attracted £4.87 million investment for the site, and they recently opened an office in London, where he is now based.

Asaf’s technology background, working with startups in what he calls the rich, tech hotbed of Tel Aviv, made starting the venture straightforward.

The investment, from Battery Ventures and Gemini Israel Ventures, will facilitate the expansion beyond Europe, and bring greater linguistic choices to readers.

FTBpro plan to add French, Portuguese, Arabic and Mandarin to the current offerings in English, Italian, German and Spanish.

Asaf said: “Most of our users are coming from Europe. I believe Asia presents the most lucrative expansion opportunity over the next five years.

“We are already the largest fan-driven platform in the world.”

The new global business model will be pushed forward from early next year.

FTBpro’s several million active users are all potential writers. It is very clear when perusing the site that I, as a reader, can contribute. The team rely on word-of-mouth to attract potential writers, as well as advertising through journalism classes and job boards. It’s niche position in the market, Asaf says, helps it stand out and attract writers.

Writers can then have their work featured. Writers can develop a trust by contributing regularly and a well written, quality and relevant article is likely to be featured, given greater prominence and the author awarded an achievement (achievements can be awarded for article reads, amongst many other things).

Writers are given feedback on how they can improve a submission and given writing tips for future articles. FTBpro hire journalists in the featured countries. Currently, it covers the Premier League and Championship in England, La Liga in Spain, Italy’s Serie A, and the German Bundesliga.

FTBpro have augmented several high-profile partnerships that help it’s content to flourish. Selected featured articles are pushed out to the likes of the Telegraph, MSN and the Huffington Post. The most rewarding partnership, though, is with the League Managers Association.

FTBpro announced earlier this year that they are the new online media partner for the LMA, benefitting from exclusive interviews with current Premier League managers as well as online training sessions for site users.

The non-financial partnership has so far given over a hundred writers the opportunity to interview Premier League managers.

Asaf says that, most importantly, FTBpro “taps into every fan’s passion to write about football.”

Although, he concedes, not his own. “I’m a huge Arsenal fan, but I’m not sure readers would approve of my writing”, he jokes.

But, when you have an average of over 300 articles published every day, why would you need to?

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