Social media: FundAFighter is a new wave

January, 25, 2013
1/25/13
4:00
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Much has been made about the impact a crowd can have in sports. The crowd’s ability to lift a team. To provide that extra burst of energy. To intimidate opponents. Of course, the benefits of crowd support have all been relatively intangible – until now.

Enter FundAFighter, a crowdfunding platform for MMA fighters. Fighters create profiles with funding goals, detailing how the money will help benefit their training. Fighters offer rewards for backers who give a specific amount -- giving away everything from autographed photos to one-on-one training sessions. Fighters promote the campaigns, primarily through social media. From there, fans donate any amount they want to “fund a fighter.”

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If the concept seems like Kickstarter for sports, that’s because FundAFighter founder Robbie Stein modeled his idea after the popular site. (Kickstarter allows users to raise funds online for creative projects, largely by harnessing the power of social media.) However, unlike Kickstarter -- which follows an “all or nothing” model of crowdfunding -- FundAFighter athletes can still get the money even if they fall short of their ultimate goal.

FundAFighter represents a potentially revolutionary way to fund athletic pursuits by harnessing the power and reach of social media. And despite the surge in crowdfunding platforms, few dedicated to sports exist. (Sportfunder is one of the only other examples.)

Sports can be incredibly expensive for an athlete aspiring to make it big. Even for successful and relatively recognized athletes, the amount of money an athlete makes off competition might not actually be that much. Sponsorships may be few and far between, if at all. Prize money for those not at the top of their sport is usually minimal. Outside of major professional sports, athletes often find getting money to cover travel to training expenses difficult.

Part of what led Stein to start FundAFighter was seeing fighters for whom “the pay didn’t equal their fame or [social media] followings.”

With the rise of social media, athletes have an ability to directly tap into their fan bases. Think of it as sponsorship without big-name sponsors. And Stein sees crowdfunding as a revenue stream not just limited to up-and-comers but established athletes as well.

Crowdfunding has shown promise in sports.

Football recruit Marcus Rose dipped his toe into the crowdfunding waters when his mother launched an Indiegogo campaign that successfully raised the money to send him to an elite camp last summer.

Since launching late last summer, FundAFighter has raised a total of $30,000 for 10 fighters -- and they’re fielding requests daily from aspiring and even some known fighters. Stein said they have sought to keep the number of profiles manageable as the site gets off the ground. The next step is opening the site so that any fighter can launch his/her own campaign.

Having a social media infrastructure -- both for the sport and for the athlete -- is a huge asset for crowdfunding. And MMA has an established social media-savvy base.

“There’s no question that compared to any sport in the world, MMA -- and the UFC specifically -- are light years ahead when it comes to social media,” Stein said. “That’s been a major advantage in spreading the word when people hear about us.”

Now word is out. What will be interesting to watch is where the site goes from here. Not just because of the impact it could have on MMA and how fighters raise money, but it’s possible the model could reshape how athletes seek funding.

Elsewhere in the social mediasphere

A ball boy became a social media sensation.

A handful of NFL players got “catfished.”

Kobe Bryant live-tweeted the replay of his 81-point game.

Tennis player Sloane Stephens took down Serena Williams, then took Twitter by storm at the Australian Open.

Got a story we should feature? Have a site we should check out? Who's on your must-follow list? Tweet me at @BurnsOrtiz. If your idea gets mentioned in this column, so will you. Follow Playbook on Twitter at @ESPNPlaybook.
Maria Burns Ortiz covers social media for ESPN Playbook. She began writing for ESPN.com in 2006, covering college soccer for ESPNSoccernet.

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