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Where the Fans Are: Top Social Networks for Sports Lovers

In the early days of social media, it didn’t take long for users to realize that Twitter was a great way to keep up with breaking sports news, whether that was the play-by-play, the halftime score or the latest free-agent trade. Not to mention the fact that every athlete with thumbs has their own Twitter account.

The statistics are staggering: 27.8 million tweets about the Boston Marathon bombing; 150,000 tweets per minute during the NBA Finals; 26.1 million tweets during Super Bowl XLVII and its 33-minute blackout; and 4.6 million tweets during the NCAA Final Four.

Therefore it should be no surprise that Twitter takes its sports as seriously as its users do, and in September the company hired a former ESPN executive (and former CEO of the Professional Bowlers Association!) to spearhead Twitter’s sports business.

His job will be to create and maintain partnerships with leagues and athletes while also overseeing content and overall strategy. It’s a big move to keep sports fans glued to their Twitter timelines instead of venturing off into social networks specifically designed for sports fans, sports bettors and sports nuts.

And Twitter has a reason to be concerned; there are a ton of these networks in this space, probably far too many for them all to succeed. So who are the players in the social media space for sports fans? Here’s a quick rundown of some social sports sites and apps to watch as they rise or fall:

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Boston-based Fancred seeks to take on Twitter’s sports stranglehold with a gamified mobile-based social network that gives more clout (Klout-style) to fans the more rabid and crazy and obsessive they are. Fancred picked up $1.5 million in October. With a 30 percent active daily user rate, Fancred says its prepared for a Super Bowl traffic spike.

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The fan site Lockerdome is a place where fans can connect over their shared passions, whether its NFL football or the Indian national cricket team. Lockerdome has 1,500 professional athletes of various stripes already engaging with fans as part of their overall social media strategy.

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UK-based Fanatix is a mobile-first fan site that experienced a 566% traffic bump this time last year, claiming a million monthly users by last March -- about the same time it secured another $1 million in angel capital.

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An Australia-based site, Favourit is designed to connect bettors to other “punters” for betting tips, compare posted odds with your bookie, get stats and live scores geared towards sports betting, and earn prizes inside the network for successful picks and bets. The site raised $3.6 million last April at the same time it launched its iOS app.

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Paddy Power

The Irish-based Paddy Power distinguished itself last April with its Pope betting pool. Five months later, Paddy Power announced that it was the first real-money sports betting app for Facebook. If you're into sports betting, this is your place.

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In August 2008, the NY Times lauded SportsFanLive as the “Facebook for sports fans.” But in the five and half years since, the site still has fewer than 1,000 likes on Facebook without breaking much news lately at all. Has it been left in the dust already?

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The UK-based Sportlobster, which bills itself as a “one stop shop for sport fans,” launched last year from a big event in Wembley Stadium. It secured an additional $1 million in September and gained some high-profile investors in November with a former English football striker and a Formula One driver. With 32 sports to choose from, there seems to be momentum here.

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The social mobile app FanCru got this positive write-up in Forbes in 2012, but has anything happened with them since? One distinguishing feature is that each game has its own “feed,” that allows fans of each team to represent, cheer and talk trash -- but not currently available to American users. Another loser in the fan-site wars?

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The San Francisco-based Kwarter might be the real winner here since it offers a second-screen gamification platform for brands and broadcasters to socially enhance their live-television offering, including but not limited to live sporting events. Not exactly a social network for users, Kwarter exists in the startup-to-startup space, offering the ability for brands to celebrate star viewers and reward repeat viewing. Kwarter picked up $4 million in VC last January and recently received an investment from Nelson Chu of Kinetic Ventures.

Of course, all the grand schemes of all the sports social mobile app startups are great, but if stadiums don’t invest in better mass-mobile connectivity, all these dreams could be for naught. Businesses like these want to capitalize on the real-time experience of fans in the stands, not just the couch potatoes at home, but current bandwidth at stadiums and arenas often make posting photos and updates impossible.

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