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120 Sports Digital Net Launches with League Backers, But Faces Tough Odds to Attract Fans

Venture’s investors include Time Inc., MLB and NHL, with programming comprising 2-minute video clips

If you build it, there’s no guarantee they will come.

120 Sports, which officially launches Wednesday with an eight-hour block of short-form clips, is about to test the appetite of fans for yet another digital outlet of daily news and analysis for all things sports.

Equity investors in 120 Sports include Time Inc., Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, digital sports-media company Silver Chalice, and Campus Insiders, a joint venture between IMG College and Silver Chalice.

But 120 Sports, while it will deliver content in a 24-hour fashion like a linear TV network, will not offer live games. Moreover, it lacks a deal with the NFL — a critical gap, considering that pro football is America’s most popular sport. The NFL is gearing up to launch its own personalized 24-hour digital network, NFL Now, in August.

SEE ALSO: Time Inc.-Backed 120 Sports to Launch Internet Video Network with MLB and Other Leagues

The venture touts its ties to leagues, which will contribute highlights, archival footage and live game look-ins, as helping it stand out from the dozens of other sports websites and video services. The free, ad-supported service is also designed from the ground up to incorporate real-time social chatter, according to 120 Sports.

But 120 Sports faces a slew of competition in the crowded sports news and info market online. Those range from cable sports giant ESPN, which reached 68 million unique users who watched 362.7 million video clips in May 2014, to Time Inc.’s Sports Illustrated itself, which last year launched daily sports talk show “SI Now.”

Other competitors include emerging sports-oriented YouTube multichannel networks, like The Whistle, which also counts sports leagues as partners, including MLB and the NFL.

Set to debut live at 6 p.m. Eastern, 120 Sports — named after the 2-minute segments that comprise its programming — has hired a team of analysts and commentators to host the video clips. These include former NBA player Antoine Walker; Danny Graves, a former All-Star pitcher for the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds; and Steve Phillips, who worked in the New York Mets’ front office for 13 years as SVP and g.m. from 1997-2003. In addition, 120 Sports has signed Rick Strom, former sports host of The Young Turks Sports Network on YouTube.

“As we work to offer even more original, diverse and all-encompassing sports programming to our audience, this new co-host and group of analysts will serve as an excellent complement to our already strong roster of talent,” Jason Coyle, president of 120 Sports, said in a statement.

The online network has lined up four launch sponsors: Geico, Nissan, Transamerica and Verizon Wireless. According to 120 Sports, the video user experience includes patented, interactive “data cards” that allow real-time integration of sponsor messaging.

Silver Chalice is overseeing production and business operations, with 120 Sports programming produced from a facility on the campus of Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Studios in Chicago. Silver Chalice and Sports Illustrated’s national sales organizations will lead all sales and marketing, while Sports Illustrated and Time Inc. will also provide operational and business development support.

The 120 Sports video is streamed via a new platform built by MLB Advanced Media. The product will debut as a free native application for smartphones and tablets as well as on the web at 120Sports.com and other distribution outlets.

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