MIG Founder Houlihan Launches Sports-focused Social Network, BreatheSport

BreatheSport Barry Houlihan
Barry Houlihan sold MIG to Velti for $60m and 4th Screen Advertising to Opera Software for $15m. His latest venture is a sports/social media mashup

Just under three years after selling his Mobile Interactive Group (MIG) to Velti for $60m (£36m), Barry Houlihan has re-emerged as the co-founder of BreatheSport, which the company describes as a “mobile-first, celebrity-led social network”.

BreatheSport, currently in beta, has raised $1.5m of angel investment for its initial launch. It takes the form of an iOS/Android app and responsive site, and aims to brings live celebrity response to sports breaking news and live sports events in a “troll-free area” known as the Locker Room.

The idea is that past and current sports celebrities will sign up to the network and engage in discussions around breaking sports news, prompted by text alerts they will receive – three or four a day – on their phone.

To encourage their participation, Houlihan and his team are giving away a small amount of equity in the business to around 200 sports celebrities in the UK. “We are diluting ownership of the business in order to give high net worth individuals bragging rights to say they are the founders of a hot new tech company,” Houlihan told Mobile Marketing. He noted that many sporting stars have abandoned their social media accounts after being abused by other members, adding that many now see social media as a necessary evil.

Houlihan says that over 100 sports celebrities are already committed to BreatheSport. The company is not planning to release details of all the celebrities involved, but has confirmed two, boxer Carl Froch, and cricketer Jimmy Anderson, in order to satisfy the press’s appetite for names.

While the Locker Room is a closed environment, open only to sports celebrities, sports journalists and the BreatheSport editorial team, another part of the network, the Fan Zone, is designed as a place where sports fans can engage in discussions about topical sporting issues. The sports celebrities can also choose to get involved in these discussions if they wish. Moderation technology will be used to filter out abuse. In addition, fans will be able to earn the right to gain access to the Locker Room, as well as other rewards such as memorabilia and ‘meet and greets’, based on their level of participation in discussions.

The company says it aims to provide a more structured, thread-based forum for discussion than the more linear experience available on Twitter. At the same time, the BreatheSport experience will be “interoperable” with Twitter and Facebook, so a comment posted by a user to a BreatheSport discussion thread could also be posted at the same time to their Twitter and Facebook feeds.

The final element to BreatheSport is the Live Lounge, which will offer a second-screen experience around live sporting events, with a live data feed from the event at the top of the screen. Users will be encouraged to comment on what they are seeing, and there will also be gamification elements to the Live Lounge.

Houlihan’s co-founders include Luke Sutton of Activate Management and former MIG co-founder, Anthony Nelson. An advisory team includes Marc Marot, chairman of Crown Talent; Tim Brooks MD of Guardian News & Media; and former England footballer and current TV pundit, Peter Reid.

Sports fans can pre-register now on the Breathesport website for the launch towards the end of this year.