Digital Vet Morgan Goes Traditional

After spending more than a decade running online ad technology companies, Tacoda founder Dave Morgan has a new passion: tennis.

Morgan has become the chairman of The Tennis Company, parent of Tennis and Smash magazines, which he hopes to use as a jumping off point to building a multi-platform media property focused squarely on brand advertisers looking to reach an affluent “enthusiast” audience. He also owns a minority stake in the company.

“I’ve become a believer that surrounding enthusiasts with content, including advertising, means more than just surrounding them online,” he said. “It means being their printed product, on the ground with events and part of their video experience wherever they get it.”

Morgan founded behavioral ad network Tacoda in 2001, targeting brand advertisers with the pitch that they could reach their customers across the Web based on their prior behavior, not only the content of specific pages. AOL paid an estimated $275 million for Tacoda in July 2007. He stayed on as chief digital strategist of AOL until leaving the company in February.

Morgan is not the only digital vet to see the value in offline media properties. Former Yahoo! ad sales chief Wenda Harris Millard left the Internet company to become president of media at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, a multiplatform company with its roots in magazines and television. She has since decried the focus placed by Yahoo! and other companies on direct response advertising over branded.

“I’m inspired by folks like Wenda at Martha Stewart,” Morgan said. “She’s right when she says there may be a good business in selling pork bellies online but that’s not the best business to be in.”

Tennis plans to expand its online presence from an adjunct to the magazine to a central point for reach its audience, Morgan said, adding more original video. It will also look to launch in several foreign languages, including Spanish and Russian, owing to the international nature of the sport. The site currently reaches 310,000 U.S. visitors per month, per Nielsen Online.

Unlike other magazines, Tennis is not under the gun from declining circulation, thanks to its status as the official magazine of the United States Tennis Association. It reaches over 600,000 subscribers, according to the Audit Bureau of Circluations. Tennis plans to add further distribution for brand advertisers through events. It is a part owner of the Pacific Life and Indian Wells Tennis Garden tournaments. (It is also the advertising and marketing rep for Indian Wells, which ranks as the No. 5 tournament after the Grand Slam events.) Tennis has the opportunity to add more events both here and abroad, Morgan said.

“The tennis community has never been effectively aggregated,” he said. “Our opportunity is not about building a bigger endemic platform but to build a really big enthusiast platform.”

Tennis will continue under it current management, led by CEO Bob Miller. Morgan said he is still interested in starting a “next-generation marketing company,” but would concentrate on helping Tennis forge a new strategy. As for his court skills, Morgan admits they need work, blaming a decade-old ankle injury. He plans on improving his game. “Now I don’t have an excuse not to,” he said.