First Mover: Jeff Urban

The Whistle co-founder and father of four wants to make sports viewing safe for kids

What led to the idea for a multi-platform sports destination for kids? Were you getting tired of having your own see lots of beer ads?

I met the two other founders, John West and Mark Adams, when I was still at Gatorade. They had the idea from watching sports media through the eyes of their kids. I’ve got four, and they’re right in the sweet spot. After John brought it up, I started to think about it, and I found myself hitting the mute button and switching the channel. It seems like every two or three weeks a story pops that the news media follows on a regular basis, whether it’s the Syracuse or Penn State story or the bad behavior of players ad nauseum. There are really great sports brands and really great kids brands, but there’s no brand bringing it all together. I’m an alpha consumer of sports media. We’re not saying sport media are bad. We just think sports media for kids should be developed differently.

Other media properties for kids have struggled to stay viable because of sensitivity around advertising to kids. Are you going to seek advertising support? If so, how are you going to do it in a way that marketers and parents are comfortable with?

We think there are multiple revenue streams, starting with advertisers. We also think down the line there are subscription and micropayment opportunities. We understand there are some pressures on advertisers, but we’re creating parent-approved content that hasn’t been done before. And we think that’s a pretty significant difference. We’re going to develop ideas that have kids at the center. We think we can have successful partnerships with food, beverage, movies, toys, sports apparel and gaming advertisers.

A number of sites targeting kids have gotten into trouble for violating restrictions on how info about kids is collected. Do you think it’ll be hard to operate in the current regulatory environment?

This might be entrepreneurial naïveté, but I don’t think so. Kids registering and getting parental approval does not seem to be a hindrance.

You have some big-name athletes as investors, but are they going to play an active role in the site?

Derek Jeter, Peyton Manning and Mia Hamm are investors but don’t have an active marketing role. We’re developing some early pilot content with DeMarcus Ware, Kerri Walsh and Jared Dudley. DeMarcus filmed a show titled Toe 2 Toe With a Pro and we have him playing kickball and kids asking him questions. In Kerri’s Picks, she’s pulling the funniest volleyball tips from the Web. And with Jared, we did a feature, Out of My League, putting him in a position he’s never been in before, so he did a play-by-play of a badminton game.

Your target audience is 6 to 16. A lot of those kids are going to move on after a couple of years. What’s your plan to replenish your viewer base?

The distribution plan for us is, for lack of a better word, the new virtual network. So we’ve developed a relationship with YouTube, we have the website up and running, we’re going to have a block of TV time on NBC Sports Network in September, we have a relationship with all the gaming platforms. To use a sports phrase, we’re going to deliver the content and skate to where the kids are.

Click here to view more content from The Kids Issue.