I’m sitting in the lounge, surrounded by some hundred boxes of Nike sports shoes and tricots. It’s not your average hangout location when you think of the little town of Loosdorf in the middle of Lower Austria. Yet, I’m greeted with coffee and cake, and – unsurprisingly – soccer talk.
Dietmar Wieser is 31 years old, and he seems to have found his calling. “I started my soccer career at the age of five in my hometown of Kilb” – and he still loves it. In fact, he was lucky enough to turn his passion into a business. Listening to him talk about his early days, there’s no way not to believe him – his face is glowing and his hands mimic all over the place.
We are in for a dynamic conversation.
Filling his father’s shoes
Dietmar, whose email signature lists three academic degrees in informatics combined with media, business and management from the Technical University of Vienna, is no stranger to academia. “I was very much internet-affine and my father is a sports teacher in high school, so I considered the teaching profession for myself, too,” he says. Despite his intensive studies, Dietmar commuted back to his hometown (approximately one hour by car) three times a week just to attend the soccer trainings. When he submitted his master thesis, he missed the deadline and had to wait another two months for the next one: an incident that he’s happy about, because during that time, he looked for a way to combine his studies with his passion for soccer.
Each Tuesday and Wednesday, the local newspaper for lower Austria, Niederösterreichische Nachrichten (NÖN), published the results of the sub-league soccer games from the weekend before. “Although we were spoiled in our region with at least some results, my questions was – why weren’t even more data available online?” Dietmar points to his 15-page concept he wrote in two nights. His idea was simple but far-reaching: to become the number one provider for content in the lower soccer leagues in Austria.
Photo credit: fanreport.comFunding rounds and weekends on the soccer field
To fund his initial idea in 2009, Dietmar showed the concept to a couple of entrepreneurs around his soccer club and received 10.000 euros, which he invested immediately in camcorders, cameras and a roll-up to do the interviews after the soccer games. Dietmar and some of his friends, who helped him out in the first place, launched their website fanreport.com only six months later with four soccer leagues, and in the beginning of 2012, they had all 155 leagues of Austria covered.
With the launch, Dietmar registered his business as sole proprietorship and did some web design on the side to make extra money. “Basically, we are a special interest group media; we do the editorial work around lower league soccer clubs,” he explains, adding that there are 100.000 amateur soccer players in Austria. For a year, he and the three friends who believed in his idea traveled the entire region to do interviews with the players. “In the beginning we were ridiculed for doing that but we gained more and more attention, since every player liked to be asked about their performance during the game,” says Dietmar.
In 2010, the team was approached by an online marketing company and had their first campaign for A1. That was when they made their first 2.000 euros in revenue. “I can still remember that – it was amazing – two thousand euros. That was so much money!” Dietmar smirks. The year after, they started their first annual campaign deals, which is still their main source of revenue.
2012 became ‘the year of professionalisation’
Early on in 2012, fanreport.com received a new self-designed CMS system for the front and back end in order to manage the large number of data and editors in a more efficient way. “And then we worked on the expansion of our business model,” says Dietmar, showing me their bi-annual print magazine Transferheft, where they document the transfers in each team. The online store sportkabine.com is their sports equipment retail brand, which they market on their website and in their print magazines. The content they create for their website is syndicated and sold to regional newspapers. And to go analogue again, they started to organise indoor tournaments called Hallenmasters, in which 256 soccer teams took their chance to win last year.
Photo credit: fanreport.com2012 also seemed to be the year to prepare and negotiate for their strategic investor, the Sportsman Media Holding, which holds brands like LAOLA1. “These guys are the perfect partner for us, because they cover the premiere leagues and we cover the lower leagues. Besides, they are internationally active and helped us enter Germany,” says Dietmar. So, the Sportsman Media Holding invested a six-digit number in fanreport.com and by the beginning of 2013, Dietmar had set up a holding which carries all the brand rights, licences and knowledge. In addition, he has established two country subsidiaries, in Austria and Germany (covering 242 leagues there), which is why they spend quite some time on the highway at the moment.
‘We are simply some soccer addicts from the countryside’
In 2013, they also moved into an office, because they could not take the home office and long hours on Skype anymore. “We painted the office ourselves, because we are simply some soccer addicts from the countryside, and wanted to save money. Everything you see here was pretty cheap, we just wanted it to be comfortable,”Dietmar describes his down-to-earth approach. His team counts seven members by now, some of them are even shareholders. “I wanted to thank them for their support throughout the year.” He sounds grateful about every mistake, because they learned from it – “we are hardly satisfied with anything and we just keep going”. When asked about the characteristics of his team’s origin, he says that nobody on the team considers himself better than any of the rest. “That’s the way we grew up on the countryside” and this pragmatic approach made the Hallenmasters happen within three months from idea to implementation.
“I could not be happier with where I am today,” Dietmar says when thinking about his early days and the path he followed. “But I also owe a lot to my friends, who supported me throughout the years and who are now part of the staff,” he adds.
“To be fair, I would have never thought that so much can happen in one year,” he replies when asked about 2014. “We want to break even next year, as well as to reduce our advertisement revenue from currently 70% to 50%”. Also, fanreport.com wants to focus on their expansion and the exploration of other business models “but what do I know what the next year brings along”.