Look around the UK internet market today and you will find the
biggest players are either of US or European origin: Amazon, BOL, CDNow
and Boxman to name a few.
Many of the pioneering UK internet companies are gone. Mostly they have
been bought by bigger international rivals. This includes the likes of
IMVS (Internet Music & Video Shop), which was merged into the Swedish
outfit, Boxman. Similarly, Bookpages and Internet Movie Database were
swallowed up by Amazon.
The most recent example of this is Soccernet. The football website is a
UK success story that new-media hacks have been waxing about for the
past few years.
It’s a great site with a very neat story behind it. Developed by the
12-year-old son of a Daily Mail journalist it was bought by the Mail’s
parent, Associated, three years ago. Since then it has become the
world’s most popular football website, with around 20 million page views
per month - during the last World Cup it made around #1 million.
Despite this great success - or perhaps because of it - Associated sold
60 per cent of Soccernet to Disney, which in turn is to merge it into
its cable and web sports network, ESPN. Associated had initially
considered the sale of a 20 per cent stake before deciding to take the
cash for a majority sale.
Paul Zwillenberg, the managing director of Associated New Media, said -
before promptly resigning - that the Soccernet sale was in recognition
of the need for outside expertise to develop the site’s full potential;
the deal signalled a change in the game and the level of
With Soccernet gone, Associated is refocusing on its Charlotte Street
portal project aimed at the Daily Mail’s core audiences of women and
The sale of Soccernet was a pragmatic one. Associated weighed the risk,
pondered whether Soccernet was worth the millions it would take to
compete effectively on the world stage, and decided against it. With
competition from the likes of ESPN and the CBS-backed SportsLine, the
site would have needed the kind of investment Associated wasn’t ready to
But there is also the question of Associated’s reluctance to break out
of its traditional territory in old media. The safest option, given that
it already had the middle Britain niche offline, was to sew it up
This seems to be the way of old new media. Maybe it will pay off and the
women of Britain will thank Associated for it.
However, it seems that only in pure new-media companies, where playing
it safe is not an option, do UK internet firms play much of a role in
the global market. And the 365 Corporation, with its highly popular
sports sites, is probably one of the most ambitious in this field. Its
plans are already in motion: it has bought in France and is planning a
flotation to fund expansion of its football, cricket and rugby sites in
Europe, Asia and Australasia.
The 365 brands, like Soccernet, have a real chance of international
success. All it takes is a bit of nerve.