Energy drink pitchman Frank D’Angelo backs sports-themed social media site

It’s no surprise that sports marketing shock jock Frank D’Angelo – yes, the man behind the Ben Johnson Cheetah energy drink commercials – is taking aim at the social media realm.

Yet his name and face are nowhere to be found inmarketing materials for the new site, sports-themed site went live two months ago, but without any of theover-the-top promotional hype D’Angelo is famous for.

“I’m just a founder and an investor,” D’Angelo says. “I’m not thedriving force. I’m not the only guy (behind the site). This is a jointventure.”  

It’s a switch from the usual for a man whose name and face have been front andcentre in all his past business ventures. D’Angelo appeared in most ofthe ads for his now defunct Steelback Brewery. D’Angelo himselfco-starred in some of the Cheetah TV ads featuring disgracedOlympic sprinter Johnson declaring “I’m a Cheetah” (get it?) directlyto the camera. There’s also D’Angelo Brands, a food and beverage company whose products include Cheetah Power Surge energy drink, Arizona green tea, and foods such as olive oil, rapini, frozen fruitand canned tomatoes.

Then there were D’Angelo’s past bids to buy the NHL’s PittsburghPenguins and revive CFL football in Ottawa, neither of which proved successful with those respective pro sports leagues. Ontop of all this, D’Angelo owns an Italian supper club on Toronto’s KingWest theatre district strip, has released three CDs of music, hosts atalk show called – what else – “Being Frank” on the CH TV network, andwill soon release a memoir bearing the same title as his TVshow.

But when you click onto, you get no D’Angelo, otherthan his own user postings. When pressed about why he’s pulled backfrom his past marketing approaches with the sports site, he says he’sonly one member of the team behind the site, which includes hisbusiness partner Barry Sherman. As founder of ApotexInc., Canada’s largest homegrown pharmaceutical company,Sherman was ranked the seventh richest Canadian by Canadian Businessmagazine in 2010 with an estimated net worth of $3.94 billion. Sherman’s son Jonathon bought Steelback Brewery in 2007 but it closeddown in 2010.

NextSportStar is a social media portal for all things sports, includingvideo, chat, blogs, photos, scores, sports news and a 24-hour onlinesports radio station. The site is modeled after the best elements ofFacebook, Twitter and Youtube, D’Angelo says, with sports-based contentthat’s broad enough to appeal to non-sports fans. A TV element will beadded later, he says.

“The Internet is the new medium. It’s a TV, it’s a radio. It’s at your disposal and you can watch whatever you want at any give time from anywhere in the world,” D’Angelo says.

So how will one of Canada’s most famous pitchmen market his new social media site without puttinghimself in the pitch? This is, after all, the man whose press releaseon his new memoir describes him as “the James Bond of the Canadianbeverage world.”

Unlike the Cheetah brand, NextSportStar has no NHL stars promoting itso far. Instead, D’Angelo plans to cross-promote the site with hisbeverage brands, including putting the site address on drink caselabels. His team is also working on promoting the site at thegrassroots level among high school and university sports teams, whichmay develop into the site sponsoring some teams in future, he says. Thesite is also running a contest offering $800,000 in prize money toamateur athletes and $200,000 for high school, college or universityteams based on how many fans they can sign up to the NextSportStarsite.

NextSportStar is free for members, so revenue will be come from ads andpage sponsorships. The site’s home page says it has over 185,000members, a pretty strong number after just eight weeks online. The sitehas a healthy retention rate so far, D’Angelo says.

“We’re elated we’re getting 70 per cent of people staying on the siterather than 80 per cent bounce. The average person is staying on fromseven to 15 minutes, which is huge for us. Seven minutes is aneternity.”

Attracting almost 200,000 members in just two months is a fairlyimpressive debut, especially for a Canadian site, says Marvin Ryder, anassistant professor of marketing and entrepreneurship at the DeGrooteSchool of Business at Hamilton, Ont.’s McMaster University.But since the site’s membership statistics are “self-published” he saysthey would carry even more weight “if they came from a third party.”

While Ryder is impressed with the early membership figures, he says thesite’s clearing house approach to sports content may be too broad tosucceed in the long term.

“I don’t really understand what the site is trying to do…It’s a little bit of this and little bit of that,” Ryder says. “You tend to have more communities that cluster around a very specific thing like the NFL or the PGA.”

NextSportStar could succeed if it hones its content to addinformational value, not just provide a forum for every sports fan tospout off at the drop of a hat, says Howard Bloom, Ottawa-basedpublisher of the site

“Sports fans are information junkies for the most part. If it canreally be a portal for exchanging opinions…that included information onone side and people with the right to rant and rave on the other side,you might have something. But people want to separate the substancefrom the fluff,” Bloom says.

As for branding the NextSportStar, Ryder says it might make sensestrategically not to link D’Angelo’s larger-than-life personality withthe site.  

With “his past (marketing campaigns), the only word you can use for it iseclectic. It’s also very vaudevillian. It harkens back to a style ofpromotion you saw in the fifties and early sixties with stunts and thatkind of a thing. Not terribly sophisticated, but you can go for the lowbrow and still succeed.”

“He’s a character. I think people are on some level amused by hisactions and even cheering the little guy on… The perception is he’s hada lot more failures than successes,” Ryder says, referring toSteelback’s bankruptcy protection filing, sale and eventual closure and D’Angelo’s failedbids to buy or start NHL and CFL franchises.

Christine WongChristineWong is a Staff Writer at Follow her on Twitter,and join in the conversation on the IT BusinessFacebook Page.
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