Varsity News Network Aims to be “ESPN.com for High School Sports”

11/20/13Follow @XconomyDET

After Varsity News Network (VNN) was announced last week as the grand prize winner of the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition, it may have been a surprise to those of us who aren’t familiar with the entrepreneurial scene on the West side of the state. But it turns out VNN, the Web-based platform promoting high school sports, has been quietly gaining traction in Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio for the past year.

Ryan Vaughn, co-founder and CEO of the Grand Rapids-based VNN, calls the platform “ESPN.com for high school sports.” Most collegiate teams have a sports information office to promote school athletics, he notes. High schools can’t afford that, and with fewer and fewer resources, newspapers have had to cut way down on prep sports coverage, too. And that’s a loss Vaughn takes personally.

In high school, his first love was basketball. “In my family, we have three or four pictures of me playing basketball that we still talk about,” he says. “There’s a picture of me hugging my mom at the end of my basketball career. We’d just won the district finals. For the vast majority of [athletes], high school is it. It’s a really important part of growing up, and we’re trying to bring the celebration back.”

Vaughn feared that with fewer news outlets capturing content, similar hallmark moments in the lives of athletic families were going unrecognized and unheralded. So, he and his co-founder, Matthew Anderson, launched a company and blog in 2010 that went through Rick DeVos’ Momentum firm. (Momentum was based on the Y Combinator model and eventually changed and morphed into Start Garden.)

Vaughn, who has a creative writing degree, started out calling the blog West Michigan All Star, but the journalism model was limiting the scope of what he wanted to do. “What we found is that by approaching it from a journalistic model, we had to cover football disproportionately, and I didn’t want to do that,” he says.

So, in 2012, VNN made the pivot from traditional news outlet to a news platform that puts the tools for content creation into the hands of the schools, parents, and fans. VNN has created a one-step process for coaches to report scores and statistics after a game. The content coaches post to VNN can be automatically cross-posted to the school’s website and social media accounts. There are also plenty of parents “with really big cameras” taking pictures on the sidelines that VNN posts, as well.

“We’re a single place to find results and pictures so all interested people in the community can celebrate local teams,” Vaughn says. “And the coaches don’t have to … Next Page »

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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