The Active Network Actively Expanding

11/12/08Follow @bvbigelow

The first thing that popped into my brain when San Diego’s Active Network said it has acquired three more companies was kudzu—also known as “mile-a-minute vine” and “the vine that ate the South.”

Just a year and a half ago, the online business officially known as The Active Network had 730 employees, including 265 at its San Diego headquarters. With the purchase of three companies that provide hunting and fishing licensing technology, spokeswoman Tina Wilmott says they now have 1,965 employees around the world—including 421 in San Diego.

The company was founded in 1998 as a classic dot-com play. The idea was to use the Internet to enable athletes to register for marathons and other sporting events. Event organizers would pay for use of the Web-based software, which would help them coordinate league schedules, collect tournament fees, promote and manage events, and send information to competitors.

After the dot-com bubble popped in the spring of 2000, The Active Network found itself enrolled in an endurance contest comparable to the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon, California’s notorious run from Death Valley to the Mount Whitney Portal. To make matters worse, CEO Dave Alberga was hospitalized in the fall of 2000 with ulcertative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease that causes sores in the colon’s lining.

The Active Network survived by cutting nearly 60 percent of its workforce and focusing the business on software and other products that would drive short-term revenue. Alberga eventually returned to work after undergoing a full colectomy, the total removal of his colon. The entire management team showed its commitment by writing personal checks to fund the company’s payroll at the end of 2001.

Now the privately held company is growing like, well, kuzdu.

The Active Network raised $80 million just three months ago in a “Series F” round led by ESPN. It has raised an estimated $275 million since 1999, with other investors including Canaan Partners and North Bridge Venture Partners.

“We’ve made over 30 acquisitions of varying sizes since the company was founded in 1998 and 14 since the beginning of 2007,” Wilmott says. She cited LaxPower.com, a top lacrosse Web site and campground reservation provider InfoSpherix among recent standouts.

The Active Network says its three latest acquisitions provide technology to 24 state governments for processing hunting and fishing licenses. The three companies are Automated Licensing Systems, the Central Trust Bank of Missouri’s Conservation Licensing Division and its subsidiary, Outdoor Central. Automated Licensing Systems has more than 200 employees in Nashville, TN. Central Trust Bank’s two divisions have 26 employees in Jefferson City and 52 in Nashville.

Financial terms of the deals were not disclosed.

The three companies will become part of The Active Network’s ActiveOutdoors division, which is also responsible for software that manages such things as park and campground reservations.

Oh, and one more thing: With these acquisitions, The Active Network says it now ranks as the nation’s largest provider of hunting and fishing licensing technology.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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