Eric Johnson

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Spogo App Lets You Bet on Live Sports (Sort Of)

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Sometimes, it seems like sports are impervious to the Internet.

Long before anyone had heard of social media, sports — both in the stadium and on TV — has been a social experience. That holds true today, even when “live” events can be anything but.

Still, “second-screen” apps, which aim to supplement live television for smartphone and tablet users, could yet have value for sports.

Case in point: Spogo.

The Boston start-up is awkwardly named, but clever in execution. Users download an app to their iPhones (Spogo plans to release an Android app after it finishes a round of seed funding) and use it to wager on what’s going to happen throughout the live game. But instead of betting money — a tricky affair in the U.S. — they bet points that can be exchanged for prizes.

Co-founder Andrew Vassallo said Spogo has a total of 50 prize-awarding partners in its two launch cities, New York and Boston. Most of those partners are sports bars, paying for both exposure through the app’s prizes (e.g. free beer or half-off a hamburger) and for data on the users who redeem those rewards.

It’s a simple gamification-lite twist that seems likely to get new people in the doors … if Spogo can attract an audience, of course.

To that end, Vassallo said he and his partner, David Shack, want to expand into other cities with the “big four” sports of football, basketball, baseball and hockey, starting on the East Coast and eventually moving west.

Right now, the app only covers football and offers rewards in those two Northeastern cities, so here in San Francisco, my betting on the 49ers-Pats game over the weekend didn’t do me much good.

On a broader scale, Vassallo and Shack also plan to branch out into betting on the outcomes of non-sports entertainment like the Oscars. And, of course, the prizes would be tailored for that decidedly different audience.

“Something like movie tickets through a partnership with AMC or a subscription to Netflix,” Vassallo said.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald