Behind one of the biggest sources of news and analysis on the English Premier League are Israeli entrepreneur Asaf Peled and his more than 1,400 enthusiasts, who are happy to share their football knowledge for free. For now.
Each day, Peled's website FTBpro publishes 300 articles contributed by volunteers and vetted by 15 editors. The company says it has 40 million page views a month. That makes it among the biggest sites dedicated to information about the Premier League's top teams and players, such as Manchester United's Wayne Rooney and Chelsea's Fernando Torres.
But on his quest to build the No. 1 site for football content in the world, Peled, the founder and CEO of FTBpro, faces potential opposition from his very own fans.
If the company were to sell itself, big money could mean unpaid writers may start demanding a cut, according to TechNavio, a London-based global technology research and consulting firm. After the sports site Bleacher Report was sold to Time Warner last year and the Huffington Post went to AOL the year before, some contributors at each site vocally opposed the multimillion-dollar deals.
FTBpro isn't currently turning a profit. The Israel-based startup plans to increase revenue next year after it recruits an advertising-sales team based in the UK.
The site's volunteers are encouraged to write more articles through various incentives, none of which involve paying them. The unpaid sports journalists get to compete with one another to interview top football officials, made possible through a partnership signed last month with the League Managers Association in the UK.
Contributors are ranked and get to air their views on formations and team management to large audiences. That pool of readers grew significantly recently after the Telegraph, London24, Manchester Evening News and Microsoft's MSN agreed to feature FTBpro's content.
While FTBpro covers the Premier League extensively, it also has info on what's going on in the Championship League, La Liga, Serie A and Bundesliga. Articles are published in English, Spanish, German and Italian. Soon, FTBpro will add French and Portuguese, as well as Asian languages, Peled said.
The FTBpro mobile application rolled out in June and quickly broke into the app store charts in Europe, Asia and South America. Twenty percent of users open the app at least four times a day, said Peled, a longtime technologist who spent four years working at Cisco Systems.
"What we built here is a scalable technology platform that can support not only every country, every language but also any device,” he said.
Peled's startup will have to compete with Bleacher Report, Vox Media's SB Nation and other sports-news companies to become the go-to destination for coverage on the world's most popular sport. It won't be easy. Both Bleacher and SB Nation have a wider range of resources and professional writers, according to TechNavio.