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Growth spurt Featured

7:00pm EDT February 25, 2004
There's no stopping until he has his own blimp.

That's the goal Thesportsking.com's president Tom Mercadante has set for his young company.

While it might sound unreasonable, the company's Web site has grown at a rapid clip, moving from 66,000 hits and sports coverage of one city in September 2000 to 8.8 million hits and coverage of 60 cities in December 2003.

Managing the growth of the business has been a challenge for Mercadante.

"We've grown every single month," he says. "There hasn't been one month where we didn't exceed the previous month's total."

Thesportsking.com caters to sports enthusiasts looking for up-to-the-minute updates and expert predictions and opinions.

The original business plan called for selling franchises of the original site in other cities, each with its own local content to supplement the national news. Each franchisee would be responsible for providing the local news, as well as selling advertising to local businesses.

"I had my work cut out for me," says Mercadante. "I would have to put an ad in the city's local paper, make appointments and hope to hire some enterprising person that could be responsible every day to keep the page fresh and sell advertising. If they don't work out, then I have to go back and hire someone else. There was a lot of risk involved and a lot of headaches."

As the business grew, Mercadante developed a good relationship with a Las Vegas-based gaming company that was very happy with its ad and the number of people it attracted through Thesportsking.com site.

"I talked to them about wanting to expand, but I really wanted to launch something substantial; I didn't just want five cities. They came back and said, 'Why don't we just do it? We'll facilitate it and get the site done.' They facilitated a 60-city rollout with one swing of the bat."

The content was configured to update automatically, freeing both Mercadante and future franchisees from constantly update the site.

"Now all I have to do is go to people and tell them to sell it," says Mercadante. "It's all there. The teams and the page are already set up and taking care of it. With the partnership, we are able to advertise nationally in all markets and develop a brand."

He says it will be easier to fill the remaining franchises because buyers only have to handle the sales aspect and not the publishing aspect of the business.

The partnership also allowed him to streamline his operation in Cleveland.

"When we were just a Cleveland sports site, I had more employees then than I do now," says Mercadante. "All my administration costs -- sales, Web design, server costs and the people that handle troubleshooting -- are all handled through them. I probably had about 20 employees at the peak, but it's now down to six, though I have the resources of a large division of a corporation.

"It's really freed me up to focus on the larger aspects of the business. We're talking to bigger and more prestigious advertisers. I'm doing things a president should be doing and not spell checking and proofreading the Web site.

"I'm proud of the product we are putting out. The sky is the limit to the amount of visitors we can attract and keep. We want to compete with the big boys. When people are looking for sports information, we want them to look at Thesportsking.com." How to reach: www.thesportsking.com