tler, he was good enough to start for his Division I university.
Mark walked on to the track team at UT and earned a full
ride after two years of impressing the coaches with his stamina.
“I wasn’t as good as everyone else on the team,” he says, “so
I fgured I’d just train harder. The coach was like, ‘If this guy
doesn’t break, he might be good.’ And I fgured, if I break,
at least I tried.” He ran 80 to 100 miles every week and built
strict sleeping, eating, and stretching schedules, intent on
winning a national championship. But he didn’t, and needed
some way to channel his energy. Luckily, this was right around
the time Martin showed up at 2 a.m.
Martin had gone back to Chicago after college to work for
their father’s business, with the idea that he’d one day take
it over. But he tried to force through big changes quickly, and
didn’t do nearly enough to bring people around to his ideas.
Eventually, his dad had a suggestion: “Why don’t you just go
do your own thing?”
That was all Martin needed to hear. He’d previously spent a
couple of months on the road with a friend who was writing a
book about wrestling, and he’d helped interview some legends
of the sport. They’d turned up the sort of stories that you
might see during the Olympics, when Bob Costas cuts to a
stirring profle of sacrifce and hardship in some obscure rural
hamlet. Come to think of it, Martin mused, the Olympics were
pretty much the only time anyone saw such stories about his
favorite sport—or many other sports. What if kids could be
exposed to more of these stories? What if they could follow
such sports more closely—not just the handful of key matches
that got the full ESPN treatment?
“There was no reason, to me, that wrestling should be any
less of a sport than football,” Martin says. “It’s an exciting
sport when you know the story lines, know who’s who in the
matchups, understand the underlying aspects of what’s going
on.” He knew Mark felt the same way about track, so he persuaded a young engineer at his dad’s company to help create
the website. As soon as he had a prototype, he climbed in his
old Mazda and headed south.
“It was 2 in the morning when he got to my apartment.
My roommates and I were all asleep. He stunk like B.O.,” Mark
remembers. But Martin was on fre and couldn’t wait for
daylight to make the pitch. “Hey, man, I’m doing this for wres-
tling, and I want you to do it for track,” he barked after he’d
shown Mark a video of a famous wrestling coach on his cheap
website. “This applies to a whole bunch of verticals, and we
can do this and really change the sports media world.”
“OK, I’ll do it,” Mark grumbled. “But right now I’m tired
and you’re embarrassing me. Go to bed!”
They raised $10,000 from friends and family, bought a
used Ford Econoline van they found on Craigslist for $3,000,
nicknamed it the White Pearl—and saw it break down, with
smoke billowing out of its engine compartment, halfway
through its inaugural trip. After sinking $1,000 into repairs,
they lived a scrappy, hand-to-mouth existence for the next
few years, taking turns driving the White Pearl around the
country to flm wrestling and track events, teaching them-
selves play-by-play, editing, marketing—everything, really.
When Hall set his half-marathon record and trafc soared
on Mark’s janky video, it proved the thesis. But the hard part
wasn’t over. It wouldn’t be for a long time.
SPORTS, AS EVEN THE MOST CASUAL FAN KNOWS, is best consumed live, absorbing viewers’ real-time attention in a way
that little else does. That’s why the major leagues keep
raising their fees to broadcast their biggest games—ESPN
pays $1.9 billion per year for Monday Night Football—and
why ESPN keeps raising the fees cable companies must pay
to carry it. In turn, the roughly 90 million cable subscribers
who get ESPN pay around $8 per month for it—fve or 10
times higher than what most other channels charge. Those
fees bring ESPN an estimated $8 billion per year in revenue.
But ESPN, which declined to comment on the record, has
shed more than 12 million subscribers since its peak in 2011—
and a recent survey by BTIG Research showed that 56 percent of subscribers would drop ESPN if it meant saving that
$8 per month. Meanwhile, cable companies now ofer “skinny
bundles” of far fewer networks, for cheaper prices. And the
costs of ESPN’s hard-won broadcast rights aren’t falling:
Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter are all experimenting with
streaming sports, and more bidders can mean the leagues
could keep pushing up prices. ESPN’s biggest bulwark is that
many of its most important TV contracts don’t expire for
several years. But that could be a trap. In those years, the
world will continue to tilt away from cable TV—but the network’s deals with the cable and satellite companies prevent
it from streaming its biggest games.
Meanwhile, a TV channel has only 24 hours a day to fll, so
it has to focus on the biggest events—major sports, and maybe
the championships in smaller sports. FloSports can air as
Among FloSports’ 25 channels are (from left) Flo Wrestling, Flo Cheer (cheerleading), Flo Track, and FloElite (competitive weightlifting).