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Locker Room wants to reinvent how fans talk sports

Locker Room, a social audio app where fans can talk sports and spontaneously join live conversations, launches Tuesday on the App Store.

The state of play: The company behind Locker Room, Betty Labs, has raised $9.3 million in seed funding led by Google Ventures with participation from Lightspeed Venture Partners, Axios has learned.

  • Athletes including Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and Baron Davis also participated in the round.

Why it matters: Locker Room sits at the nexus of major sports media trends like the "second screen" companion, the audio/podcasting boom, and the rise of multicasts and broadcast customization.

How it works: Locker Room functions similarly to Clubhouse, another social audio app that was all the rage among venture capitalists this summer and raised $12 million from Andreessen Horowitz.

  • Upon launching the app, you're shown a feed with all the live and upcoming conversations featuring the people, teams, channels and topics you follow.
  • When you enter a room, the audio switches on and you can hear the people on the "stage" speaking. You can also see who else is in the audience.
  • The room's creator, plus any other "hosts," control who speaks. Listeners "raise their hand" when they have something to say. If chosen, their profile icon appears on stage and their microphone turns on.
  • There's also a chat room where text-based discussion can happen in tandem with the audio-based conversation.
  • To start your own room, you press "Go Live." From there, you add a title and a channel/topic, choose whether you want to record the room for later use, then decide if you want your followers to be notified and invited.

The big picture: Locker Room isn't the only app betting on social audio. In addition to Clubhouse, there's also:

The intrigue: Leagues and networks are increasingly offering multicasts, alternative commentary and other ways to customize broadcasts, while esports livestreams provide a glimpse of a more interactive future.

  • Locker Room expands on this concept by allowing fans to not only choose their own commentators, but participate in real-time discussions. It's more like a sports bar than a radio broadcast.
"Locker Room lets 'commentary' mean whatever you want it to mean. Create a watch party, react in real time to big plays, or just listen to a conversation that suits your mood. It's not just about Joe Buck not being your only option; it's about reinventing the century-old idea of live commentary."
Howard Akumiah, Betty Labs Founder/CEO

The challenge: Sports feeds aren't in perfect sync, which could hurt Locker Room's in-game experience. If another person's feed is a few seconds ahead of yours, they'll spoil the action.

Between the lines: Media members, athletes and others have been using Locker Room's beta app for months, and some popular formats have emerged:

  • Watch parties: A group gets together to watch a game and talk about the action in real-time.
  • Live podcast: Hosts record live episodes to allow audience interaction (similar to a listener calling into a radio show).
  • Panel/Q&A: When you enter a room, it feels a lot like walking into an auditorium where a panel or Q&A is happening.
  • Breaking news: Reporters and fans go live when news breaks to react and respond in real time.
  • Debate stage: People share hot takes and let listeners come on stage to respond.
  • Recurring show: ESPN's Jeff Darlington has been doing an "NFL Week in Review" all season. He goes live today at 4pm ET.
"I'm on camera a lot for ESPN, but sometimes I just want to casually talk sports when I'm at home. So it's nice to have a place where I can do that and not have to worry about looking at the camera or anything."
Jeff Darlington, ESPN reporter

The bottom line: Locker Room is more live than a podcast, more accessible than sports radio, more personal than Twitter and more casual than a livestream. That doesn't mean it will succeed, but it certainly makes it interesting.

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