Russell Wilson Launches TraceMe App

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Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has the biggest following on social media among NFL players with nearly 10 million fans combined on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Wilson offers his fans an inside look into his life as an athlete, father and husband to singer Ciara. But Wilson is ready to give his fans even more access through a new company that could change the way all celebrities interact with their fans.

TraceMe launches today as a mobile-first platform to provide fans exclusive access to their favorite athletes, artists and celebrities. Wilson founded the company and is the first featured celebrity for the beta iPhone app. More celebrities will be added in the coming months with Ciara, who totals 40 million social media fans, a logical early addition. “TraceMe breaks down the boundaries between celebrities and the fans. They can take a front-row seat into our everyday lives,” Wilson tells FORBES.

Wilson assembled an All-Pro team of investors for TraceMe. Madrona Venture Group led a $9 million Series A funding round. Prominent angel investors include company founders Jeff Bezos(Amazon), Chad Hurley (YouTube), Joseph Tsai (Alibaba) and Kenny Dichter (Wheels Up). Former Hulu and Zulily executive Jason LeeKeenan is CEO and will lead the 15-person staff in Seattle.

TraceMe is intended for the "superfans" of a celebrity, opposed to the casual fans of a star where a follow on Instagram might be enough. “We want to build that old school fan club in a new school world,” says LeeKeenan.

The platform will provide original content, daily updates and unique channels. Original content during the beta launch includes separate shows around Wilson’s trainer, cook and mental coach to see how to work out, eat and think like Russell Wilson. The QB sits down for talks with elite stars like Jim Brown, Bill Russell and Steve Kerr in a series called Legends.

The app is free for now, but LeeKeenan says there will be many different ways to monetize it over time. “We are trying to understand from a fan perspective what resonates with them,” he says. LeeKeenan points to the core values posted on the walls of their Seattle offices with “Fans are our fuel” at the top.

Wilson has won more games (64) than any other QB during his first five seasons in the history of the NFL, and is the second highest-rated passer of all-time behind Aaron Rodgers. Wilson is also one of the NFL’s most marketable players with off-field earnings of roughly $10 million, ranking among the top five of football players by FORBES’ count thanks to endorsements with Alaska Airlines, Bose, Braun, Microsoft, Nike, Wilson and more. He hosted the annual Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Sports awards for the third time in July.

In addition to his lineup of heavyweight investors, Wilson tapped the expertise of some of his endorsement partners this year as TraceMe was hatched. Wilson leaned on Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, Wilson's partner since 2014. Nadella stressed the importance of finding the right people to work with which led Wilson to Pioneer Square Labs, the preeminent start-up studio in Seattle. TraceMe was spun out of PSL, which will also serve as the physical home office for the company.

Wilson follows fellow superstar athletes Derek Jeter and LeBron James into the digital media business. Jeter launched The Players' Tribune website in October 2014 after his retirement from baseball as a way for athletes to hear directly from athletes through video and text. Wilson was the first “senior editor” and penned the first feature for Jeter’s site with his post on domestic violence. “I love what Players' Tribune has done and I've always been a firm believer in it,” says Wilson. The Super Bowl winning QB will continue to contribute to TBT and remains an equity stakeholder in the business.

James launched Uninterrupted two months after The Players' Tribune, along with his business manager and longtime friend Maverick Carter. It was started as a self-financed venture with athletes offering first-person stories. Uninterrupted got a significant boost at the end of 2015 when it secured $15.8 million in financing led by Time Warner.

Even more than Jeter’s or James’ media outfits, TraceMe wants an audience as eager to get up close and personal as a blitzing linebacker. “I want to give my superfans a detailed, visual and VIP experience,” says Wilson.

Original article: www.Forbes.com

Written by: Kurt Badenhausen

InsightsShana Grossman