Media: Father and son team score on the Internet

When an old-fashioned newspaper man turned to new media, it ended up as the best move he ever made.
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The Independent Culture
WHEN YOU first set eyes on him, Greg Hadfield seems an unlikely Internet guru. A laconic 42-year-old Yorkshireman, he rose up through the ranks of Fleet Street with a reputation as a tough, old-fashioned and rather obsessive "newsman".

In a distinguished 19-year career in newspapers, Mr Hadfield absorbed himself in jobs that owe little to new technology: news editor and assistant editor of The Sunday Times, chief reporter on the Sunday Express, senior reporter on the Daily Mail, education correspondent of Today.

Now one of the country's most successful online entrepreneurs, he contentedly predicts that he will never work in newspapers again. Mr Hadfield, together with his son Tom, are the creators of Soccernet, the most successful football website in the world, and one of the most innovative of all online ventures. Soccernet, which costs nothing to visit, gives instant access to football scores, results, developments and matches from around the world. It includes clever innovations, such as a Java-based "cheer" which goes up to alert you every time your team scores a goal. The two-man operation in Brighton, with the services of a small office in London, attracts 75 per cent of its visitors from overseas, including tens of thousands of "hits" a day from the US. On big match days, it attracts up to a million page views a day.

Unlike many other Internet enterprises, Soccernet makes a profit from selling advertising space, and from its merchandising operation.

The service started in 1995, when Tom Hadfield launched a home-made football results service on the Internet, posting scores and round-ups on a website. The amount of hits it received persuaded his father to make a case to the Daily Mail. "David English made a speech about the importance of new media, and its seemed ideal for them to take this on," says Mr Hadfield.

The deal that emerged was ideal for Associated Newspapers. The Hadfields would be able to use the stable's newspaper match reports and results, in return for Associated taking a stake in Soccernet. With the help of a designer, Soccernet was formally launched on 17 August 1995, the first day of the football season, and also the first day Greg Hadfield had ever properly looked at a website. "Until then I was just dealing with it as if it were a journalistic enterprise," he says.

Mr Hadfield kept his day job, Tom stayed at school, and it wasn't until October 1996, following the site's success during the Euro '96 tournament, that Greg felt confident enough to resign from The Express, his then employer. He struck a deal with Associated that brought him and Tom a six-figure sum for their stake in Soccernet, with another, similar sum for running the website over the next four years. Ever since, Greg has worked 20 hours a day, seven days a week, with four days off in the last year.

Mr Hadfield says that they sold out their stake to Associated because "without their resources it wouldn't have been able to thrive."

But not everyone agrees. "Greg sold himself short," a friend and former colleague says: "He could have got a million for Soccernet in 1996."

This is possibly true - the company is valued at pounds 8m to pounds 9m now. But Mr Hadfield replies: "Even if it is true, we couldn't have gone anywhere without their resources."

Whatever the truth, it seems to have galvanised the Hadfields who, under the banner GHM (for Greg Hadfield Media) have just launched a schools advisory service called Schoolsnet, which Mr Hadfield says "will be even more successful".

Schoolsnet, which Mr Hadfield, who still edits The Sunday Times' state schools guide, is ideally qualified to run, is still at an embryonic stage, but the opportunities for advertising revenue are enormous, with a potential audience of countless parents keen to find the latest inspectors' reports on schools.

Mr Hadfield works from home, and father and son have spent almost every evening together for the past three years. "I never used to see my dad before," Tom says.

Mr Hadfield claims that he is not a natural entrepreneur. "I'm learning," he says. "I spent too much time being a wage slave. This is the most fulfilling thing I've ever done, but if I'd spent another two or three years on newspapers, I don't think I would ever have taken the step."

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