Peyton Manning, Derek Jeter and LeBron James today announced they've joined an $8.6 million funding round for social network Weplay. Weplay isn't going to work out — vertical social networks are so 2007 — but at least the sports-star troika can take heart in knowing they're following the same path as other fading jock stars. A bubble ago, John Elway, Michael Jordan, and Mike Piazza also let slick schemers take advantage of their egos and cash, funneling them into ill-thought-out, poorly timed investments on the Web. Our three favorite athlete-startup bloopers, below.
Shaquille O'Neal, Mike Piazza and DeLisha Milton's Dunk.net
Launched in 1999, Santa Monica startup Dunk.net was supposed to promote Shaq's shoes and sports apparel with marketing help from a pre-Mets Mike Piazza and WNBA great DeLisha Milton. But within months of founding, Dunk.net laid off its entire staff and replaced the CEO with a marketer tasked with resuscitating the company. Didn't happen. Now Dunk.net is owned by a domain squatter.
John Elway, Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky's MVP.com
Back in 2000, chairman John Elway and board members Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzy piled their cash together to launch MVP.com, an online store. They pledged to spend $50 million marketing the site over the next year. A couple of years later and several rounds of layoffs later, MVP.com, owing some $120 million folded as a failure into CBSsportsline.com.
Mets reliever Billy Wagner and sports author Burton Rock's ChatWithAStar.com
After writing a bestselling book about Yankees outfielder Paul O'Neill and his father, author Burton Rocks convinced Wagner, another New York baseball star to help fund ChatWithAStar.com, a celebrity blog portal, featuring such well known voices as Miss USA 2006, Tara Conner. The site, launched with a party at one of Jay-Z's bar in 2006, no longer exists. We're still holding out for the company's "blogmobile," though.