Given the obsession with collecting personal data on athletes, there is a tendency in the sports world to fixate on wearables. Between data collection hardware and the necessary software to make sense of its findings, other innovative sports tech startups can get lost among the noise. From artificial intelligence-backed sponsorship startups to fan-controlled in-stadium selfies, there are a number of impressive young companies making waves in the world of sports tech. Here are five of the best:
Put simply, sports sponsorship is huge. The amount of money to be made for sports teams and athletes is only matched by the scale of reach available to brands with enough money to exploit it. But it’s a complicated industry too, something New York-based OpenSponsorship wants make simple.
The web-based platform automates the matchmaking of brands, teams, athletes, and agents (as well as, increasingly, eSports athletes) to provide sponsorship information at a glance. Brands will be able to see an athletes engagement on Facebook, for example, along with the percentage change to get an idea of the athlete’s trajectory. If they like the look of the figures they can contact the athlete’s agent with the click of a button. The platform is intended to cater for brands regardless of their sponsorship budgets, finding appropriate opportunities for both brand and athlete/team.
Staking is a term that you may not be aware of. It is essentially person-to-person crowdfunding as a form of sponsorship. In the world of poker, it has been used to fund younger, less financially strong players to give them a seat at tables currently out of their reach. YouStake offers both donation and reward based crowdfunding for players and teams, giving users the opportunity to back their favourite poker players.
A big part of YouStake’s mission is to bring staking - which has a reputation for being somewhat shady, dominated by backroom handshakes - online to allow for greater transparency. Educating its users on the legitimacy of staking and the opportunities it opens up is a big part of the company’s message. The startup is also looking to tap into the rapidly expanding eSports market, an industry that will have some 1.4 billion fans and players by 2018. If fans can back players in a host of different eSports, YouStake could explode in popularity.
Toronto-based startup Brizi is hoping to commodify the in-stadium selfie. Using fan-controlled cameras installed within a stadium, people in the crowd can have photos of them and their friends delivered straight to their smartphones without having to hold up a selfie stick or ask someone else to take it. Fans can take control of the cameras and overlay images onto the photos - fan jerseys, team logos, etc.
The opportunity for sponsorships are huge. The content - which is generated by the fans authentically - could very easily have a small logo attached to it or a branded frame around it, which fans would then share on social media. For the fan, Brizi means souvenir pictures require less effort and can be taken from novel angles. For the brand, Brizi opens up access to a fan’s entire social media friendship circle. Sports teams can even use the tech to gather data on who’s actually sitting in the seats vs. who purchased them. Brizi is looking to expand globally and is already working on partnerships in both Asia and Europe.
You’ll struggle to find a list of exciting young sports tech startups that doesn’t include Phenom. The app - which is currently only available on iOS and in North America, is a space for athletes from across different sports to connect, showcase products they love, and share stories about their achievements on the field, court, or track. Founders Brian Verne and Mike Eppich’s inspiration was the fact that: ‘young athletes all over the world want to look and feel like a pro, feel sponsored, feel like they’re on ESPN.’ For the 80,000 users in North America alone, they feel like they offer that experience. With plans to roll out the app internationally and on other operating systems - Android being the notable absence - expect to hear more from Phenom going forward.
Whether its because of the unparalleled reach or the deep emotional connection fans have with sports teams, brands have been desperate to partner with them for decades. From shirt sponsorship to sponsored half-time shows, it’s impossible to separate sports from corporate backing. But how can a shirt sponsor actually measure the effect of their investment in the age of visual media?
Blinkfire Analytics uses AI and computer vision to measure media value and impact. It can identify any point at which the Nike logo, for example, is visible on a Youtube video that’s being shared around on Facebook. It can then put together detailed information on reach and engagement figures over time for brands, rights holders, and players alike. The software can offer brands information on the earned media value it is getting with mentions, hashtags, branded content, and visual mentions. Founded in 2013, Blinkfire raised $1 million from venture backers just one year later.