Thursday, January 3, 2013

SportsLab...Where Sports and Technology Intersect

Sports have embraced social media and technology to engage and inform fans. Everything from Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest to streaming video and TV shows.

And, teams have been using the latest technology for dynamic pricing and secondary ticket markets for quite some time.
A football play.
However, when it comes to technology and the actual game, we haven’t seen much advancement up to this point. Yes, players and coaches have used film for ages to break down certain aspects of the game−both theirs and their opponents.

Who can forget Jon Gruden and Andrew Luck at QB Camp going over Spider 2 Y Banana?
Well, we are starting to see some movement in this area. Volleyball coaches are using ipads during matches. And, this past season, the Rose Bowl champion Stanford football team put their playbook on an ipad. And, this is a big step forward…as last season the Stanford players had to learn more than 200 new plays each week. Imagine having to print out 200 plus pages for 80 players, not including the coaches!

SportsLab is right at the heart of this new movement, changing the landscape of how playbooks are created and shared. The co-founders, Noman Ahmad and Monty Mitra, started by creating an easy-to-use mobile app for high school and college football coaches and athletes to collaborate and share plays.
In addition to making the creation of plays easier and more cost-efficient, this product really helps players on the field−as their studies have shown players retain 30% more strategy and are more prepared. It helps players become more engaged and understand the plays and their roles within those plays much better.

And, as Curtis McCauley, the football coach from McClymonds High School in Oakland, CA, said, “When it comes to x’s and o’s and the mental part of the game, that’s where it gets really complicated. That’s where games are won and lost. If we had a tool to communicate this better to the kids, we’d be that much better. I used to give the kids playbooks…they don’t read them…this is a wonderful tool for us…this is taking us a step in the right direction.”
Recently, I sat down with Noman to learn more about SportsLab.

PJ: Where did you get the inspiration for this product?
Noman: I grew up in Oklahoma with a passion for sports. My co-founder, Monty, is from Texas. And, sports are woven into the fabric of the culture in Texas. We’ve always been technologists and tried to dream up ways that technology intersected with sports. My nephew is playing high school football and I see the challenges he faces. What SportsLab is doing is trying to help players get better for their team.

PJ: How did you get started?
Noman: We launched the web app in August of 2012 in a beta test with 100 teams using and engaging with it. They wanted to see an ipad app, but we didn’t have the funds to do it. We have the prototype completed, but do not have full funding to test it, road map it…finish it and get it in the AppStore.
PJ: Tell me about this project with a high school in Oakland, CA, to test pilot your ipad app.
Noman: We’re making a difference in the local Oakland community. We have a test pilot with McClymonds High School. We believe it’s a compelling story. Technology usually goes to the highest earners. But, we are bringing this to under privileged, challenged areas. After hearing about this Oakland High School and Lincoln High School in Southern California both wanted to be involved. It’s interesting, they are going after it.

Editor’s note: Oakland High School jumped onto the project after this interview took place.

PJ: For this project with McClymonds High School, you are using a crowd-funding site to raise funds. How does this work?

Noman: indiegogo is great. It draws attention to the community to drive entrepreneurs to deliver the wanted platform. It helps develop a following and the community doesn’t allow you to have tunnel vision. It opens your spectrum and vision to make the best possible product available.
When talking to coaches and athletes, it’s not about the features, it’s about the experience. This is why we decided to get up on a crowd-funding site.

PJ: Tell me about the competition you face in this space and how your product is different.
Noman: We have a few competitors, but they are focused on BCS teams and the pros. We focus on high school and college, which is unique. The way we do it, helps save cost and time. We facilitate the creation and sharing of plays. It’s about collaboration and gaining feedback to develop great features focused on the players instead of having a massive playbook.

We can really win against our competition by focusing on developing the tool we want to deliver…easy to use, but allowing powerful things to happen. In my background, there are a whole bunch of things that need to happen on the front end to make it easy for consumers. Just like Apple and Google do it.
PJ: What’s next for the product?
Noman: With the pilot we’ll figure out what things the athletes and the coaches want to do with it. We’ll expand out and deal with platforms that are accessible today and roadmap…getting information to help athletes get better. Our big vision is for self-empowerment…really the ability for athletes to make better decisions on their own time.

We’re focused on more adoption and traction…and a bigger presence by next football season.

For more information on SportsLab
For more information on the McClymonds project and to invest