Starting out over a decade ago as a printed diary operation which compiled all of the year’s sporting events for fans, Sportsyear has made a successful transformation to digital.
What has underpinned the company’s success is their pivot to servicing the hospitality industry which has pain points around planning, marketing and purchasing inventory for live sporting events.
They’ve built a digital platform that’s helping sports bars and venues automatically schedule and promote their live sports offerings. Venue owners can customise their live sport schedule knowing what appeals to their patrons.
The appetite for watching live sport remains enormous and the appetite for fans to go to a venue and watch their favourite sport live and have that communal experience is just as strong.
Fully bootstrapped yet cash flow positive, the pivot has paid dividends.
We started the conversation with Sportsyear’s co-founder Patrick Galloway on their new product roll out to service the hospitality industry.
Let’s start with the digital signage, that’s your newest technological roll out.
Patrick Galloway: “Our in-venue signage basically pulls data from the Sportsyear platform and delivers it in a really engaging way for fans in-venue purely with a purpose of keeping fans in-venue for longer. The digital signage basically looks at a venue’s automated live sports schedule and then it pulls in the most engaging games that are ‘live right now and coming up next,’ and what’s in the venue in the ‘next seven days.’ It delivers it to fans in an eye-catching way.”
What is the technology that powers the sporting calendar?
PG: “What we’ve built at Sportsyear is an open-source SQL database called the Sportsyear Engine and that powers the platform. The Engine has been built over years using Australian technology and our expertise when it comes to sports scheduling and the importance of various teams, leagues and events to the average Australian sports fan. The algorithm can understand how important a fixture is within the system and that’s our key differentiator. This allows us to do various things in an automated way when it comes to promoting upcoming sporting events. Coming back to the in-venue signage it’s using the algorithm to look at the sports bars’ lineup to only present the most engaging, important fixture relevant to the fans in that venue at that time.”
Take me through the pivot to that market.
PG: “We’ve definitely pivoted the platform towards hospitality. We started out over 10 years ago producing a printed diary which was interesting!
“We set out on the digital journey about four-years ago, we built the engine, we built the platform and we were open-minded as to who it would best serve.
“We built the MVP prototype and started testing it with sports media, sports fans, wagering firms and hospitality businesses. Once we started testing we quickly realised how significant and how many jobs the hospitality industry had around live sport. We realised we were solving some significant pain points in the industry. We decided to go all in on hospitality and in the last two years since we’ve had the platform effectively live we’ve scaled to over 100 venues around Australia. We’ve got some of the leading hospitality businesses working with us just because we’re saving them so much time and helping them keep customers longer and attract new ones.
“We’re working with Merivale, Sydney-based Solotel, The Star Group and the Australian Venue Co. based out of Melbourne who operate over 100 venues around Australia. So we’ve found a niche and solving a painful problem with this industry. These hospitality operators are not sports experts and here they are given the task of putting on a live sport experience and Sportsyear is filling that knowledge gap for them and helping them automate the scheduling and marketing jobs to be done through that algorithm.”
With a customer signed in Singapore, and further interest coming from there, I suspect that region is a good area because of their interest in the major global leagues and international sports, a lot of holiday makers, ex-pats, so what are the plans for scaling the platform outside of Australia?
PG: “Singapore is a little bit of a test case right now but you’re right Asia is hotbed of sports lovers as well as ex-pats and people who still like that traditional sports bar experience so it’s no surprise that we’ve had interest.
“What we’re focussed on in the short-term is to really drive growth in Australia. We still see a few more marketing tools to lay on top of our current services. Having just finished the in-venue digital signage, we’re now working on our social media graphics and we’re doing a lot of motion graphics using our data to plug into each venues social media accounts to integrate scheduling information that suits social formats and goes over-the-top of the usual social media content. We see Sportsyear being a valuable social media integration for venue partners.
“The other thing we’re looking at in Australia is starting to help sports clubs send their fans to the right venues during away games. For away games clubs are searching for a place to watch the game, have a good experience and we think we can play a big role in that using the data we’re collecting from all of our partner venues to curate it in a way that helps sports clubs show fans where to go to watch the game. One key factor that fans want to know is not only whether it’s on in a pub or club but is it on a big screen with sound? It’s an important piece of information and we can help venues automate that. We want to empower sports club marketing managers to help them monetise away games and send fans to venues. We’re in the early stages of that offering but there’s so much to be done in Australia, overseas is our future but I think we have a lot of growing to do in Australia.”
I could see this integrating with email managers, ticketing platforms but what else can it be integrated with?
PG: “One of the tasks of marketing managers in hospitality, especially for venues that are quite ‘modern’ in their offer is that they’re searching for ways to engage with fans digitally.
“I agree with you that eDM campaigns is certainly one of the items that are marketing managers are doing very week but right now a lot of marketing managers are logging into our platform to identify key upcoming games in the week ahead for their venue. They’re using that data and insights to put that into their emailers.
“The other opportunity is around bookings. While restaurant and accommodation online bookings is the norm, but from a live sport perspective we haven’t necessarily seen that significant jump. We hypothesise that it’s simply because sports fans don’t like the current booking process which is strictly around time and number of people. We think there’s an opportunity to integrate a booking service within our sports calendar widget which sits on the venue websites. We’re going to start trialling that with some of our partners shortly to test to see how willing sports fans are to book a table, for a certain game, being in a certain position in a bar with a view of the screen knowing that there will be sound.”
From there what other types of client feedback have you gotten?
PG: “Our churn rate is zero per cent. We’ve been onboarding customers for the last couple of years and we’re solving such a significant problem in the industry when it comes to automating a schedule for a particular venue,differentiating what the live and loud offer will be for that venue based on that demographic and being able to set and forget it for our partners. The bar team, the in-venue team will get access to the schedule in real-time via our web app.
“It’s an interesting space but we’ve been overwhelmed with the positive support and feedback we’ve been receiving.”
There is the challenge of fragmented sports rights isn’t there?
PG: “That’s my background and expertise having a sports media background. We now have Optus Sport showing the English Premier League, we have an uptake of basketball, both NBL and NBA, from SBS and ESPN. Sky Racing, which is owned by Tabcorp, have deals with the NBA and NFL. Then you’ve got your traditional Fox Sports offering.
“This mass fragmentation of sports, there’s 50 plus channels showing live sport on a given day, can you imagine how much of a pain for a venue operator and their team goes through on a daily basis trying to work out what sports goes on what screen?”
The rights are even more fragmented for individuals – they can watch sport via OTT services, Facebook, Twitter, Twitch, YouTube – whereas in hospitality planning it isn’t as harshly felt in some respects.
PG: “Absolutely and that fan piece you mentioned I think is still a pain point for fans. Fans have a little bit more knowledge and understanding of the sports they love and where they find them.
“We do have a fan product that is an e-calendar integration which we’re rolling out which is called the Sportsyear Subscription for Fans and it does help them keep track of the sporting highlights of the year in their digital calendars and it gives them a daily broadcast guide. We know there is a fan problem to solve but as I said the hospitality piece is where the pain is at its most extreme.”
What does growth mean to Sportsyear?
PG: “It’s a big question and it always comes back to why we exist. Sportsyear exists because of the fan. We want to help every fan witness every great sporting moment. We know ourselves how magical great sporting moments are.
“We do that with our Sportsyear engine, our algorithm and amazing data and analytics.
“We won’t stop as long as there is a sports fan out there that we can serve we will continue to build innovative products with our engine and global fixture database until there’s no tomorrow.”