With more than 1000 global startups applying to join HYPE’s Global Virtual Accelerator, we got the inside track into the program with Ryan McCumber from Sportstech.ai who is one of the program’s co-creators along with Amir Raveh founder of HYPE Sports Innovation.
The virtual program commences June 1st and will run for eight weeks with the purpose on bringing top global clubs, leagues and rights holders together to work with selected startups to create pilots for their on-field and off-field challenges post coronavirus.
The clubs and federations vertical that Ryan designed comprises 12 iconic innovative partners (clubs and federations) such as Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles FC, Miami Dolphins from the NFL, Toronto Blue Jays from MLB, France’s Ligue-1 champions Paris St Germain and FIBA.
First off, what’s the overview of HYPE’s Global Virtual Accelerator?
Amir Raveh: “Coronavirus is disrupting the way consumers behave dramatically, and its ripple effects are far from being over. Sports, suffering from a major hit globally, will have to adapt to new rules and a new game plan.”
Ryan McCumber: “Obviously there’s a global crisis going on which is almost immeasurably disruptive. So what we came up with was that startups are having trouble connecting with good opportunities with clubs, and clubs and rights holders are having trouble identifying solutions to their problems.
“All the clubs around the world are changing every day but they have new challenges that they’re facing that we’re trying help solve.
“This program will bring these two ecosystems together. Let’s take the new challenges that the sporting world faces right now which is first and foremost there are no games. So, how do clubs still engage their fans, then we’re going to have games that are going to come back with no fans. Eventually fans are going to be allowed in the stadium and how do we redesign the stadium to be smarter, cleaner and COVID friendly? We break it down to those three categories.
“To go deeper in those categories, you have engaging fans right now and most clubs have turned to live trivia, other competitions, esports, anything to engage fans and start to make up those sponsorship agreements that they have. Then you’re going to have the games come back with no fans, so in that scenario there are a lot of challenges; how do you reward your members? Like your season ticket holders who have held tickets for generations. How do you reinvent the home experience? Bringing that game experience from the stadium into the house with AR/VR. How do you reinvent the broadcast, the second screen experience with club content?
“Then the stadium once fans comes back. How do we come up with some smart social distance seating solutions? How do you come up with more ‘order at your seat’ and frictionless/touchless fan journeys where fans aren’t gathering in one area? Problems to investigate is whether you stagger people’s entry into stadiums, do we need sensors on the sanitiser dispensers in the bathrooms so management is alerted when it runs low? It is typical IoT stuff which people knew about before they just didn’t act on. Now we need to act on it. Then how do we even clean the stadium properly? How do we clean the seats properly? Now there’s all kinds of solutions that are coming out on that.”
What variety of clubs and rights holders are getting involved?
RM: “We’re covering a wide variety of sports, we have one team per league, per continent and North America touching all US geographies. We have LAFC from Major League Soccer. Christian Lau, the club’s CTO, he’s looking for solutions for the whole club. So looking at everything from high performance solutions, dealing with players, all the way up to the fans and smart stadiums. Whereas Daniel Brusilovsky is more focused on his remit within the Golden State Warriors and specifically fan experience in the Chase Center as well as at home. Then we have the Miami Dolphins representing the NFL, we have the Toronto Blue Jays representing Major League Baseball and our Canadian club and then we just added the New York Islanders from the NHL from my home city of New York.
“Over in Europe we have the Royal Belgian Football Federation FIFA’s number one ranked national team and a previous client of mine; and we added reigning French champions Paris Saint-Germain one of the largest football clubs in the World. In the UK, Massimo Marinelli CEO of ASER Group is wearing two hats representing Leeds United as well as their sister property Eleven Sports as our sole broadcaster. Lastly, back in Australia where I called home for eight years we added Tennis Australia which is in my opinion one of the greatest events on the planet and by far the most Innovative and fan-focussed in the tennis world. Lastly, our South American representative is the Argentine football powerhouse River Plate.”
On the startup side, what stage of startups and companies is HYPE looking for?
RM: “We’re really looking at concept up to series A, and I’m talking to a few well respected series A companies who are interested in this unique program specifically for the global reach. But you know what, even if you have a concept we’re certainly open to listening to it. There’s plenty of different solutions out there that aren’t fully baked yet, but they’re good solutions, and a partner may well be keen to try it, explore it. But the solution still has to be built.
“So the target is a startup that has a product, they may have one or two clients, looking to scale globally. They may have one of our clients already in the program in one country but they’re now looking to scale internationally. Or they have a smaller client and now we’re talking to the big players. Maybe they have an AFL club as a client example, they have a great product, but now how do we scale over to Paris Saint-Germain or to the Dolphins, ultimately to other clubs or rights-holders in different continents.”
Putting it all together, how does the relationship come together?
RM: “We kept it at one team per league.
“What teams are getting is solutions to their challenges. They’re not going to get all their challenges answered. They know that, but they’ve given us a list of challenges and if we can solve at least one to two of them, that’s a win. If you’re the Miami Dolphins, you’re probably aware of solutions and companies within the US market but there might be something in Europe, Asia or Australia that they probably wouldn’t have heard of before. Conversely that Australian company may not have contacts at the Dolphins so it’s about helping startups from one region jump to another region very quickly and cover all sports.”
Can you give a little bit about the program structure, and what you hope to achieve?
RM: “It’s an eight-week program. We’re going from roughly 50 startups selected pre-program, then 25 are going to be invited to the bootcamp which starts June 1st. From there, those 25 gets narrowed down to anywhere from three to five per partner. So all 25 can theoretically make it and all 25 can move through or at a bare minimum if all 12 partners pick the same three startups then only three move forward. My gut feel tells me it’s going to be somewhere between seven and 15 that will get selected.
“These startups will move forward to scope out a proof of concept, a pilot, and have some deep dive sessions with each one of the clubs or rights holders that selects them. At the end there’ll be one winning pilot announced and each club is committed to picking one winning pilot, but they may pick two or three!
“Ideally, each pilot will be a different startup, it’d be great to have 12 different pilots. Regardless you will see a lot of promotion, a lot of hype, about each winner and the scope of the pilot. We are excited to bring innovation to the accelerator space as this is more a ‘Shark Tank’ like competition wrapped in an accelerator. I took the best of both worlds to create something that is OUTCOME DRIVEN. Let’s face it at the end of the day the startups needs sales.
AR: “If I can summarise it all in one sentence – the amount of benefits for all of the participants – from startups to clubs, federations and brands in this program – is massive. The fact that we can gather so many world leading teams and partners in one place, is very unique. It’s going to be awesome.”