Moving past the halfway point of HYPE Sports Innovation’s Global Virtual Accelerator (GVA) we checked back in with the program’s co-creator Ryan McCumber to see how the accelerator has progressed, his thoughts and the biggest winners.
With 20 startups running pilots across 13 partners, now including German Bundesliga club 1. FC Koln, each partner have committed to working with startups to scope out pilots to implement within their own clubs and organisations.
Following the interview, check the thoughts and key insights from a selection of startups as they reflect on their progress through the GVA.
What’s the expectations from these pilots? The potential to commercialise and sign partnerships is certainly interesting. What’s being scoped out?
Ryan McCumber: “This has completely exceeded expectations. Some of the partners have just gone above and beyond and I see three or four pilots being selected with negotiations underway. So there’s definitely going to be multiple clubs that pick multiple pilots. Ideally all 20 will win pilots, but we will have to see. There are definitely some companies that I’m aware will be ding multiple pilots.”
“Pilots will be naturally staggered of course, some might start right away some might start later, and some might start once we have fans in the stands, but they’re committing to more than their original commitment coming into the program which is to select just the one pilot. There’s also been some pretty cool alignment between clubs that are even looking for economies of scale, if a pilot is successful with one partner another one will look to implement and perhaps get a discount for signing multiple clubs.”
It’s kind of like the idea around the Sport Innovation Alliance (SIA) idea as well where you try one pilot at a member club and it could be taken to other member clubs in the Alliance.
RM: “One hundred per cent and it’s about trusting your partners, trusting your friends, if the pilot works for one club it’s likely to work for another and they can negotiate a deal together. That’s the exact same model that the SIA was set up on.”
FC Koln have joined as a partner. Tell me about their entrance and who they selected?
RM: “I call them lucky 13, they were the 13th official partner to join. Marion and Philipp are both from the club, Marion has run their previous HYPE accelerators and is responsible for New Business Development and Innovation while Philipp is Head of Corporate Development, including esports and a lot of their innovation activities.
“1. FC Koln selected 5 companies among the 20. In order of those that were selected, it was Bleachr with Kristin Geer, a really cool digital app with a lot of different plugins. Player casts, crowd view live, and so much more. They had spoken to 1. FC Koln about it a year or two ago and the club were very impressed with how far they’ve advanced and how different their product is.
“Next was Adam Jones from VICI Fan Fest. They’re one of the big winners of the overall program. They’ll be looking to do some virtual tailgate parties’ pre-game, post-game, get fans engaged when fans actually can’t be in the stands.
“Number three is PumpJack Dataworks. One thing 1. FC Koln commented on was they have lots of data, they need to make better sense of it and they need to really put it into use, and everyone knows that the US are sports clubs are at the forefront of this. They are most mature when it comes to connecting the dots between fans, their characteristics, timeframes, when this fan just entered the stadium and more.
“The last two in 1. FC Koln’s eyes were more related and they actually couldn’t decide between the two: OnePlan and Full Venue, however…
“OnePlan is run by Paul Foster. He’s a global specialist on planning events and movement of people within stadia. He’s planned Olympics, Commonwealth Games, Formula One, he’s doing the 2022 World Cup. His company has a really cool model that allows you to plan for any type of capacity. If you can only have 25% capacity in your stadium. What does that mean? Where do people actually sit? It’s one thing to say 25% but it’s another thing to figure out and plan where they go. It’s not just a one person ticket, people sit in pairs, sit in groups, families sit together. How do you spread them out? Plus he has more traditional models that allow you to figure out how you ingress, egress where you put barricades, where you put your bars, your tailgates, everything outside. It’s a really cool model to move things around and this is becoming even more necessary because you need to figure out how you get people into the stadium, and when, at different times.
“Then there’s Full Venue, VERY DIFFERENT then the planning with OnePlan, Full Venue comes in and they actually target who could come. They’re looking at all the characteristics of the fans, they’re looking at the characteristics of, ‘is this fan likely to buy another ticket?’ Before COVID-19, and hence the name it was to help you fill the venue, so if you’ve only sold 80% of your seats, how can you sell those last 20%. With COVID-19, they’re now trying to help you out with who are those 25% that should come, so it looks at demographics and can drill down to stuff like an older person being susceptible to catching coronavirus as they might have underlying ailments. With season ticket holders, how do you decide which ones come to the venue? How do you spread them out? And fairly? Some games are obviously more popular than others, there’s a lot that needs to go into that model that Full Venue has worked on and built all based on some propensity modelling. They’re two different things and to compare the two, one’s to do the ‘how’ and one is to do the ‘who’.”
It’s interesting listening to the five that 1. FC Koln picked as they all fit into a complete, planned ecosystem.
RM: “Hundred percent, it’s absolutely purposeful. They clearly spent their time specifically targeted to the planning, the people, the fan experience outside the stadium and understanding the data. It was strategically laid out.”
You also recently added in the Sport Innovation Alliance into the group, tell me about that?
RM: “I sat down with Juan (Iraola) and we reviewed all 20 companies and selected four to present to the now 20 club strong Alliance. We selected Handi, Hear Me Cheer, Emaze and Crowd Comply from Symon Perriman of FanWide, which is his AI algorithm to manage the fans when they’re coming and making sure they’re wearing masks and more. So those four companies presented to the SIA and combined they’ve already had 10 different leads.”
We’ll get on to the big winners, which is Handi, VICI, Hear Me Cheer who have been picked to do a lot of pilots. Why did they stick out to so many partners?
RM: “Handi is a physical product and they’re in the process of shipping trials to various clubs. They now have a person full-time on the ground in the US. An example, the New York Islanders are currently selling suites for their soon to be built new Belmont Arena but they’re building a demo suite. So putting COVID-19 aside once everyone’s walking around Manhattan, the streets are full again, they’re gonna have a sale centre for corporates to walk in and see what these future suites are going to look like. The Islanders want to have Handi in there as part of their showcase. It’s pertinent, it’s a contactless hand sanitising solution. So it’s a great thing for them to showcase in the suites.”
“So Here Me Cheer were also selected by the SIA. There are no fans in stadiums and arenas, they have the ESPN case study, which is real, it’s live and it’s validated.
“And VICI is also big winner. VICI wasn’t selected by SIA but they were selected by 1. FC Koln. They’re an obvious choice, we don’t have fans in the stands and we need to engage our fans, engage them on a second screen. How can we engage them more? How can we do something pre-game post-game? How can we also start to own our content and own our data? Now, why should the fan watch say ESPN’s pre-game show where we’re not getting any data? Why can’t we have our own pregame show? Why can’t we get all that data and give some exclusive content.”
As you approach the end of the GVA, can you reflect on the experience so far?
RM: “I definitely didn’t expect to be adding 1. FC Koln and the SIA to this. In so doing, the original planning was week six would be the final pitches, we’re actually extending that out a few weeks.
“Some clubs are getting close and we’ve actually had our first two kind of eliminations and we’re working through how we’re going to report that out. Each partner has chosen between four and seven startups. So we’ve had two of the partners come back to me and say, ‘okay, we’ve actually ruled this one out. What do you want us to do?’ We’re actually working through that in real time. We’re not sure if we’re going to communicate or if we’re going to wait until the final selection show as this is Shark-elerator and high drama.
“So overall upon reflection, it’s definitely going to exceed expectations, there’s going to be more than 12 pilots, and I look forward to starting on those and getting them going. Once a pilot goes within one sport in the US other sports are going to take notice. There’s already two other NBA teams that have contacted me about two of the startups already, so word is starting to filter out to other clubs and franchises.”
Following on from Ryan’s interview, we canvassed some of the startups for some thoughts and insights, check it all below.
Adam T.W. Jones – Co-founder & CEO, VICI Sports:
“In a few short weeks, HYPE has dramatically accelerated our mission at VICI to help the world’s most important media companies, sports teams, finally unlock the 10x revenue opportunity their global fanbase presents through our product FanFest.
“Before HYPE, we were well-known in global football (soccer), but hadn’t fully penetrated other sports. Now, thanks to a combination of HYPE relationships and COVID-19 induced market conditions, FanFest has become a core tenet of season restart planning for MLS, NBA, and NFL teams, as well as football and tennis teams/leagues/federations across Europe, Asia, and South America, that have over 500 million fans combined globally.
“We’re starting to get some strong recognition from across the industry, getting some major press as well like being featured in Forbes.
“Premium virtual live experiences are here to stay, and we look forward to continue working with HYPE to bring FanFest not just top sports teams, but every top media company with a global audience, by the end of 2020.”
Nuno Tavares – CTO, Full Venue:
“We are very excited to be part of the startups chosen by 1. FC Köln and move to the business development stage. We look forward to start working with the 1. FC Köln’s team, discuss scope and start delivering fan attendance probabilities.
It has been quite a ride! The program is really a ‘SHARK-ELERATOR’ and only a strong solution, well design and well driven can get to this stage. For us it has been crucial to have a mentor like Fiona Green. We are very fortunate to have someone with such a huge knowledge of the industry and on the science of data.”
Elias Andersen – Founder and CEO at ChampTrax Technologies (HearMeCheer):
“For HearMeCheer, the GVA has brought us a multitude of opportunities and experiences beyond just the 13 clubs that fit within the accelerator. For instance, I had the chance to pitch to 18 clubs within the Sport Innovation Alliance and ended up with 3 very good leads and potentially a few paying customers. For us the value of a single customer is immense so just the introductions and connections we have made through the program have made the GVA a smashing success!”
Kristin Geer – CEO, BLEACHR:
“I was born in Germany, less than two hours from Cologne, so getting selected by 1. FC Köln is a dream come true! Truly, it’s the icing on the cake of all that has transpired in just a few short weeks thanks to the HYPE Sports Innovation Accelerator. Having a chance to work with experts in this field like our advisor Ryan McCumber, and mentor Paul Beirne, has propelled our company forward in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I’m grateful to have them both in our corner as we work to get the ball over the finish line! ”
Giovanni Lagani – CEO & Founder, Vigital Solutions GmbH:
“HYPE Accelerator offers us as Vigital Solutions GmbH the perfect platform and network to scale up and grow. The process as well as the experienced mentors in this program make the difference. The exchange between the startups and the learnings from different partners we get makes the difference and this accelerator really unique. ”
David Olim – CEO, footAR (Dobsware):
“After being selected for HYPE’s program, footAR is working with partners PSG and FIBA on how can the current pilot can be integrated within the current technology, generating value for the brands. Fortunately, since the program has begun, we’ve seen that there is a necessity for our tech that applies to multiple sports and having this validation from the actual clubs and federations was something that we’re looking for since we’ve applied to the program.
“In this fast-paced world, solutions that adapt rapidly are the ones that will ultimately answer businesses necessities and we’re thrilled to go alongside HYPE and use our augmented reality second screen app solution to enhance overall sports fans experience!”
David Edri – CEO, Emaze:
“We joined HYPE to help sports clubs monetise and scale their fans’ engagement. By using our patented AI platform, we hope to help sports clubs build personalised and customised websites to each of their fans and create millions of OTT channels to monetise their fans’ involvement. Our platform would allow sports clubs take back the reins on their fans involvement and engagement – and turn it into a business opportunity. The more engaged their fans are, the higher the monetisation.”