Through accessible technology, Danish startup Tonsser breaks down the barriers between aspiring footballers and club recruitment.
Their player app allows youth players to create a profile, monitor their performance and statistics, and use that as their own scouting tool with other players, clubs and academies.
Players are rated with Tonsser’s proprietary in-house data and technology that analyses videos and photos of them training and in action to give undiscovered players a utility to help them capture their performances, improve and perhaps also be discovered.
In this moment, the power of Tonsser lies in its borderless and digital nature. Clubs can remotely find footballers outside of their own knowledgeable areas and the importance is heightened as we have currently restrictions on travel making digital scouting a necessity.
With well over a million users on the platform and a rapidly growing portfolio of clubs and brand partnerships Tonsser is emerging rapidly.
In this feature conversation we talked at length with their founder Peter Holm.
Describe how the COVID-19 pandemic changed the dynamic of the business?
Peter Holm: “The pandemic threw up those traditional company questions about expectations and predictions. We asked ourselves, how can we be smart, how can we use the situation to come out stronger, but also be honest about the risks and our lack of knowledge about what is going to happen. What sort of impact can we have for our users, our young players in this time.
“As an app that’s based upon football matches being played and youth football in the countries that we’re in, and there is roughly 1.5 million players on the app, from one day to the next players didn’t have a match to play. Almost half a year without matches being played. Imagine that for any other business, naturally it has an impact.
“I was trying to figure out, asking myself, ‘what does this new behaviour look like for users? How can we take the role of being the best friend, the best inspiration, the best motivator for young people going through this phase where they have such a big part of their life removed from one day to the next.’ When dealing with people aged between 13 to 19, as we know sports and football, in my case, is that it’s a big part of their life to a large extent. There’s the social aspects, meeting friends, hanging out and talking about football, developing their skills and training. All of this is a weekly cycle.
“So we found it was really important that we took it upon ourselves to be the best friend of football players through this time, giving them motivation to stay in shape, giving them clear advice, tools and exercises no matter where they live. Each individual situation is different no matter if you live in the Parisian suburbs, London or you live on the countryside in Denmark. Our take on it was to focus on inspiring and motivating players through helping them stay in shape so they can come back stronger, both mentally and physically.”
You probably get asked or even told this a fair bit but it’s kind of the way that HomeCourt made a mission to “double down” during the pandemic in terms of individual basketball training, tracking yourself, keeping yourself motivated. Tonsser appears to be the same.
PH: “Yeah absolutely, and I’m a big fan of what they’ve (HomeCourt) done and those similar type of products and companies like ourselves. The way they use technology to build their product that gives opportunities for anyone, no matter who you are, where you live to give them a chance to have fun, stay in shape and tackle participation and development from a different angle. It’s definitely the trend that we’re starting to see now.
“On the other hand what we have really seen as an acceleration of those trends that were occurring over the last couple of years. Clubs, leagues and federations definitely have been looking at and diving into technology, and how products out there can really help them identify, scale information, get transparency, build infrastructure and it could be a variety of products.”
What have you learnt from your club and federation partnerships?
PH: “We started Tonsser in 2014. When we started it sports tech was emerging. So when we started to develop, ideate and create the app and pitch it to users, clubs and investors we couldn’t really place ourselves in any type of industry. It was a stage where we were almost premature as a product. We were almost premature in terms of what we wanted to do but at the same time, people were asking why has this had not been created before? So it’s sort of like an interesting time capsule where we were both a little too late and a little too early, which has definitely been both fun and challenging.
“So it’s sort of been a journey from there to where we are today where we’ve definitely seen organisations change, we’ve seen focus change and we’ve seen the economics change.
“Where we are today, you could just see it by the number of accelerators and internal incubators at league and club level. What I hope and what has to this extent still been the missing piece has been urgency. It’s been almost seeing the legacy of clubs and institutions holding people back from making faster decisions. They love to talk about it, love to look at it, they love to explore and discover but do they actually do it? And until they do, that could be a positive ripple effect of what we’re seeing at the moment that we’d like to start to seeing more collaboration between the institutions and the innovators. In our case, we are already seeing multiple clubs joining each week at the moment and big clubs too. So I hope that also for other for the rest of the industry and other types of sports that we see the same trend.”
Digital transformation is quite a nascent space for sports clubs. The problem is that clubs and federations all move at different speeds. I find it interesting the trend of clubs and federations have developed in-house accelerators and incubators to scoop up the best talent and tech to drive this digital transformation.
PH: “What I also see as a trend is that we see institutional, very talented, experienced people moving away from the media, federations, sports rights and moving into startups, and that will also mature and help build closer relationships between the startups, emerging companies and technology companies with institutions.
“For me that’s the missing link at this point that we need to do that better and faster. Us startups and entrepreneurs we need to build better products. There’s also been a wave of products launched over the last three, four years that has perhaps been based on passion rather than actual clear market demand.
“That’s one of the most beautiful thing about sports is that you don’t find an entrepreneur that it’s in sports tech solely because of money, there’s a different aura around the industry which I find so fascinating, I love meeting new people, there’s so many talented people out there that are driven by passion but we also need to help each other build long lasting products and businesses.”
It’s an emerging industry and sports tech can be a collaborative, ‘global village’ if you will because ultimately the industry wants to better serve fans, have more fun or improve players or look to make advances in the industry. That’s the end goal.
PH: “Yeah, and it makes a ton of sense, sometimes we can become a bit too niche, on top of a niche on top of a niche!”
If we leave it up to a technological, data driven approach to talent will it yield the best results? Where does that leave the human aspect? How does the human or the scout sit alongside your data and technology?
PH: “So first of all, we try not to talk too much about talent but potential. We think every type of player has potential because in essence, we believe how we work with clubs and so forth everybody has the potential to go somewhere. We are here to remove the gatekeepers and give tools to any type of player, no matter what level they are, to go as far as they want to go as long as they have the drive.
“How we see ourselves depends on how the technology develops, and as it develops we will also become stronger, more precise and the depth and width of our data set will only grow. The biggest focus point we have right now is video. So teaming up with different camera companies to integrate collaborations and also build our own features in terms of how spectators and supporters on the sidelines can capture moments meaning that when a player gets into your locker room then you have your highlights. From our research and information that we can find through partners it’s around 25 per cent of youth players have video of themselves. That number needs to be 100 per cent because then they can learn where they need to improve, coaches can give feedback on video, and for discovery purpose whether its locally, regionally or nationally. So in terms of the scout we want to equip and create transparency but create as many quality data points as possible.
“So for instance, let’s take a club like Atletico Madrid, they are entrenched in terms of how they think the same for Barcelona, we know that from La Masia and so on. They pretty much have their identity for each position. So we want to find ways that they can sort of apply that and then through that find relevant players at different ages that could fit that style. That’s how we want to see, giving as many data points as possible, but also ways where clubs can minimise the time that they spend on filtering players. So they look at those that are relevant to them and tailored to the individual.”
When you say Atletico Madrid, I do think when they make a signing I do think ‘that’s an Atletico Madrid signing’ at times. There is an allure to their playing style, the manager and the signings they make. It’s interesting you say 25 per cent I am surprised it is that level right now.
Is the 2026 World Cup a goal to have Tonsser scouted players appearing at the tournament?
PH: “We know that users will be at the World Cup. It’s almost 700,000 players using the app in France, which means almost 70 per cent of all their entire youth market. So based on that alone we know how many players are now playing at the top level.
“One good recent example, in the Europa League FC Copenhagen played against Istanbul Basaksehir and won 3-0 to advance to the next round and two goals were scored by Jonas Wind. He was player of the season when he was 15 and 16 here in Denmark on the Tonsser app. Of course we cannot take any credit for him but we know players that have come through will be at the World Cup and often our role is more indirect than direct influence.
“Then to your question in terms of players where we could take more credit, I don’t know if we could say that!”
Maybe a more active role then.
PH: “We expect to be working quite intensively with a minimum of 25 European tier one, tier two clubs this autumn and we expect to double or triple that in the spring. On purpose we don’t work with too many clubs at this stage so we can make sure that we make everybody happy.
“One of the clubs that we work with is KAA Gent from Belgium. Gent is a really smart club, were Belgium Pro League champions a few years ago and a really interesting club to work with. We started working with them a year in late 2019.
“The work we did with them was to say, ‘okay, in France you don’t have any resources right now to look for players, how can we find players that are not yet in an academy?’ That is not yet on a contract?’ We believe that we can be that spotlight for those players that have not yet made it to a professional level, or an academy no matter, their age. On the other side we help clubs that don’t have any resources, can’t spend any money coming into a market where they have very little information but want to find super interesting players that are actually official amateur players and by all rights shouldn’t be able to take that step. So there is this limbo of players which is probably where we see making the most value for clubs at the moment is finding those under the radar players.
“Working with Gent, we found a couple of players that they were interested in based on the profiling that we made. One of the players Samy Mahour a 16 year old from Paris. From his performance on the app he was invited to come to Belgium for a trial.
“He went on a trial and he was invited back for a second trial and you can say against everything that should be normal in football ought to be, and I would call this a pure myth busting case, but Gent signed him a two year professional contract. He’s now 17 and recently made his debut for the first team in a pre season match. He came onto the pitch when they were 1-0 down. He came on, he equalised 1-1, and assisted the match winner to help the team win 2-1. This is a player that was an amateur player just merely months ago and was not even destined to go to an academy, a French academy, and now he’s playing and will be introduced into the first team. It’s amazing.”
That’s an amazing story.
I figured that was another thing where clubs would use it as an intelligence and profiling tool. Scouts can’t be everywhere so how do they find and connect with players that say in France or Belgium or whoever and find those rough diamonds if you will.
Tech can find those rough diamonds and that may be the extra layers of your tech offering, tier one and tier two clubs need all the help to scout the rough diamonds that may be lost in the system.
PH: “One hundred percent, we know the economy for football clubs is generally not great. We know that the wealthy clubs have moved in one direction and the rest in a different direction. So that gap will only increase. What we believe is that we can be a help especially from the player side, creating more opportunities for players no matter what level they play. Historically you had to follow a specific path and if you weren’t on that path, you got lost in the system.
“If you’re not an academy at a specific age, you were not good enough for an academy that was the conclusion which is what we want to distance ourselves from. We want to keep creating opportunities because there’s a lot of reasons why specific steps have occurred at specific ages, be it injuries, problems at home, psychological challenges, or they’re a late bloomer or quite simply have a bad relationship with the coach. That’s on the player side.
“On the club, let’s say from almost any European league from the middle and down in the first league, rarely have a deep talent identification setup based on information at scale outside of their own country and regions. What we believe we can do is make it cost efficient for a bigger funnel, a more transparent look at the talent world and also make football borderless because that’s really something that is strange that the world is so big but when most other industries have technologically made it small, made it accessible and connected. It’s still very disconnected when it comes to youth football.
“We need to democratise the access to opportunities. It’s not possible to get to every place in the world the same but what we are here to do is to provide opportunities for players no matter where you live, how old you are or what level you play at the moment.
“The empowerment players have to find and take chances on themselves is very minimal and often based on individual people and luck, plus being at the right place at the right time. We want to bring more information to that and create more empowerment and opportunities.”