Updated: Jul 14, 2020

I’m often asked about the criteria for companies to become members at Sports Loft. My answer has always been that it has to be a company that we are truly excited about – an

answer that admittedly sounds very subjective. So it felt that it was about time to try and articulate why we found certain companies exciting. That can really be split into two parts – Firstly what general company traits do we look for (many of which often sound like clichés). These are things such as a superb team, an idea that could be truly disruptive, a market size that will make investors take note, a product that is solving a genuine problem etc… and secondly, what specifc areas within the sports and media industry are we most excited about – and this is what I’m going to focus on in this post.

We have identified 7 areas in the sports and media industry that we feel are going to change significantly in the coming years (much of which will be driven by the macro effects of COVID), where innovative tech companies can shape the future of the industry and where Sports Loft’s network and expertise can help them. These are the areas where we will focus our activities.

1) Half of Premier League clubs spend more than 70% of their revenues on player salaries. The players are in most cases the most valuable assets that a club has. Whether that is sustainable is a different matter, but if you are going to spend that much money on your players you are going to want to maximise the return that you get for that money. We look for technologies that can help those players prepare and perform better, help players spend more time on the pitch and help teams make better decisions. In effect, technologies that can help the team (whatever sport) get maximum return from the players that they are investing in.

2) COVID has shown us how important community is – from zoom calls bringing people together for work to friends watching soccer matches together and runners comparing their times with their friends. We look for technologies that can bring people together around their shared sports and media passions.

3) Sports organisations are going to be driving commercial revenues in an increasingly challenging environment. Up until now, many commercial departments have operated on a pretty basic level, but that is going to need to change and they are going to need to become much more sophisticated if they are going to be successful. We look for technologies that can improve the commercial operations within sports and media– eg ways to think about partnerships so that they demonstrate genuine business cases rather than relying on antiquated equivalent media value metrics, ways to gather and use 1st party data, ways to value fanbases and more innovative ways to approach ticketing.

4) The coming years are going to see a significant growth in the number of entities distributing content to fans – whether this is teams and leagues developing direct-to-consumer offerings, tech companies buying sports content as new commercial models develop or new content platforms emerging to challenge the current broadcasters. We look for companies that can help this variety of content owners a) genuinely understand their fanbases and how to market directly to them b) create and distribute high quality content at low cost and c) deliver products that fans will want to engage with and keep coming back to.

5) Participation has long been the poor relation of the professional game, but look at the lockdown stats – running is up, cycling is up and tennis courts are fully booked. At the same time, we expect to be able to measure our performance and compare with our peers, whilst Peloton, Zwift and others have shown that we can do our sports physically on our own. Equally, there is a huge opportunity for clubs and brands to engage with fanbases through coaching and skill improvement. We look for companies that can help participants really understand their performance in their sports, compare with others and really change the way they talk about their performance.

6) “Like a good waiter, this tech and content must rapidly not just know our tastes, but be there when needed and be invisible when it isn’t” – DuBose Cole, Vayner Media. We think this sums up the next stage of personalisation rather well – moving on from trying to push us something through re-targetting ads and beginning to anticipate a need and give us a solution at the right time. In the sports and media sector, where we are deluged with content , there is a huge appetite for additional information and there is masses of data about the audience (even if little is currently done with that data), little has been done above the basics.. We look for companies that can bring the next generation of personalisation techniques to the sports and media industry.

7) In the past 18 months, we have been repeatedly pitched startup focused on fan engagement - but it has been yet another quiz capability or polling game. They had become very repetitive and few stood out. COVID has changed that – with matches being played behind closed doors, the underlying product is weaker and fans are looking for new ways to engage – and once they find platforms and products that they like, they aren’t going to be go back to a linear, non-interactive experience. We look for companies that can deliver ways for broadcasters / teams / leagues to engage fans at scale, can get fans to keep coming back to their products and genuinely enhance the fan experience.

Many of the companies that we will work with at Sports loft will fit into more than one of these 7 focus areas, and that is fine, but they must fit into at least one. We’ll keep these under review, but if you run a startup and feel that you fit into at least one of the categories then please do get in touch. Equally, if you are at a sports organisation and that the areas we focus on resonate with you, then please get in touch as we are probably talking with some great technologies that can help you.

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As part of the Sports Loft Member Series, presented by Northridge, Drew Barrand talked with Covatic CEO, Nick Pinks.

Nick describes Covatic as being able to understand "the physical context of an audience member. What are the users actually doing. Do they commute? Do they stay at home? What is their pattern of life? When do they have a window of time to consume content?”

Drew and Nick talk about the background to Covatic - “We started with the challenge of how are broadcasters going to be able to engage on a personal level when they have a really limited understanding of who their audiences actually are, when their competition have so much information”, the opportunity for their product in a growing direct-to-consumer world - "if you know the context of the user and if you can relate it to everything you know about how people watch your content, then you've got the ultimate direct-to-consumer proposition" and the importance of privacy - "You can’t just harvest everybody’s data. You can’t harvest who they are. There’s a very valid GDPR and privacy angle”

They also talk about how COVID has impacted their business operations - "“In many ways it has brought us closer together. We’ve seen a really good progression of engineering excellence” and how it is has created new opportunities for the Covatic product - “In the “new normal”, our clients don’t know what their audiences are going to be doing. How and when people consume content is going to be very different. We are already seeing that the peak times are not the same as before.”

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Updated: Jun 16, 2020

As part of the Sports Loft Member Series, presented by Northridge, Drew Barrand talked with Formalytics Founder and CEO, Andrew Hall.

According to Andrew, “We’re focused on answering the question of “how do you know that you are actually improving at football?” We do that by AI running on a mobile device, where any consumer can pick up the phone, measure a range of six drills and get actionable feedback on their performance and where they are ranking.”

Drew and Andrew talk about the current funding round: “We’ve raised £2m to date, we’re raising a £3m round right now. It’s pretty capital intensive building this technology”, how they are working with athletes: “We’re in dissuasions right now with some of the biggest names in football, to be talent within the masterclasses which will help users improve”, their work with partners: “UEFA is our landmark client on the white label version” and the potential applicability into other sports: “Most of the drills that we measure are the backbone of the combine skills”.

They also discuss what it has been like operating and raising money under COVID - "We have a really flexible and agile system. Our productivity is now higher on development than it was pre-COVID. The silver lining was that some of the players and investors had a lot more time on their hands” and how fundraising conversations have changed - "We’ve seen that the VCs are very focused on their existing portfolio, but some of the football investors are looking for new opportunities”.

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