Updated: Nov 16, 2020

In the first company presentation at the Sports Loft Showcase, Andrew Hall, CEO of Formalytics, talked about the latest on their funding round, the progress made in product development and their partnership with a Premier League player.

"We help the grassroots football player understand if they're actually improving. We allow the user to test themselves over six core skills: dribbling, ball control, agility, pace, shooting and passing." This will be supplemented by a series of pro-masterclasses available in the app, demonstrated by "one of the top Premier League players".

Andrew told the showcase that "we've had really good traction recently, we've got a white label partnership with UEFA. We're just closing out a £1.5 m late seed round. We've got a very big strategic investor and good EPL player investing in that round two along with a bunch of angel investors."

Watch Andrew's presentation to the showcase above to find out more about Formalytics.

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Updated: Nov 17, 2020

If there is a silver lining for the sports industry from COVID, it’s that many of the outdated business practices in the sector are going to have to disappear. Most of these came from taking the status quo for granted: that the fans would always be there, that sponsors would be happy with loose media value metrics and viewers would keep lapping up whatever content they were given. There was limited incentive to do things differently.

But the world has changed. As a result, sports organisations are going to have to change and will need to significantly improve their commercial operations. That will mean working in new ways and valuing different skill sets in their people. For example, an ability to understand data or the willingness to learn from trying things will both be important. It may also mean sports organisations radically changing their approach to budgeting. The overall marketing & sales budget at a team or league may now be smaller than it was but the proportion given to digital and data is likely to grow significantly. It also means that teams and leagues will need to invest in tools to help them work more effectively and offer better experiences to fans, rather than viewing such tools as a “nice to have”. That’s where Sports Loft comes in. In recent months, we’ve had dozens of sports organisations coming to us, wanting to know about the new and emerging technologies that should be considered to improve their commercial operations.

There is no doubt that empty stadiums have proven how important fans are to their sport, both from the perspective of the revenue that they generate but also because the TV product without fans in the stands just isn’t that good. It doesn’t matter how many video screens you or fake fan noises you put onto the broadcast, the feeling of the occasion and the “big event” just isn’t there without the fans.

Now that the fans have gone, the teams and leagues have realised how important the fans really are. It follows that we should expect the fan experience to improve both in the stadium and at home. Some teams are now re-examining the whole “customer experience”, a phrase rarely heard before when thinking about sports fans. How can fans best get the information they need? What should the fan experience be on game day when fans are not at the stadium? What’s the experience before, during and after the game? How can the food & beverage, wayfinding and stadium entry experience be made better for fans when they are at the stadium? Companies such as Satisfi, an “interactive answer engine” with investment from Google, have shown how they can use conversational AI to serve fans at home as well as at the stadium. On the back of their work with MLB, fans asking for “who has hit the most home runs for the Yankees this year” are returned a video of Aaron Judge hitting a homerun along with his stats, all within a native app, WhatsApp, chat or Facebook Messenger conversation. Equally, within the stadium, fans could ask what beers are available and the answer provides the beers, the prices and where to get them from. This improves the fan experience at scale, in the stadium and at home.

With no matches to host, many teams and leagues quickly realised that content was the best way to engage with fans. This led to some very creative uses of their archives and some teams have created entirely new content genres to keep engaging with their fans. However, it also meant that they needed tools to create quality content. Companies such as Slate are enabling the content functions at teams to meet the demand for content to be delivered quickly but also to maintain the brand consistency across multiple channels without lots of files passing back and forth between designers. This brand consistency has also helped to provide partners with extra activation opportunities. Equally, Greenfly has been able to help teams and leagues utilise the reach of their athlete’s social media accounts by collecting photos and videos from just about anywhere, organising and curating the content, and then delivering them in real-time for the athletes to share. Making the process easy for both the content teams and athletes naturally leads to more content being shared and is a great example of how the commercial operations of a team and league can be improved by the technology.

Another area that is crying out for improvement is the ticketing experience. Why should fans have to buy the same seat for a season and sit next to the same people every game? Shouldn’t the experience of buying a ticket be much more akin to that offered by leaders in the retail sector rather than the clunky and uninspiring ticketing websites that we are used to? In a post-COVID world with potentially lower disposable incomes, shouldn’t fans have greater options for how they pay for their tickets? Companies such as FEVO, who are turning the e-commerce process into a social experience, are especially well suited to changing the ticketing experience, by enabling fans to buy with their friends and for teams to reward the fans that organise groups of their friends.

Equally, teams will need to segment their fans and audiences. Fans have different lives away from the teams they support, the level of “fandom” differs between individual fans, they respond differently to different types of content and they will want communication in different channels. All of this requires sports organisations to have a much more nuanced and detailed understanding of each fan if they are going to improve their commercial operations. For content owners, companies such as Covatic are providing a unique view of each fan’s day, identifying “windows of opportunity” which are best to deliver content to fans resulting in higher engagement rates and higher completion rates.

Another area of the commercial operation that is going to have to change, is the approach to partnership sales and activation. Not least because the pandemic has created winners and losers of entire industries. How many airlines can now afford a major spend on a high profile sponsorship? The challenge will lie in meeting the needs of different industries and providing brand managers with the tools to make smart decisions when all budgets will be under greater scrutiny. The standard term sheet of stadium based assets, such as signage and hospitality isn’t viable, while many digital assets that have previously been given little value should now become important.

This means that teams and leagues are going to have to develop new ways to sell partnerships and show value to the sponsors that they are selling to. Teams are going to need more than the tired “equivalent media values”. They are going to need to be able to evidence segmented fan data, making it clear which fans are relevant to a specific sponsor. This means showing what content they engage with, what platforms they use, how many of them there are, what other brands these people engage with and how they buy the sponsor’s products or a competitor product. For example, Dallas-based Pumpjack integrates multiple data sources into a “customer data platform” that provides teams and leagues with a complete view of the activities of each fan. This enables them to present potential partners with a much clearer idea about which fans will be relevant to that sponsor, to understand their activities and potential value to each sponsor, as well as the best ways to engage with them.

At Sports Loft, one of our focus areas is the technologies that will help improve a team or league’s commercial operations. So, if you are working in a team or league’s commercial function, get in touch as we can show you the companies that you should be looking at as you navigate the changes facing the industry. Equally, if you are a tech startup that can help in this area, we’d love to talk to you.

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Updated: Nov 17, 2020

When we launched Sports Loft we had a pitch room with a big, green sofa. This was our “pitch sofa”. It was where the industry execs and investors would come and meet the companies that we worked with at Sports Loft. However, that very comfy sofa that I lovingly chose, is probably under about four inches of dust now as we haven’t been to the offices in central London since March. As many other companies did, we quickly moved to a 100% virtual operation and this meant that all our Sports Loft pitch sessions had to move onto Zoom (believe me, we’re getting our money's worth out of our subscription!).

At the sales and marketing level, the virtual operation seems here to stay. In a McKinsey study released this week, 70% to 80% of B2B decision makers now preferred remote human interactions or digital self service, to meeting in person - citing “ease of scheduling”, “savings on travel expenses” and “safety” as the three biggest reasons. And only 29% of B2B decision makers say they are now meeting in person when evaluating new suppliers (with 49% having remote human interactions and 29% using digital self serve). In the US, 74% of B2B decision makers regard the new sales model as effective and 75% said the same in the UK - an increase of 9% and 17% respectively vs April this year. These new methods of operation are not expected to go away any time soon with 89% of respondents in Mckinsey’s study saying that it was either “very likely” or “somewhat likely” the new go-to-market models would be sustained for more than 12 months.

Since March I’ve probably sat-in on over 200 pitches via Zoom by Sports Loft companies to investors and sports industry execs. I’ve seen some really good ones and a few shockers, but I’ve also seen some noticeable improvements as people have got used to the medium. I’ve also been pitched to directly by over 100 companies – in some instances this may have been the first time that I’ve met them and in others it may have a 3rd or 4th conversation. I’ve seen the founder, lounging on their couch, leaving me wondering if I was interrupting them from their snooze (it’s not a good look). I’ve had the biz dev guy sat in a full suit, shirt and tie on his laptop in his bedroom (that’s just weird). But I’ve also seen founders who have really engaged their audience over zoom as well as the best presenters could do in any meeting room or auditorium.

This recent Founders Hustle post on Medium about How VCs evaluate Your Video Call Pitch does a very good job of talking about the getting the basics right in terms of lighting, audio, how many people should be on a call etc .. However, I want to use this first-hand experience of seeing all these zoom-based sales meetings or investor pitches to talk about the implications for building fast-growing companies (and by extension most organisations who are selling an “idea” or a B2B product) in an environment when presenting to investors or industry execs over zoom is now the “norm” and getting on a plane or “doing lunch” just isn’t really happening. So, here goes…

  1. Find people who can sell over Zoom. Sounds obvious right, but many previously successful CEOs and sales people struggle to sell when not face-to-face. Sales people who have relied on a handshake or getting a table at a fancy restaurant aren't going to cut it if they can’t engage digitally or don’t know their product inside out. Based on the experiences of the last few months, I’d say companies need to prioritise finding people who are:

  2. Engaging over video calls. It’s tough enough keeping someone’s attention in normal times, let alone when they can be distracted by emails and slack messages coming in. The ability for a founder or sales person to draw their Zoom audience in with their enthusiasm and knowledge is now paramount.

  3. Experts. You can tell when you are talking to someone who knows what they are talking about – and this is even more clear-cut when people are remote. Genuine expertise is one of the best ways to build trust, which is also one of the hardest things to do remotely. In a recent conversation, the CTO of a major rights holder made an interesting comment: “Send an enthusiastic techie to sell to me, not a sales person”. Listen to how Nick Goggans, CEO at Pumpjack, talks about data on this podcast – surely the definition of an enthusiastic techie.

  4. Flexible. In the last few months industries have been turned on their heads, and none more so than the sports industry. Sales people who go on remote control and parrot the same presentational deck were not great before zoom took over and it sounds even worse now. However, the ability to able to think quickly, bring in the right examples at the right time and emphasise the pertinent aspects of a product for a prospective client’s changing needs are more important than ever.

  5. Be great at telling your story. In a time when we are becoming more dependent on digital interactions rather than relationships in-person, stories about the company’s founding, its mission, the people involved and the challenges it has faced make the companies much more relatable and human – and that makes it easier for potential clients and investors to want to “buy in” and get involved. Most companies have great stories to tell but the hard part is bringing those stories out. The founding stories of companies like Spalk, Slate and Satisfi are brilliant. The story of how Greenfly evolved is fascinating. They are powerful and engaging. It’s easy to think that others won’t be interested but they will. Companies need to get comfortable at telling their story and hire people who will be good at telling it. Becoming good at storytelling, it also means understanding the audience. This means clearly understanding what they are looking for, understanding where you are adding value to them, and articulating it in a short and impactful way. This has always been true, but over zoom, you’ve got even less time before the audience starts to drift, so you’ve got to get the messages across – that means working out what the key messages are and really understanding what is landing. That’s not easy but is something that founders such as Nick Pinks at Covatic have noticeably improved during their time with Comcast / Techstars.

  6. Get those case studies in as fast as possible. The CEO no longer has the luxury of a whiteboard in a meeting room where they can stand to show off their ideas to investors and explain complicated concepts. The most impactful presentations are showing real-world use cases and other organisations using the product. Some of the best pitches we see are when Sports Loft companies such as Fevo show how the platform is being used, live, at the Milwaukee Bucks or with the new MLS team in St Louis. Or how Getafe is reducing injury rates using Zone7. Or how Greenfly is being used in MLB. But the company needs to aggressively go after those case studies in order to give the sales teams the ammunition for their meetings.

  7. Make sure that you’ve got great supporting materials. This isn’t just about the powerpoint deck for the meeting (although that is very important), but rather the information available both before and after the meeting – the customer testimonials, the industry case studies, the FAQ’s, the thought leadership pieces, the 2 page summaries etc …. These all give the potential customer the re-assurance that may have been achieved previously over those pre-2020 lunches. Potential buyers are now prepared to spend more digitally than before (Back to that Mckinsey study, 70% of B2B decision makers say that they open to making new, fully self-serve or remote purchases in excess of $50,000) so the supporting information needs to be there for them. At Sports Loft, companies such as Greenfly have done a great job with materials such as this and Fevo have a new section on their website of case studies.

  8. Trust needs to be built in different ways than face to face. Tapping into established networks of advisors and investors is incredibly valuable – these trusted networks bring credibility between buyers and sellers that has been built over time and is hard to create digitally from scratch. Equally important are the referrals from industry experts or the vetting processes that imply quality for the rest of the market. The reaction of “wow, if they got investment from Fund X, then they must be good” is more important than ever. It’s no surprise that when Satisfi talk about the investment they received from Google or MLB, or Greenfly talk about the investment from Elysian Park or Fevo talk about their investment from Sapphire, HBSE or Wise Ventures, it immediately builds credibility and makes a prospective customer lean forward and listen. This is something that we are very aware of at Sports Loft. It is why we place such emphasis on the quality of companies that we work with and why we put every company through a due diligence process before they join Sports Loft. The company you keep is important.

In the last few months, we’ve spent a lot of time talking with Sports Loft companies about the implications of a move to more remote and virtual business and much of this thinking will form the basis for how we support our members going forward as they build amazing businesses. According to McKinsey, “B2B leaders that commit to further digitizing their go-to-market models should derive competitive advantage in the form of more - and more loyal - customers than their slower moving peers”. Even in such a relationship driven industry such as sports and media, we have to agree. That’s not to say that the personal relationship will not have value, they absolutely will and in certain scenarios it will be crucial, but the primary channel for customer interaction and buyer research in B2B sales is going to be digital. If you’d like to find out more, please do get in touch.

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