The intersection of sports and tech is an interesting one. Maybe more so than any industry, sports and sports media are dominated by big players like TV networks (ESPN/ABC, NBC, Fox, CBS) and by the leagues themselves. Despite the mounds of data that sports produce, the 24x7x365 news cycle, and the gigantic size of the market, there are shockingly few sports startups. If you follow the tech news cycle at all, you know that it’s pretty rare to see anything sports related gaining attention.
There are however, a lot of scrappy sports fan developers out there trying to combine their passions to build businesses that either take on the big players or fill a need that they don’t meet. And I’d like to think we’re included in that group. In running LockerPulse for the past few years, I’ve exchanged emails with with several of these “sports entrepreneurs.”
One such entrepreneur recently invited me down to the monthly New York Sports Tech (NYST) Meetup in Manhattan that he helps organize. Sports tech startups tend to choose NYC over the valley or other startup hotspots in the US because NYC is where the headquarters for the major sports are located and it’s where sports media is located because the news cycle starts on the east coast. Sports tech is rather small, but if there’s anywhere that it’s taking off it’s NYC.
Without knowing what exactly to expect, I hopped a train last Thursday to head down to this month’s Meetup. It’s only about a 2.5 hour train ride from Albany right in to Penn Station. I rather enjoy the ride – the trains are spacious, they have outlets and free wifi, and the train follows the Hudson River down which provides nice scenery.
The Meetup was held in the insanely cool NY Times Building on the 26th floor in a large conference room overlooking the river. It was however, a bit intimidating to walk in to all alone. I rode up the elevator alone. I got off, asked a secretary where the meeting was, and then wandered around for a few minutes until I found the room. I was only a few minutes early and there was not another soul in sight. I took a deep breath and opened the door….
Any time you go to an event like this, you run the risk of it sucking. I knew there was the possibility I would end up standing around by myself, sitting through the presentation by myself, and then turn right around and spend another 2.5 hours on the train. Fortunately, that did not turn out to be the case at all. I had an amazing time.
As soon as I stepped in the room I recognized a familiar face that I had emailed with, he recognized me, handed me a beer, and introduced me to a few of the other entrepreneurs. By the end of the night I’d made a handful of new friends from companies ranging from small startups to large media companies you’ve heard of, as well as had the opportunity to meet in person several people I’ve emailed with and chatted with on the phone.
It’s funny, very few people are as in to sports as I am, and very few people are as in to tech as I am, but when you’re in a group of people that are both it’s amazing how fast you can jump right in to great conversation. We bonded over sports and over technology, but also over how difficult it is to break in to an industry controlled by a few super powerful companies.
For instance, access to data that might be free in other industries is insanely expensive in sports. Want to run a fantasy sports game with live scoring? It will likely cost thousands of dollars per month, maybe tens of thousands. Comparatively, if you want to start a GPS-enabled, mapping-powered app (say, Foursquare) that uses maps of the entire world you have the choice of several mapping API’s, all of which are free to get started. Think about that for a second. Sports developers are severely handcuffed.
Everyone I spoke with seemed genuinely impressed by LockerPulse. By our news aggregating technology (especially the fantasy player tracking), by the user base, and even by Pure Adapt itself. I was even asked to present at a future event.
Sometimes I forget how lucky we are to be able to self-fund a project and not have to work a separate day job or knock on VC’s doors. I needed the positive reinforcement. I’m a bit more appreciative of just how much we’ve accomplished when I step back and see just how challenging this industry is. Sometimes I beat myself up because we haven’t overtaken ESPN.com (I’m only half joking when I write that). This put things in perspective and rekindled the fire a bit.
When it comes to “networking” events I generally can’t say no fast enough. They tend to be a total waste of time. I’d rather be home getting tangible work done. This was the rare exception. I’m not sure whether it’s the uniqueness of the industry, or the people involved, or both. Either way I absolutely plan on going back. Despite it being a few hours away, I hope to make it down monthly.