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How Digital Solutions Are Strengthening Grass Roots Sports

You often hear how digital and new media impacts top-level professional sports to generate new revenue streams and reach its growth potential. Over the last few years there has been growth in the monetization of digital media and the likes of the NFL, NBA and MLB are beginning to cash in.

Here in Australia, an innovative company called SportingPulse, headquartered in East Melbourne Victoria, is doing things differently. SportingPulse adds value to grass roots sports, making it easier for organizations to operate and providing them with new sources of much needed revenue.

Like a house built on solid foundations, any sport needs a solid grass roots infrastructure. You may not have heard of SportingPulse just yet, but if they continue with their staggering progress, you soon will. Last week, in Sydney, I had the opportunity to talk to Umberto Righetti, Executive Director of SportingPulse International, who gave me the run through of what the company is all about.

SportingPulse, now a large global sports digital media business with interests in Australasia and overseas, began back in 1999. CEO and founder, Nick Maywald, with some geek mates of his, introduced internet solutions to assist his junior basketball club, Kilsyth, located in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne.  Maywald wrote IT programs that allowed league managers to better manage their competition and season – everything from preparing the draw, to publishing the league table to compiling player stats.

The days of pinning pieces of paper to a board at the venue, as was once the case, are long gone.  The now efficient local league loved it and news quickly spread throughout the basketball community down under.  (You can read more from this article with Maywald in the Huffington Post).

The applications were rolled out for 4 years and then SportingPulse got its first really big break. At a tournament run by FIBA Oceania, FIBA – the world governing body of basketball – came across the benefits and potential of the SportingPulse solution. A formal relationship between SportingPulse and FIBA began in 2005, as FIBA Digital was launched. From its humble beginnings, SportingPulse was now operating with the second largest sport in the world, providing basketball federations, associations, clubs and players with solutions and services they needed to manage participation and competitions.

FIBA has now created a global online basketball community, which has saved itself and its members millions of dollars. FIBA Digital provides free digital solutions that assist and facilitate:

  • Where to play
  • Online player registration and payment
  • A local and global FIBA membership database
  • Organization and player websites (myFIBA) (see Umberto’s myFootball as an example of a player website)
  • Competition management and player statistics
  • FIBA live stats – recording detailed stats courtside and streaming games live to the web
  • Electronic Stadium Scoring using a PC tablet application to record summary player and team stats rather than paper and pen

So, as you see, using technology and digital solutions as an enabler, SportingPulse can make operations and day to day business far easier for junior sporting clubs. Its applications can not only save time, improve the digital experience, but, more importantly, they can save money for these cash-challenged junior clubs. Righetti explained that, until 2007, SportingPulse had operated as a software licensing company. However, since then, the business model has become a digital media model based on sponsorship. Essentially, SportingPulse holds the digital marketing rights of the sport around participation, but what makes the company innovative is the way it can:

  • Meet the needs of all stakeholders – the international federation, national federations, leagues, clubs, players, governments, sponsors
  • Create new digital assets for the sport
  • Allow brands to engage with potential customers in an unobtrusive way as it forms partnerships around content, services and utilities
  • Save a sport millions of dollars by providing free applications
  • Share revenue with the sport

The company has now exported its digital solution for basketball to more than 50 other countries. It has grown to become the largest online sports community in Australasia, incorporating business relationships with 25 national governing bodies, one hundred and eighty thousand teams and 2 million sports participants. Its client list boasts some impressive local names, such as the AFL (governing body of Australian Rules Football), ARL (Australian Rugby League) and Football Federation Australia (Soccer). It has commercial partnerships with the telecommunications company Optus, Rebel Sport, a massive local sports retailer and a number of Australian federal government departments .Further partnerships are to be announced next month. It is a privately owned company and in February 2009, News Digital Media (part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation) acquired a significant minority interest in the Australia and New Zealand business.

After hearing all about his company, I took the opportunity to fire a few quick questions at Righetti.

CC: So Umberto, tell me how you got involved in SportingPulse?

UR: At the time, I was living and breathing grass roots sport as a committee member for a junior soccer club here in Sydney. I saw the potential of technology and realized how it can make life easier for grass roots sport. Independently, I was working on a few solutions of my own and trying to get every local soccer club to take advantage of them. I am passionate about that space, where sport meets technology, and I consider that the marketing and advertizing model in sport, and other industries, is broken. Once I met Nick (Maywald) in 2004, things just took off from there.

CC: So how do you envision the future of SportingPulse?

UR: Locally we will continue to attract more sports, strengthening our position as the home of grassroots sport in Australia. Mobile and video will also become an important part of our business; internationally I’d like to see us replicate our innovative business model. We’ll continue to work with sports at an executive and international level. We want to help sports meet their objectives by using our digital focus – for any sport our solutions can be the strategic enabler.  We’ll continue to work with FIBA to identify and generate new revenue streams that will enable the future growth of basketball globally.

CC: If this post has sparked a few ideas for junior club administrators, what would you suggest they do to initially prepare their club for digital solutions?

UR: Make sure the manual business processes and job descriptions are clearly documented as a first step. Talk to other club administrators to find out what they use to manage their clubs. Consult your national sporting organization to see if they provide any digital solutions as a service for their member clubs and visit the SportingPulse support website.

CC: Lastly, as this is a sports networker site, can you offer any tips to aspiring young graduates trying to break into the sports industry?

UR: You’ve got to get your hands dirty. My suggestion would be to join a local club and get involved – maybe in an officer role. That way, you’ll learn so much. Voluntary internships are another good route as is building your own networking circle. Be persistent, be tenacious – it is not easy but it can be done. Finally, fully absorb your sport – read as much as you can to gain knowledge.


Image by mrzeon

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