For starters, baseball is one of the oldest, and most beloved games in the U.S. After all, it’s our national sport. (Though I still haven’t figured out exactly what that means, do we have to salute it?) And for almost as long as the game itself has been around, there have been scorekeepers — the people that remind us who won and who lost. You may have seen one of these fans in the crowd at a game. In fact, it just so happens that youth baseball rules state that each team has to have a parent or other team authority keep score. For both teams. High school baseball doesn’t require each team to keep the score, as far as I know, that usually falls on the umpires or league officials.
But, considering there are over 400K little league and high school baseball teams in the U.S., there’s a significant amount of scorekeeping goin’ on — to say the least. Yet, it’s a practice that, like the game itself, hasn’t changed much over the years: Traditionally, it’s all been paper and pencil. And, as a parent, player, or fan, it’s never been easy to keep track of local, amateur games. Professional games and teams? Yes. But not much else. Local media is getting better at keeping tabs on games and individual players, but there’s generally a lag, and the information is often spotty at best.
GameChanger Media, a startup founded in January 2009, is helping usher amateur sports into the digital age by offering a scorekeeping and stat-tracking app for mobile phones and tablets. Coaches or parents can keep score of baseball and softball games (GameChanger will soon be adding basketball and more) and track up to 150 different stats.
The apps are intuitive to use, powerful, and with one swipe you move players around the field, showing hits, outs, steals, etc. The data lives on Gamechanger’s servers, so the apps don’t slow down your devices. This also enables GameChanger to serve live scoring and statistical information. Fans and interested parents who might not be able to get to the game can choose premium services, which will allow access to SMS, email, Facebook, and Twitter alerts, customizable for particular teams and players, so that you can keep tabs on your son or daughter as they play. Local media sites can also embed GameChanger widgets into their sites to give local readers realtime info on their high school’s team, for example. (For those getting impatient, fast-forward to the 10th paragraph.)
And GameChanger is growing like gangbusters. The startup added 10K teams in 2010 and has gained another 14K active teams so far in 2011. What’s more, in the last 30 days alone, the service sent over 1 million live game alert emails.
While GameChanger has been focused on building a robust service for baseball and softball, rather than quickly expanding to other sports, GameChanger Co-founder and CEO Ted Sullivan tells me that the team has spent a significant amount of energy on building a sport-agnostic stat engine, so that when they’re ready, adding new sports won’t require them to start from scratch.
As to the technical explanation for what that means, Co-Founder and CTO Kiril Savino said that the startup has built “a mobile app framework based on an ‘event’ engine that creates and operates on streams of sequential events, be they basketball rebounds or baseball pitches, and use a schema-less database to hold that data. Our proprietary “stat engine” operates on such streams of events according to a configurable ruleset to generate arbitrarily complex statistics”.
Back in March, GameChanger inked a big partnership with CBS Interactive’s MaxPreps.com (CBS’ resource for all things high school sports), in which high school baseball and softball teams using GameChanger will be able to have their games and stats published immediately to MaxPreps.
But, here’s what’s really interesting: A more recent partnership with under-the-radar, Battery Ventures-backed Narrative Science — a startup that transforms raw data into high-quality editorial content — is a deal that has real implications for an entire industry. (Journalists may soon be taking another body blow.)
As Narrative Science takes raw, quantitative data and turns it into news articles, this means that, at the end of every baseball game scored on GameChanger, the coach can simply hit a button to instantly generate an AP-style article about the game that just wrapped. Check out an example here. The article is by no means perfect, there are some grammatical inconsistencies and some repetition, but it’s by no means awful. GameChanger has posted over 105K of these auto-generated game recap stories since May 1st, written by Narrative Science, to its users.
The partnership is still in beta, and there are some technical bugs the two startups still have to work out, but this is an early look at a real content mill. As Narrative Science’s technology continues to be refined, we could be looking at a scenario in the not-too-distant future where sportswriters (and beyond), especially those working at local media outlets, begin wrestling with obsolescence. It’s a valuable and intriguing service (the applications could be surprisingly broad) but there’s no doubt that the startup will certainly have to take a delicate approach to publicity. (I say with a touch of irony.)
It’s also interesting to see the little ways in which GameChanger is bringing “modern” technology into niche markets and to a young audience. For example, Sullivan (who’s a former minor league player) said that high school booster clubs are using their club budgets to buy iPads for their school’s baseball and softball teams. And parents, too, are taking the bait.
That being said, GameChanger does have some competition, especially from one company that already has a lion’s share of the sports market. ESPN has its own scorekeeping app with iScore, so GameChanger hopes to parlay the media giant by offering a more robust suite of realtime statistics, by really attacking the amateur sports audience, especially between the ages of 10 to 18, and by forging partnerships with businesses with complementary audiences or services, like Narrative Science.
GameChanger also recently partnered with Rawlings, one of the largest manufacturers of sports equipment, to create a customized and branded page for Rawlings to educate GameChanger users on a nationwide, sport-wide change to aluminum baseball stats. In the coming year, practically every high school baseball player in the country will be buying a new bat, and Rawlings wants a piece of the rapidly growing GameChanger audience.
And that’s how the startup plans to make money: Through premium features and strategic partnerships with big brands. With 10 people on staff and over $2 million in funding raised from various angel investors, GameChanger is on its way, but it will need to continue its hockey-stick-type user acquisition if it hopes to fend off Goliaths like ESPN.
So, for those parents of young athletes out there, check out GameChanger. It will make your life a lot easier. Journalists, get your torches and pitchforks.