I love the concept of Sportan, “A location-based pick-up sports app for the everyday athlete. Discover, join and play pick-up sports instantly with the power of your smartphone.” At first glance, this mobile app seems to be headed in the right direction by covering all of today’s hot buzzwords, solomo (social / local / mobile) + gamification, and taking advantage of something that naturally contains all of those aspects – offline sports.
Essentially the promise of the app is this: find a pickup game near you, in any sport, anytime you want to play. Get rated when you play, see your ranking improve the more you play.
Almost sounds like a real-life role playing game, I’m a level 53 basketball player in Final Fantasy Real Life Streetball!
However, as good as this all sounds, I feel that Sportan is going to face significant issues.
In launching any app, you need to determine if the app can provide value with a limited number of users. Instagram can, because at its minimum, it has great camera functionality. Thus, it is ok for an Instagram-like app to start slowly and gradually build momentum. For Sportan, however, this is not ok – without a large number of users at the start, it reduces the value for new users to come on, starting a negative growth spiral.
It’s a bit of a chicken or the egg problem. Why will people use the app if there is no one else using it? How can you get people to not just install the app but use it, when the benefits (rankings and new game opportunities) likely won’t come until many more people are on it as well? If I am using the app to join a pickup game I know about, but no one else there uses the app, how will I get ranked? The app needs to find a way to take advantage of the many pickup games already going on so that you can get benefits even if these are not the “new” games being created by Sportan users for Sportan users.
Otherwise, the likelihood of finding a new game from a Sportan user that is occurring when you want to play in an area near you will be very low.
How Do Rankings Work?
Adult players do not get better as they age. I believe that adults are the target market here – Sportan is a smartphone app, and thus it’s more for people who have a relatively high amount of disposable income, people with jobs. Younger players (kids) have an easier time of finding games as they have more free time, but also already have a friend network from schools to play with on an everyday basis.
While I love the idea of being ranked as a player, I know that, at the age of 33, I am not going to become any better at basketball – I don’t have much time for practice, and I get slower every year. If these are true ratings, I would then see myself get worse numerically or stagnate over time. It’s one thing to know in my mind that I am not getting any better, but to see it on screen as a constant reminder is a different problem. It’s a negative incentive to stop using the app.
On the other hand, if rankings get better (like experience points in video games) the more you play, your rating might rise over time, but the actual value of that rating would be worthless. If ratings are dependent on other players, the question I brought up earlier comes to mind – what if you play games with players not using Sportan? Also, how many players need to rate you before the rating is an accurate portrayal of you? Will players actually know what to rate you? Can they be fair, without bias?
This is not so easy.
Sportan suggests that you can find the right pickup games by setting the rating scale of players that you would like to play with. That makes a lot of sense – it’s definitely more fun to play with others of the same skillset. If the rating system is faulty, how effective will this be? And again, if there are few people in your area using the app, how likely is it to not only find a game, but find a game with people who are accurately ranked and within your requirement?
These issues are all critical to the app’s growth cycle. If you use the app, you want to find a game (with enough players) near you quickly. If you do not have success your first few times using the app, the chance of a you uninstalling it or becoming inactive becomes very high and leaves the same issues for future users.
Improving the App
In a perfect world in which Sportan has a tremendous advertising budget to get people to know about and install the app, I am not sure that the issues above go away. Assuming people know about the app, what type of people are actually likely to use it? If you are in a large city, you may already know of some pickup games – are these people really in need of the app? Do they feel they need to find more pickup game opportunities on a regular basis? If not, perhaps the app becomes an afterthought for them. If you are in a smaller city or play a sport that is less popular (ex. volleyball), can you find enough people to join a game that you create, or will you feel like it’s not worth the effort or that it takes too long relative to other means (Facebook, Meetup.com)
I do not have ideas to solve all of these problems, but I would take steps to simplify the app and make it a lot easier to gain traction.
First, I would change the rankings system.
I believe that users should rank themselves based on age, times playing per week, and highest level of play reached (no organized, organized, high school, college, pro), and preferred style of play (for basketball, this could be half court, full court, or shoot-around). Thus for me, I would enter:
33 years old / 2 times per week / No Organized Basketball / Full Court
I believe that most people would be honest about level of play as you would quickly find yourself out of place and embarrassed if you vault too high.
Second, I would let people register games.
This is to have a listing of all the types of games that people know about, whether they actually attend those games or not. What I mean is that Sportan should store a listing of all pickup games that others have contributed, not just games that Sportan players are actively creating and asking others to confirm. This allows more content seeding to occur and allow Sportan to import information from other sources. Sportan users could verify or edit the information to make sure listings are up to date.
Sportan’s ultimate goal then would to become the ultimate pickup sports “inventory”, in which users could come and find the perfect game for them.
The pickup games could be one-off or recurring and have the following information listed:
Time and Date / Location / Recurrence / Level of Play / Type of Play / # of People
Players using the app could check-in to the game if they do go – Sportan would then use that information to share which players are most active in an area. For recurring games, you could see the list of Sportan players that have participated recently. If you see a pickup game that has been participated in by a Sportan player, I think this will make it easier for you to join as it has been verified by a fellow user and you can also check out the skill rating of that user. When you go to a game that has a Sportan user attending, you essentially have a friend there – it’s a lot more comfortable to get a discussion going. Recurring games could show the average ratings of the Sportan users that attend those game. If you are searching for a nearby game, Sportan would automatically find games that are within a certain area from you but also with players who are primarily in your age group and skill level. That way, the user would not have to do much thinking to find the perfect game.
Sportan could highlight users that check-in the most nearby, letting those players become sports leaders and experts of that area. Featuring users may create a positive loop in which users appreciate the recognition and do more to promote the app and add more game information, which benefits all users. In later app builds, perhaps users could commit to attend a game, but also mark other Sportan users as “favorites” so that when favorites commit to games nearby, the user will get a notification to consider if he should join as well (like Following on Twitter).
To launch the app, I would focus on a private beta within a small geographical area.
For example, I might start at a university, as a lot of students will have smartphones, play sports on-campus, and be focused within one small area. If you can get this audience to use the app on a daily basis to manage their sports schedule, growth can naturally occur as they play games off-campus over time and have the opportunity to share the app with new players and include new game listings. If Sportan can prove this usage occurs, they will then have a basis for launching it in other markets and also creating revenue opportunities for the long term.
Otherwise, I think it is too risky to just launch Sportan nationally, and hope that traction builds quickly enough that most people have positive first experiences with it.
Those are some of my early thoughts on Sportan, if you have any comments, please write them below! Best of luck to Sportan, of course – to learn more about it, check out https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/sportan-pick-up-sports-made-easy/x/41732.