VisionTech Angels’ Executive Director Ben Pidgeon recently sat down with Justin Real, CEO of Realplay and former collegiate baseball player, to discuss how the Massachusetts-based startup is transforming how youth baseball and softball are , shared and experienced. It’s a unique play with great market potential. Anyone with a child or grandchild who plays sports will be interested in this pitch. Justin will present Realplay during VisionTech’s upcoming Pitch Week, August 26-29. Read on!
BP: This is the first time VisionTech Angels has hosted a sports-focused startup for Pitch Week. How did you get into the game?
JR: I originally got into baseball in Little League, worked my way through the high school recruiting process and ended my career playing catcher for four year at Union College. After college, I worked as consultant in the tech industry for four years and continued to work as a private hitting coach. While getting my MBA at Babson College, I found an opportunity to get back into the sport I love from a business perspective. It’s a lucrative market—as the most popular U.S. sport, amateur baseball and softball combined represents a $4 billion market. People play for fun, recreation, or dream of playing at the collegiate and professional levels. There are a lot of memories made on ball fields.
I saw how the sport and the world at large were using video and saw an opportunity to change how video is captured, edited, shared, and used. In 2016, I founded Realplay and pulled together an all-star team that includes Andreas Randow (CTO), who has worked in the startup ecosystem for 15 years and is an expert in computer vision and systems infrastructure; Michael Salerno (VP of Product), who was with Oracle; and Brian Porter (Director of Operations), who spent 15 years working in Major League Baseball. His final project was consolidating and upgrading the video systems of all minor league teams. We’re now in the market and working hard!
BP: What problem are you solving?
JR: People love video, particularly in the sports world. Parents want video of their kids to capture the moment and share with friends and family. Coaches want video to analyze their players and improve skills. Scouts use video to check out prospects and reduce travel. And the players, they love seeing themselves on video. So what are the options? Use a smart phone and do it yourself? Hire a videographer for thousands of dollars or travel across the country showcasing your kid’s talent at expensive camps and showcases? Neither is ideal. And this doesn’t even include the time and labor involved with editing and sharing player videos with everyone who wants them.
Realplay eliminates the need for parents, coaches, scouts, and whomever to be videographers, editors, producers, organizers, or publishers. We deliver video of every swing, pitch, and catch that any player on makes on a baseball or softball field. And we do it by automating the capture, editing, analysis, and distribution of player video. This allows everyone to focus on the game and have fun—which is what baseball and softball are about.
BP: Sounds cool. How does it work?
JR: There are three key components: the camera system, machine learning software and a multi-channel platform. Here’s how they work together to make Realplay cover all the bases. Each ball field is equipped with three cameras that operate through an app. The app also serves as an e-scorebook, capturing stats throughout the game. At the end of the game, the video is uploaded to the cloud where it’s processed by our machine learning software into single player clips and stats. This information is uploaded to player profiles. The final piece is the multi-channel platform with pages for players, parents and teams. There’s also a social media integration component to make sharing easy. We’ve taken a process that used to require nine man hours of work per game, and reduced it to seven minutes.
BP: What’s Realplay’s revenue model?
JR: First, there’s no charge to the field owner or sports complex; Realplay is a free service with a revenue share. Our revenue comes from player and team subscriptions. To get people started, we offer a freemium subscription that includes three free videos that can be viewed on a player’s page we create for them. The basic subscription includes all of a player’s videos uploaded to their page with stats, on-video annotation and a few other features. The premium subscription includes an end-of-season highlight reel, virtual coaching portal, college recruitment prep, and premium social sharing features.
We partner with the existing organizers of the game to ensure high volume wherever we go. Subscriptions can be offered through teams as part of their annual fees or made available through specific tournaments or events by facilities and tournament organizers. Even if it’s just an online purchase, It’s a nice addition for players, families and coaches!
BP: Who is the ideal customer for Realplay?
JR: Any family with a kid playing baseball or softball. Our immediate focus and ideal target is multi-field sports complexes that can have anywhere from two to 50-plus fields for youth and adult leagues. For example, in Westfield, Indiana, there’s a privately owned complex with 57 fields. In 2018, it had 1.9 million visitors. Currently, there are 550 similar facilities with a total of 3,500 fields. Each facility can see upwards of 125,000 players a year.
BP: What’s your pipeline look like now and what are you doing to fill it up?
JR: In 2019, we’ve secured two contracts and one letter of intent for just under $1 million in annual recurring revenue. We have two other facility prospects in the pipeline. We’re aggressively targeting sports facilities, tournament organizers, and multi-team programs like Little League, AAU, Cal Ripkin Baseball, and others.
BP: There are others doing this. What is Realplay’s competitive advantage?
JR: Yes, there are several competitors with Hudl being the most entrenched. They’ve been on the market since 2006 and their technology is out of date. Realplay has four things going for us. First, we are free to the sports facility with the revenue sharing component; all of our competitors charge for their service.
Second, our technology is superior; our automation moves the responsibility of creating videos from people to the machines. Third, we’re entirely focused on baseball/softball and aim to be the standard at premium facilities; everyone else is focusing on team-field sports like soccer and football. Finally, as the first mover in this space, our position gets more entrenched with each new facility we sign.
BP: Why should VisionTech Angels invest in Realplay?
JR: The market potential is huge. Baseball and softball have 36.5 million participants, many who’d love to have video. We’ve already raised the majority of our seed round and are looking to use the funding to secure more contracts for 2020, and start the process of raising our next round at a higher valuation. Realplay is a low technology risk, fast to production and results, with low cap intensity. We’re gaining traction and we love baseball.