Intrepid Finance & The Fan’s Place: Navigating the Sports Tech Industry and Driving Engagement
Casey Bolsega, Intrepid Finance: Hey, there Casey with Intrepid.
I’m actually joined by Rory Billing with the Fan’s Place today Co-Founder and CEO. There’s a lot going on right now within kind of the sports tech industry as a whole. We’re right around the quarter from the big game in the Super Bowl. Rory, really good to have you on here and to learn a little bit more about the sports tech industry as well as the Fans Place. First would love for you to kind of introduce yourself and introduce the fans fan’s Place as well, and what you’re doing over there.
Rory Billings, The Fan’s Place: Sure! Yeah. Thanks, Casey.
I’m excited to be here with you today. My name is Rory Billing. Like he said. I co-founded the fan’s place with my brother. We’ve been working on it for a couple of years now, sort of started it as a side gig, as I think a lot of startups are, and went full-time in April when we made it into Techstar Sports here in Indianapolis. But we have a free-to-play fantasy sports predictor app and we’re using it to help drive additional foot traffic to more traditional brick-and-mortar places. So think about sports bars and restaurants, hospitality, and retail industries. So what happens is users use our App, locations are loaded into the app, there’s some information on those locations. They then check-in, we’re geofenced, so they check-in at those locations and that serves as their free entry into a predictive contest. Think like an NFL slate of games that’s happening that Sunday, maybe a Premier League slate of games that Saturday and Sunday. They make picks on who’s going to win those games, who might score a goal, how many points might be scored, and then the location. Typically a bar restaurant right now will reward those users based on how they do in those games. So gift cards, appetizers, you know different things that will then be used back at that location to continue to do a drive that foot traffic. So the behavior we’re creating is our users know that once a week they go to that location, they get their check-in, they potentially win something. And so they’re getting in the habit of going to their favorite places in a once a week instead of say, maybe once a month. Once or twice a month. As we grow. We also hope that this will be a user or a customer acquisition tool as well for those locations and brands. But for now, it’s mostly a loyalty or rewards program.
Casey Bolsega, Intrepid Finance: Yeah, I love it.
It’s kind of a combination of a few different plays, both from like an engagement perspective
as well as the loyalty perspective. Being part of the sports tech accelerator with tech stars, curious, what kind of trends are you seeing, like in whole within kind of the sports tech industry?
Rory Billings, The Fan’s Place: Yes, sure
It’s been kind of an interesting year, I mean, as it has been for everyone. I think you know twelve months ago if you had asked me, the hot thing would have been You know connected fitness in that whole space, obviously. Peloton we all know what sort of happened there with the rise and the subsequent sort of fall. I’m really curious I’m kind of watching that the next twelve months.
I’m curious to see if some of these companies are able to bounce back. Ergata was a company that came out of the same TechStars program that we were in that did very well and I think still has a bright future. So I’m kind of watching that to see what happens with that space. You know The same buzzwords are running around sports tech like everything else. AR VR AI one of the things that I’m curious about as well is the continued development of sort of instant gratification or really short moments in sports and how commercialized those moments become. So I think there are different applications of this. You saw for a second Top Shot, NBA Top Shot got really popular and that’s one moment that costs a lot of money to own digitally. You’ve got forced betting markets that are now going really far into the micro markets. And how do you bet on the next free throw or the next basket or the next 5 seconds? From a media perspective, you have companies out there that are just sharing clips. I mean, if you go back to House of Highlights on Instagram, it was kind of the first version of that and now you have entire media companies that are built around just sharing highlights of games instead of full three-hour experiences. So I’m kind of really curious about what continues to happen there in terms of the commercialization of
these moments and how the younger generations who may be don’t want to watch 3 hours or three and a half hours or sometimes even 4 hours of sports continue to consume that content in that manner.
Casey Bolsega, Intrepid Finance: Yeah, it’s really interesting, the instant gratification, the short-form version of it, and even how myself I’ve started to enjoy. I love watching a full game, right? But I do enjoy watching that play that is available if it’s a Thursday Night Football, the play that’s available on Amazon Prime within 30 seconds of the touchdown happening. For me to watch it again or to show my wife or something like that.
Rory Billings, The Fan’s Place: Yeah, absolutely. I think if you really are a fan of a team, you kind of want to sit down for the experience. It’s appointment television if you’re not. You prefer the highlights. And I guess I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the space that we’re in. I don’t know if a lot of people are thinking about it this way yet. I wish more people were, but the big better almost like the sports fan who’s kind of crazy about a team is betting money, is betting more and more money. Obviously, that’s becoming more available across the US. The more casual sports fan, what alternatives are going to be built for the fan who doesn’t want to lose a bunch of money gambling on sports. I’m interested to see if more people try to enter that space. It’s obviously a space that we’re passionate about and we’re in. And I’m curious to see if at what point is sort of the backlash going to start about the insane amount of money that everybody is throwing into the betting markets.
Casey Bolsega, Intrepid Finance: The betting, yeah, absolutely. I know you’d mentioned Tech Stars. What what other resources have been helpful for you as a sports tech founder?
Rory Billings, The Fan’s Place: Yeah, so, I mean, you know. I mentioned Tech Stars, but just to give that a little more context, Jordan Flagle, Andrew Elliot, and Jack, the team there, here in Indianapolis was exceptional. So that was obviously a great intro for us into the sports market. As two guys who’ve worked in software startups for a while but didn’t know anything about the sports market, that’s really foundational for us even having the success that we’ve had. Outside of that, you know I think I’ve just sort of had the next conversation with the next person out of that network. That’s most of what I’ve done from an actual sports tech perspective. So the Techstars Sports Network, there are probably 60 to 70 mentors in the program and then those mentors were nice enough to introduce me to sort of more mentors in different sports, different teams, different leagues. I do also want to mention Indianapolis as well. Specifically, the sports properties here have been very helpful. Definite shout out to Indiana Sports Corps. They are consistently helpful in terms of trying to support not just the sports properties but also sports tech. There’s a new organization, Sports Tech HQ, that has been recently funded to build sports tech up in the state of Indiana as well. So from a local perspective here in Indianapolis, those organizations have been very helpful. So for me, it’s mostly been Techstars and then local Indiana support.
Casey Bolsega, Intrepid Finance: So it sounds like if you’re in the process of starting a sports tech company or founding a sports tech company, TechStars is a great resource with their sports tech accelerator, and then come to Indianapolis because there’s plenty of resources here.
Rory Billings, The Fan’s Place: Yeah, I would definitely agree with that. For us in our business too, we’re really a marketing tool for retail and hospitality. We’re specifically starting in sports bars and restaurants. So I actually spend probably less of my time digging into sports tech and more of my time digging into the actual industry that we’re serving and the consumer we’re serving. So I’m maybe not quite as connected to sports tech in a sense as some people who might be doing wearable fitness or AR/VR for sports teams or player science, but you know those properties have been really helpful for me post Tech Stars.
Casey Bolsega, Intrepid Finance: That’s awesome. Kind of to wrap it up here, what advice would you have for an early-stage founder? Sports tech or not? What advice can you share with them?
Rory Billings, The Fan’s Place: Yeah, probably a long list. So I think a couple of things. One is in some of these things are said time and time again. I spent the first ten years of my career working for other people who started software companies. I think one thing is from the outside looking in, when you’re working for someone who started a company, you kind of don’t realize if you hop on the train sort of at a later date, or even if you hop on pretty early, it’s pretty hard to realize how difficult it can be. Early days and so for the other founders out there, I think sometimes the narrative is that you know everything all the time, or at least you have a really good idea all the time of what’s next and what to do next and where the next opportunity is. And I don’t necessarily know if that’s true. I kind of think more founders need to hear, especially before you take institutional capital, it’s okay to not be entirely sure. You just have to try a little mini experiments and then go figure out what works and do more of that. You don’t need to have the plan at all times. You just need to trust yourself, trust your team, and kind of keep plugging away at it. And so I think it’s helpful because mentally, sometimes it can be great, sometimes it can be really challenging. I think in the challenging moments, I think it’s helpful to know that I guess the vast majority of founders don’t have It all have it all figured out, and they all have the moments of, oh, man, is this going to work? Is this not going to work? You just have to find the data that you have, trust it, and continue to do what it tells you, but do it in sort of mini experiments that can start and end within a short period of time so that you can get information and results and move forward. I’d say that would be one thing.
And then the other thing is you really do want to find something that you can grab onto that gives you a reason why. It’s definitely what helps you get through the flatter periods or the less enjoyable periods. So you really got to grab on to something. For us, it’s really about this idea of a true family friendly alternative to sports betting. Not really being anti sports betting, but providing kind of like a non alcoholic beer for alcohol, providing an alternative that gives you a little bit of juice on the game, but also puts money back in the local economy. You’re not throwing sort of your money down a black hole. That’s sort of our why every day. And so I think you’ve got to figure that out and hang on to that, and it will help push you through the tougher stretches.
Casey Bolsega, Intrepid Finance: Really good stuff there, Rory. Well, I appreciate you taking the time to chat with me to answer some of these questions and to share more of your insight. If someone wanted to connect with you, reach out to you, what’s the best way for them to do that?
Rory Billings, The Fan’s Place: Yeah, you can use my email. Rory at fansplace dot com hit me on LinkedIn as well. Despite having a company that is in sports tech and has to understand social media, I have no other social media, and I’m proud of it, so that’s about it.
Casey Bolsega, Intrepid Finance: That’s kind of how it is, right? When you spend so much time being submerged within it when you’re not submerged within it, if that is even possible. You kind of want to detach a little bit, then they’re done that, man. I understand that.
Rory Billings, The Fan’s Place: Yeah, absolutely.
Casey Bolsega, Intrepid Finance: Well, yeah, I’m a big sports fan myself, as you can tell, with the football back there, so I really appreciate the time. Thanks for what you’re doing, and if you have any questions for Rory, feel free to reach out to him I’m via email or LinkedIn, and same with me. If you have any questions for me, feel free to shoot me a DM on LinkedIn or hit me up via email as well. All right, guys, take care.