The business of sport is changing, with technology enabling athletes and sports influencers to take charge of their digital lives. And a South African company is leading the charge.
The sport industry is changing. The impact of Covid-19 on revenue streams has been tangible – the bankruptcy of USA Rugby and the furlough decisions executed at English football clubs are just two examples.
We have witnessed pockets of innovation, such as Kevin de Bruyne negotiating his new Manchester City contract with data analysts rather than a traditional agent service.
We have even experienced attempts at disruption, like the ‘Weekend Special’ European Super League – but we know how quickly that investment bank-backed flame fizzled.
With legislative developments like the Fair Pay to Play Act at collegiate sport level in the US, as well as the boom in blockchain-supported NFTs (Bryan Habana recently became the first South African sports star to sell an NFT, commemorating his infamous cheetah sprint), sport is one of the most bankable bets for the decade ahead.
This is a short story about how we spotted a gap and have been taking advantage of it for the past 11 months.
The first sign: Last October, Bryan (Habana) and I had dinner with one of South Africa’s most highly rated venture capitalists. He planted a seed: (Bryan + 𝑥) x scale = y.
The second sign: I read one physical book a year, in December. It’s my holiday pleasure. In 2019, my read was That Will Never Work by Netflix co-founder Marc Randolph. It chronicles the genesis of the streaming platform with the initial considerations of running a ‘VHS rental business via mail’. Fortunately, Japan invented the DVD, and Randolph and Reed Hastings were spared from sending tapes in the post. This planted the seed of ‘scale’.
The third sign: Bryan provided insight into the lack of website adoption by athletes – rugby players in particular – and post-Japan 2019, a domain name search for some of the most valuable Springboks will return figures of $100 000+ just to acquire ‘namesurname.com‘ for some of our Rugby World Cup winners.
The social dilemma
The reality is that, with social media, most athletes don’t have a website because it’s neither easy nor cost effective to create one – there’s design, development, hosting costs and templates that aren’t geared purely to an athlete’s needs.
The problem with a pure social media play is that your personal brand lives across the internet in an extremely fragmented way. If a fan or brand is looking for you, they first need to know who you are, and then guess your handle on the various social platforms in order to find and follow you.
Lastly, because of the way in which social media algorithms distribute your content to your timelines, not all of your followers or fans see all of your content, all of the time. This is a problem for your sponsors, as they are never exposed to your entire audience – the universe that defines the value of your digital presence.
We thought: let’s build one destination to house your social media, key stats and a place to showcase your sponsors.
Ben Karpinski and I were inspired by Tinder’s focus on the predominant profile picture. Its purpose is to find you dates while ours is to make athletes more marketable, and there is one social channel where these individuals are always presented at their professional best: Instagram.
We pulled in Kirsty Sharman (no relation but a decade of friendship and professional relationships), threw names around and spitballed brand ideas. Finally, on 30 January 2020, we registered MatchKit.co.
Some sketching ensued, until we agreed on a more refined approach – website builder, best social media content featured, key stats, and the integration of a charity or foundation page to raise funds for something close to an athlete’s heart.
The kicker, however, was when Andy obsessed over a store – for personalised, branded merchandise where every athlete has the potential to brand their own clothing without ever having to see, touch or house/deliver the stock (MatchKit takes care of all of this for you). And for those who want to sell personalised voice notes and custom videos for fans and their friends’ special occasions, there’s an option for that too!
What is MatchKit.co?
It’s a platform to help athletes make money, regardless the status of sporting events.
- It’s a DIY website builder that enables athletes or their agents to showcase their sporting pedigree and sponsors – live within minutes.
- It integrates into existing social media channels, including TikTok, to show potential sponsors the scope and quality of an athlete’s influence.
- It provides athletes a hassle-free, plug-and-play e-commerce store where fans can purchase everything from bespoke branded merchandise to personalised video and audio shout-outs.
- It allows you to accept payments for your foundation or charity.
Highlights of our traction to date
- We have signed up athletes with a combined global 6.7 million fans. Our MatchKit profiles have been viewed closed to 80 000 times
- SA Hockey used the crowdfunding feature to raise $10 000 in two months for their Olympic fundraising efforts
- We have signed the US Olympic swimming team and are in talks with multiple Olympic bodies
- We’ve rolled out the integration of our tech into Sudamérica Rugby app, where 200+ athletes across Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile and Colombia are giving a personal branding overhaul in Spanish or Portuguese
- We are a Friends of Red Bull supplier
Sport is big money, as are those who play it. With MatchKit, we’ve created a way for athletes to take ownership of their digital lives and get their due.
Read the latest issue of The Media magazine here.
Mike Sharman founded Retroviral, an agency renowned for its ability to help brands go viral globally. You will have seen his work for Kreepy Krauly, RocoMamas, Russell Hobbs, Martin and Martin brands, and M-Net, to name a few. Sharman was named one of the Mail & Guardian’s top 200 young (under 35) South Africans in 2013 and is the co-founder of influencer marketing platform webfluential.com, retroactive.digital, a disruptive sports storytelling agency, and athlete ecosystem MatchKit.co. @mikesharman
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