Sentr forward! A fresh take on team sports
This startup has a compelling offer for players and brands alike
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Today’s startup has a really interesting offer to sports brands and amateur teams as it builds what it hopes will become the ‘Strava for team sports’.
Scroll down to read all about Sentr.
But first, I’m pleased to say that I’ll be in Newcastle on 5 July as a judge for the 10th annual Thinking Digital Startup Competition.
The two finalists selected at the event will then take to the stage at the Sage Gateshead at the main Thinking Digital conference the following day, with conference attendees choosing the ultimate winner.
Sentr has a fresh offer for sports teams and the brands that serve them
The vast market of amateur sports players hasn’t escaped the eye of tech entrepreneurs over the years. But while investors will no doubt be familiar with the many apps designed to help with managing teams, Sentr is a new startup tackling the market from a different angle.
And while there’s obviously a consumer market for the startup, the founders see their big business opportunity in helping sports brands connect with their target audiences in a more targeted way.
“We're aiming to do for team sports like football, rugby, and American football, what Strava did for individual sports like running and cycling - getting more people out there and active.”
Leeds-based Sentr has begun by focusing on the football market. And with good reason; the idea behind the app stems from Furber’s own experience playing football and finding it increasingly difficult to get a team together every week.
“A few people not showing up ruins it for everyone else and demotivates the rest of the team,” he explains.
“I was messaging people in my phonebook every week because somebody dropped out. trying to get people roped in to play. And if you can’t get enough players, games get cancelled and you lose pitch bookings, you lose money you've spent on pitch bookings, you get point deductions if you're in a league, and ultimately it ruins it for everybody else.”
So Sentr was built with the aim of giving players more reasons to show up at games. It lets them track their progress over time, and gamifies it by letting players compete with each other to score points based on their in-game performance. Teams and players can then share their performance on social media.
In short, it’s a bit like taking the motivational effect of Xbox achievements or PlayStation trophies and applying them to real-world performance. Rather than sitting on the sofa and clocking up the goals in the latest edition of the FIFA series, you can claim ‘high scores’ in real life.
“A big part of this is making them feel like professionals,” says Furber. “If you turn on Sky Sports News, you'll see stats about Premier League players and how many goals they scored. So by letting players track their own stats, they can feel a little bit more like the professionals.
“It’s a huge incentive to get people to show up, earn their points, and climb that leaderboard.”
But while Strava can track users’ personal performance via wearables or a smartphone, automated data collection is an unsolved problem for team sports. So Sentr requires teams to add game data manually, but Furber says it only takes between 30 and 40 seconds to add a game.
Teams have to enter information like who played, the final score, who scored, and who won ‘player of the match’. It might seem a bit of a slog to convince teams to remember to do this, but Furber says the app is compelling enough that teams are happy to add a quick bit of data entry to their post-match routine.
“One thing we've discovered is if we can get teams to get in three games, that's our activation point. After three games they become locked in because they start to see the value.
“If I score a goal and you don’t upload my match, I'm going to be straight on to you to say ‘why haven’t you added the game this week, because I want that data.
“A big thing was trying to progress that effort-versus-benefit ratio - make it as easy as possible to get the data in and produce as much value on the back of it. And we think we've got that balance right at the moment.”
The business model
While Sentr plans premium subscription features for users, Furber says the startup’s business model is primarily B2B.
“One of the things we've discovered on this journey, talking to different sports brands of different sizes, is currently there's a huge amount of waste serving adverts for sport products to people who don't play sport,” says Furber.
He explains that because an amateur sports player is very similar in profile to a non-playing sports fan, campaigns for items like football boots end up being served to people who just watch at home and would never buy boots.
With the challenges facing digital marketers amid changes to data collection rules and the slow death of the tracking cookie, Furber believes this problem will only get worse.
By providing brands a qualified audience of players, Sentr is able to serve relevant ads in context, without the need for complex user tracking workarounds.
And it’s not just boots and goalie gloves that could be advertised through Sentr. Furber sees potential in partnerships with other companies addressing the team sports market, such as pitchside cameras for capturing match highlights, and AR-based training products
Furber says Sentr is holding off on introducing a B2C freemium model for now due to the economic climate, but he says there are signs it would be popular if they did.
“Around half our users have expressed a willingness to pay for advanced features, and we ran a successful private beta experiment this year with a bunch of teams where they were paying for some advanced features. That proved to be a success. So it's there, it's just really a case of timing about when we turn that model on.”
The story so far
Furber has worked in tech for almost 10 years, largely in product management roles for NHS Digital. A passionate amateur footballer in his spare time, he started collecting data about games on a spreadsheet and sharing points and insights with teammates on Monday mornings.
“It went down so well that if I wasn't sending the email out at five past nine on a Monday morning, I'd be getting messages saying ‘where are the stats? I want to see my goal’.
“So that proved initially that there is demand for this thing, and I also shared it with a few other teams and got a similar response.”
As the idea outgrew a spreadsheet, Furber looked around for apps that could help and found nothing fit the bill. And thus a startup idea was born.
Sentr launched its MVP app in September last year, and Furber says that largely through word of mouth it has grown to more than 5,000 monthly active users, who have logged more than 7,500 matches.
“We feel like that's really validated our hypothesis that people want this thing. People will upload their matches, and also we can build a really engaged audience of players on the back of it.
“We surveyed our users quite recently and 89% of them said that using Sentr has helped improve their motivation to want to play, and it actually had an impact on player commitment within their team.”
Sentr plans to remain focused on the UK football market for now. A Football Association report in 2021 said 13.5 million people play football regularly in England alone, so there’s a chunky market for them to get stuck into.
The startup is planning marketing activity over the summer ahead of the next season as they look to grow their user base. Furber says the app can drive some useful, natural network effects. An individual user will sign up their team, around half of whom will play for a second team and want Sentr for that team too.
Product plans for the future include exploring how Sentr can use generative A.I. to create engaging content from player and team data.
Go deeper on Sentr
Much more about their funding, competition, vision, and challenges: