The SportsTech Ten is Mills & Reeve’s series of ten question interviews with some of the most important stakeholders and disruptors in the SportsTech ecosystem. This will include investors, start-ups and purchasers of cutting-edge technology utilised in the sports industry, all of whom are clients or good friends of the firm.
For our fourth interview in the series, we are thrilled to share the insights of a genuine international SportsTech Godfather, Nick Maywald.
Nick is the Group CEO and Chairman of the new SportsTech venture, Atrium Sports, and globally recognised as a leading sports industry expert and pioneer. As we explore in the interview, the Atrium Sports technology is a game changer, particularly in the production and distribution of live match content. Atrium is set to revolutionise the way that sport is played, managed, commercialised and consumed.
Nick’s career spans over 20 years working with several highly successful and well-known international SportsTech start-ups, all of which have significantly shaped sport’s use of, and investment in, technology. He was recognised at the 2019 Australia & New Zealand Sports Technology Awards with the Lifetime Leadership Award for his remarkable contribution to the industry.
1. What is your background in the sports industry?
Post university and after a few years in corporate IT roles, I set up my own web solutions and systems integration business. I was obsessed by how the internet was going to change the way we consumed content and the impact it would have on existing business models. This got me thinking.
Austrialians are born into sports. I was lucky enough to play basketball in well-run leagues in Melbourne. However, I was always frustrated by the time it took to share competition information and by the lack of player stats. This information is the lifeblood of people who play and love sport.
In 1999, I joined forces with two mates to develop software to prepare draws, enter results, produce league tables and personal stats, and publish it all to a portal. SportingPulse was born.
Leagues loved the time and money savings. Players loved getting the information they craved without the wait. Word spread to other leagues and sports, and we expanded into integrated IT tools to help all stakeholders, from the governing bodies to the leagues, clubs, coaches and players.
Four years later, our products caught the attention of FIBA, basketball’s world governing body, who saw the potential of smart technology to strengthen and grow the sport. In 2005, we partnered with them to develop digital solutions for leagues and federations worldwide. Among these solutions, FIBA Organizer made it easier to manage membership and competitions, while FIBA Live Stats collated detailed in-game statistics and also published live webcasts of games.
“I was always frustrated by the time it took to share competition information and by the lack of player stats. This information is the lifeblood of people who play and love sport.”
The Australian arm of SportingPulse was sold in 2012 to Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited. The focus turned to SportingPulse International’s continued growth in basketball and developing the FIFA Connect system, an online registration platform for football players, coaches and referees, now used in over 90 countries.
In 2016, SportingPulse International merged with Bet Genius and was rebranded as Genius Sports. I left Genius Sports in 2018.
2. For whom are you currently working – and what is their business / product?
I am now Group CEO and Chairman of Atrium Sports, founded this year with Aussie mates that I’ve been working with for the past 20 years.
We’re backed by Elysian Park Ventures, an investment firm operating at the intersection of sports, technology, and entertainment. Sport is at the heart of their business and they share our passion for innovation in sport technology that improves sport at all levels, on and off the field. They understand the sport ecosystem and the important role played by youth sports in today’s society. They really are the ideal partner for us.
I have been really fortunate to have worked in sports technology around the world for many years. The rate at which technology is developing in the industry is super exciting, but for most leagues, federations or clubs, it is also becoming very complex.
“Our approach with Atrium Sports is to partner with other leading companies around the world to offer sports seamless access to best-of-breed solutions. By combining our open API platform with sport and technology expertise, we make the complex simple. ”
There are thousands of ‘point’ solutions to help sports manage operations and performance, produce and distribute content, engage fans and generate revenue. Nearly all depend on the same core ingredients to power their applications - team names, logos, league fixtures, starting line-ups, results, statistics and game video. This content has to be uploaded again and again to multiple destinations, wasting time and risking mistakes.
In May, we added Keemotion, the market-leading automated video capture provider, to our technology stack, and now provide broadcasters, leagues and sports teams with an end-to-end fully automated video production solution.
We have also built an open technology platform where multiple inputs can be aggregated, standardised and then made available for sport and its solution partners through a series of deep API integrations.
Our approach with Atrium Sports is to partner with other leading companies around the world to offer sports seamless access to best-of-breed solutions. By combining our open API platform with sport and technology expertise, we make the complex simple.
3. Can you describe the existing functionality and application of the core Atrium technology?
The technology provides an automated solution for leagues to produce and distribute high-level to grassroots level basketball games in the same way we are used to seeing in professional sports.
Amateur and lower tier professional sport doesn’t have the budget, human resource or expertise needed for complex live sport production. Our efforts focus on a new approach to automate and build an affordable end-to-end platform to capture, produce and distribute games.
The solution uses Keemotion cameras with sophisticated computer vision functionality and Artificial Intelligence to follow the action and automatically produce the live broadcast. Our enhanced visual overlay (a product we call EVO) applies graphical content by ingesting live game data and publishing team, individual player stats and images. For example, when a player is at the free throw line, the graphical overlay shows their free throw percentage for the season, their total points scored and their image.
“Providing this level of technology is game-changing for sport and we were excited when it was shortlisted this year for the Australia New Zealand Sport Technology Awards. Asia’s leading sports business conference and awards, SPIA Asia, has also just announced that we are shortlisted for an award for Best Use of Technology in Sports.”
The Commentator Information System also provides live statistics and “talking points” to enhance a commentators’ ability to make the broadcast more exciting and enjoyable for fans.
All of this is linked with a cloud-based live production and distribution system. This allows video, audio and overlay graphics to be distributed to platforms such as Facebook Live and YouTube to be watched by fans on their desktops, tablets, smartphones or other connected devices within seconds of the live action. Depending on the partner, the end destination might also be TV or an OTT platform for example, all depending on their media rights.
Providing this level of technology is game-changing for sport and we were excited when it was shortlisted this year for the Australia New Zealand Sport Technology Awards. Asia’s leading sports business conference and awards, SPIA Asia, has also just announced that we are shortlisted for an award for Best Use of Technology in Sports.
4. How do you think that technology might develop over time?
Improvements in artificial intelligence and computer vision will create further opportunities and enhance production quality but the biggest growth will be in in fan engagement, coaching and performance applications. Passion for sport and the drive to make it better is inspiring the creation of niche sport technology applications daily. Our open API platform has been designed to support this growth, by offering the content and resources to reduce development time and access a global audience.
5. With which clients are you already working?
In August, we launched the FIBA Connected Stadium. This partnership will put best practice technologies within reach of basketball at every level. It will revolutionise how basketball is played, managed and consumed.
FIBA affiliated venues worldwide will have the opportunity to be equipped with smart technology to capture, produce and distribute content. This will transform stadiums into technological and commercial platforms, boosting opportunities to broadcast, stream, distribute and share games and content.
“This partnership will put best practice technologies within reach of basketball at every level. It will revolutionise how basketball is played, managed and consumed.”
We have started rolling out the FIBA Connected Stadium to leagues in Argentina, France, UK, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, Romania and Bosnia. We are also working with the WNBL in Australia, recognised as one of the top women’s leagues in the world helping them distribute live games with enhanced graphics. Keemotion cameras are also used by over 10 NBA teams in their training locations, and by hundreds of US colleges to livestream games.
6. What other sports / sports organisations will you be targeting for business and how?
Our philosophy has always been to partner with sports to make them the best they can be. We have run trials in volleyball, handball and ice hockey which have all been very successful.
We believe partnering with the world governing body, as we did in basketball, is the best way to go. The international federations are the governors of their sport. Their national federation members look to them to provide leadership and guidance through a complex and ever-changing digital landscape. Working closely in partnership with sport also ensures they play a key role with innovation and the product roadmap.
“Our philosophy has always been to partner with sports to make them the best they can be.”
7. How will Atrium disrupt the existing international sports media landscape initially and over the longer term?
We believe we will help sporting federations to change how sport is organised, played, commercialised and experienced - right around the world. We’ll do this by putting best practice technologies within the reach of sports at every level, to enable them to create new content, engage fans and open commercial opportunities that help grow their sport.
The impact will particularly be felt by second and third tier sports or sporting properties, which previously had limited media exposure and the commercial opportunities that come with reaching new online audiences.
“We believe we will help sporting federations to change how sport is organised, played, commercialised and experienced - right around the world.”
8. What key challenges will you have to overcome – and how will you overcome them?
We have had a fantastic response from basketball leagues around the world wanting to roll out the FIBA Connected Stadium. As a result, we have to simultaneously meet demand, compete for global talent and create implementation and process efficiencies.
9. Assuming unlimited access to funds, in which three sports tech companies would you personally invest?
That’s a hard one for me to answer. There are many great SportsTech companies out there, and new ones appearing almost daily. In the coming years, I expect to see SportsTech companies building amazing products using Artificial Intelligence that will impact all the areas I described earlier - operations, fan engagement, coaching and performance.
With sports facing increasing competition for attention from the multi-faceted digital entertainment sector, we’re likely to see products that offer more immersive and engaging fan experiences.
One of those digital entertainment potential rivals on the horizon for the past few years has been Esports. An interesting trend to monitor has been traditional sport embracing the sector rather than opposing it. The NBA for example partnered with 2K to create the NBA 2K League. Where relevant, I think we’ll see further growth and closer ties between traditional sport and Esports.
10. And, finally, your advice to aspiring SportsTech entrepreneurs…
My top ten tips would be:
Focus on people... recruit great people. Build and grow a strong values-driven culture at all levels of the organisation.
Be customer-centric in everything you do.
Build a product that solves a problem or makes an experience better. Balance product development with customer expectations and market impact.
Plan your exit. Have a plan but remain nimble.
Understand where you sit in the value chain.
Work with partners.
Find mentors, for yourself and your team.
Focus on win:win outcomes.
Find the right business model.
Attract and partner with the right investors.
You can read about some of these tips in detail in an article published by Atrium Sports on Linkedin.
Get in touch
Please do make contact if you would like to meet or speak with any of the Mills & Reeve specialist SportsTech team. We work with a wide range of stakeholders in the sector, including funds and other investors, start-ups and established technology providers and purchasers. We would be delighted to hear from you.