It is hard to imagine that a sports-crazed country like the US would have any dearth in sports reporting. However, while professional and major college sports get covered no end by traditional media, sports leagues and user-generated sites alike, high school and minor college sports remain largely uncovered, an issue that is being exacerbated by declining revenues.
This was one of the reasons that inspired Ted Sullivan, a former minor league baseball player and a graduate of Harvard Business School, to ease the pain of parents, coaches and fans of youth sports, literally, by launching an application that is making the process of scoring simpler, and allowing for easier distribution of stats from the field.
“An entire category of content called real-time sports doesn’t exist for what is the enormous majority of athletic events happening everyday, whether that is organized sports from the small college level or high school and youth sports,” says Sullivan.
Having not only played the sport, but also having coached at a downtown little league in Manhattan, Sullivan understood the challenges of scoring baseball manually. Earlier this year, along with co-founder Kiril Savino, he launched GameChanger, an iPhone application that transmits data in real time from the field. Using the tool, scores and stats, as they happen, can be tapped into an iPhone by coaches, fans and parents. This is translated into a “gamestream” that appears on the Gamechanger site instantaneously so fans can access live updates, box scores, and play by plays.
Balls, strikes and hits are recorded using the tool’s menu options, and players are tracked by dragging and dropping names. In addition, a coach or scorekeeper can create a team’s schedule, roster and lineup. There is also a provision for fans to add to the stream by posting comments or uploading photos and video.
“I believe in the mobile device as a great data collector,” says Sullivan. While mobile devices are useful for content consumption, the very nature of smart phones prompts something more than passive viewing by the user. And this makes them ideal vehicles for data gathering and delivery.
So GameChanger provides an application to the community surrounding a team, which, in turn, allows the community to provide data from the field to GameChanger. In other words, it is crowdsourcing with organized content gathering.
Each team can have more than one hub based on how many people choose to use the app for scoring, but Sullivan assures me that the tedium of score-keeping restricts it to few, very avid fans or parents, thus reducing potential imposters or error-prone score keepers. Besides, GameChanger makes baseball scoring easy enough for anyone with a basic understanding of the sport, thus alleviating the need for extensive experience or in-depth knowledge.
“The key piece here that needs to be stressed is that this business doesn’t work if we aren’t providing a huge incentive to the person that is using the application and collecting the data for us for free,” says Sullivan. He explains that manual scoring takes an average of 45 minutes to an hour per game; factor in several games per week stretched over an entire season, and therein lies Gamechanger’s incentive.
Lisa Winston attests to this over at the MLB Blog, bemoaning the fact that an app “so brilliant and simple” wasn’t available when her daughter played in the little league.
All the content that is collected is available on the GameChanger site. While some content is free, more detailed information, such as play by plays, requires a subscription. Sullivan believes that the data is exclusive and time sensitive enough for people to be willing to pay for it. For a fee, a simple html code also allows local news sites to pull data from GameChanger’s database in the form of widgets. Profits are shared with news partners.
Potential other uses in journalism?
If such an application can make data gathering, analysis and distribution easier in the case of simple scoring of a little league game, could it find potential in other, more complex issues? Such as election results, exit polls or the statistics of climate change? With the popularity of crowdsourcing, citizens are being entrusted with more and more complex tasks in areas such as citizen science and E-governance. Such a foolproof application would increase participation and minimize error.
While projects like WNYC’s crowdsourced maps have successfully used their Web sites as data collectors, the content obtained from the public in such cases has been relatively simple, such as the number of cars on a street, or the price of milk at a grocery store. In these and similar such exercises, the task of making sense of the data or painting the bigger picture has been that of a journalist, perhaps rightfully so.
But if data-specific applications could be designed to maximize contributions from the public, it would perhaps make citizen journalism more relevant and valuable while reducing the workload on news organizations. It’s debatable if it will work for areas more serious than sports or entertainment, but, if anything, such weighty topics could use applications that would make information gathering easier.