Built.io formally announces sports-app business

Screenshots from Built.io’s under-development mobile app for the NBA’s Miami Heat. Credit: Miami Heat

Built.io, the startup behind the Sacramento Kings’ new team and stadium app, formally announced its “fan experience platform” today, putting the company more directly in competition with market leaders YinzCam and VenueNext.

A San Francisco-based company, Built.io did not have a standalone sports-app business when it was selected by the Kings to be the base app technology for both the Kings’ team app as well as the app for the Kings’ new home, the Golden 1 Center. Since that arena’s launch last year, Built.io has also signed the Miami Heat as a customer, ahead of today’s formal launch of the sports-app platform.

In the larger sports world, YinzCam is by far and away the company with the most apps developed for teams and stadiums, with many of its content-focused developments used by numerous pro league teams as well as many large colleges. VenueNext, which entered the world as the app developer for the San Francisco 49ers’ new Levi’s Stadium a few years ago, has since signed up multiple pro teams like the NHL’s San Jose Sharks as well as entertainment entities like Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby.

Of the two market leaders, Built.io’s platform-based approach to app building — where third-party components for features like wayfinding and parking can be added via an API structure — is more like VenueNext’s, though YinzCam also has the ability to add third-party components as needed. The challenge for all stadium- and team-app builders, as well as for venue owners and teams, is to get fans to download and use the apps, so that teams can take advantage of the opportunities afforded by digitally connected customers.

Screenshot of part of the Built.io app for the Kings.

While there is plenty of promise and perceived opportunity in team and stadium apps, the current reality sees fans at stadiums using public social-media apps like Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram, or other tools like email and search, far more often than team- or stadium-specific apps. However, by driving fans to use apps for digital ticketing and other necessary service transactions, team and stadium apps are likely to be more used over time, following the adoption curves for other businesses like coffee shops and airline tickets.

Though still small, Built.io has been around for a bit, as it was founded in 2007. The company has previous experience connecting larger enterprise businesses, experience founder Neha Sampat told us will work well as stadiums and teams become more connected in all their businesses.

“What the Kings are trying to do is a large-scale enterprise use case,” said Sampat in an interview last year. “There are a lot of big-data analytics and so much personalization that is dependent on data.”

Sampat said Built.io’s model of a “back end as a service” and its ability to quickly connect other programs’ APIs should be a good fit for the Kings, as well as for other teams looking to blend more services and functions into team and stadium apps.

VenueNext lands $15 million Series B funding, adds San Jose Sharks as 1st NHL client

Screenshot from new San Jose Sharks app developed by VenueNext. Credit: VenueNext

Screenshot from new San Jose Sharks app developed by VenueNext. Credit: VenueNext

Stadium and venue app developer VenueNext has secured a $15 million Series B round of financing, as well as its first National Hockey League client, the San Jose Sharks.

Both announcements were made by VenueNext Tuesday, just ahead of Wednesday’s season opener for the Sharks at SAP Center in San Jose. The new app is ready for fans to download in time for the Sharks’ game against the Los Angeles Kings. Later this season fans will also be able to connect via the arena’s new Wi-Fi network, which will use Wi-Fi gear from Cisco.

The new round of funding brings VenueNext’s total of announced venture capital to $24 million, following a $9 million round raised last summer. Causeway Media Partners, which led the initial round, is also leading the new round; according to VenueNext some of its first-round investors are also participating in the B round, but the company did not yet name any of them other than Causeway. Twitter, Live Nation and Aruba were among the Series A investors in VenueNext.

Adding hospitality and healthcare to market targets

In the increasingly competitive market for stadium and team application development, VenueNext has had a solid year in breaking away from just being the app provider to the San Francisco 49ers and Levi’s Stadium, its initial offering. So far this year, new VenueNext apps have appeared at Super Bowl 50, Yankee Stadium, Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby, and at the Minnesota Vikings’ new home, U.S. Bank Stadium. VenueNext also announced a new app being developed for the Saratoga and Belmont horse-racing tracks, which will be launched next year.

SAP Center, home of the San Jose Sharks. Credit: SanJoseSharks.com.

SAP Center, home of the San Jose Sharks. Credit: SanJoseSharks.com.

While VenueNext still hasn’t come close to publicly announcing the 30 clients CEO John Paul said the company would have by the end of 2015, the list of announced clients now includes the 49ers and Super Bowl 50, the Dallas Cowboys, the Orlando Magic, and now the San Jose Sharks. According to VenueNext, it does have clients signed already in the healthcare and hospitality markets, but cannot name them due to confidentiality agreements. VenueNext said it will announce more customers in the next few months.

Sharks fans get beverage, not food, delivery to seats — for now

One of the signature VenueNext services at Levi’s Stadium, the ability for all fans to use the app to order concessions delivered to their seats, will initially only support in-seat beverage ordering and delivery for Sharks fans, according to VenueNext. That service is similar to how the VenueNext app was used at Super Bowl 50. Other new services now available at SAP Center via the app include digital ticketing, with the ability to view, upgrade or transfer tickets; the ability to view and manage parking passes; mobile ticket access via the VenueNext ticket kiosks; and team content.

According to Sharks chief operating officer John Tortora, the team was first introduced to VenueNext during the NHL Stadium Series game at Levi’s Stadium in February of 2015.

“We were impressed with their execution at that event and have witnessed the business success they have generated at sports venues throughout the country,” said Tortora of VenueNext in an email communiction. “We look to bring that standard to SAP Center.” According to Tortora, wayfinding and virtual reality experiences are among features that will be added to the app in the future.

The Sharks app page also says that during the season the app will add a large list of Sharks-related content, including team and league stats, and it will also add in-game trivia contests. So far in most of its deployments, VenueNext has added and improved features in its apps over time.

On the Wi-Fi side, the venue is now getting its first full-scale Wi-Fi network for fans, a deployment that will include the use of Cisco StadiumVision for digital-display controls. According to the Sharks, the Wi-Fi network is expected to be operational by Dec. 1.

“To complement our new Sharks app and the use of it at SAP Center, we are in the process of deploying Cisco Connected Stadium Wi-Fi, a best-in-class Wi-Fi platform used in sports venues around the world,” Tortora said. “We want our patrons to be able to easily and reliably connect while at SAP Center to allow for the best fan experience when attending Sharks games and other events.”

VenueNext said it now has 90 employees, with offices in Santa Clara, Calif., San Francisco, New York and London. The new funds, the company said, will be used to “continue to innovate on our platform,” and also to help launch the new vertical markets as well as expansion to international clients.

VenueNext app already paying off for Orlando Magic

Screenshot of new Orlando Magic stadium app built by VenueNext

Screenshot of new Orlando Magic stadium app built by VenueNext

The NBA’s Orlando Magic, the first customer for VenueNext outside of Levi’s Stadium, is already seeing a revenue-generating return on its choice, according to figures released by the team and VenueNext.

New this year for fans at the Magic’s stadium, the 20,000-seat, Wi-Fi equipped Amway Center, the VenueNext-designed app is already generating new direct revenue of $500,000 through in-app advertisement sales, while also being used by fans to order food and drinks that can either be picked up at an express window, or for certain sections of the stadium, delivered to the seat.

With the NBA season just past the halfway point, VenueNext and the Magic said that the number of fans attending games in Orlando using the app on a monthly average is showing an almost 96 percent increase from last year and the team’s previous app. So far this year 30 percent of attendees have used the app, a figure at the high end of team-app usage.

Perhaps most interesting from a marketing standpoint is the stat claiming that 80 percent of season-ticket holders have used the app to gain entry to the arena and to manage their tickets, activity that can be mined by the team for marketing info. According to the team and VenueNext, mobile entry to the stadium has reached 26 percent of all fans, an increase of 200 percent over figures from last season.

Fast deliveries, increased ticket sales

Though neither the team nor VenueNext would provide any stats for average food orders placed per game or how many have been placed so far this year, they did say that deliveries — available to just a part of the stadium right now — are taking an average of 5 minutes and 26 seconds to complete. The ability to use the app to order in-seat delivery of food, drink and merchandise is one of the hallmarks of the VenueNext app used at Levi’s Stadium for San Francisco 49ers home games. At the recent Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium, the app allowed fans to order only drinks for delivery and food for express pickup; fans at the Super Bowl placed 3,284 food and beverage orders through the app, a stadium record.

Another screen view of the new Orlando Magic stadium app

Another screen view of the new Orlando Magic stadium app

The team also said that fans have been using the app to purchase more of the “Fast Break Pass” products that provide discounts for multiple-game purchases that aren’t full season tickets. According to a blog post by Orlando Magic CEO on the VenueNext website, the app has allowed the team to greatly expand its flexible-pass offerings:

Fast Break Pass sales are up 233% from last season, in part, because the app has given the Magic the ability to expand to six different Fast Break Pass products that span the entire course of a season, providing a unique product for an untapped market. The app also includes added location identifiers so Fast Break Pass holders can receive their seat assignments now once they are within a mile of the arena (previously it wasn’t assigned until they entered the building).

On the sponsorship side, the Magic said it sold the approximately $500,000 of in-app advertising to fantasy gambling outlet FanDuel and to Sun Pass, which we think is a Florida electronic tollroad payment operation. At Levi’s Stadium, the 49ers sold a similar in-app advertising package to eSurance for the 2014 season, producing $750,000 in revenue. The Magic app has a direct link to a FanDuel game.

The Orlando figures are a good selling point for VenueNext, which is still somewhat of a newcomer in the team and stadium app business, trailing leaders like YinzCam, which recently struck a deal to re-do 22 of the NBA team apps. While its performance at Levi’s Stadium and now at Orlando are significant, VenueNext recently fell short of its own publicly announced goal to sign up 30 new customers before the end of 2015, something the company announced when it revealed its $9 million funding round last year.

While some of those new clients may be signed but not yet ready to announce, VenueNext has only announced two other new clients besides Orlando, the New York Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys. Given that one of the investors in VenueNext was concert promoter Live Nation, it’s a good bet that some of the new clients may be concert arenas, and not just more sports stadiums.

Tap.in2 scores food-delivery deal for Cincinnati Bengals’ club seats; could more YinzCam deals follow?

Screenshot of Tap.in2's food ordering and delivery service embedded in the Cincinnati Bengals' team app. (Click on any photo for a larger image) Credit: Tap.in2

Screenshot of Tap.in2’s food ordering and delivery service embedded in the Cincinnati Bengals’ team app. (Click on any photo for a larger image) Credit: Tap.in2

Startup Tap.in2 has signed up the Cincinnati Bengals as its second big-league client for its mobile-app service that enables in-seat food and beverage service in stadiums, with a deal to bring app-based deliveries to 8,000 club-level seats at Paul Brown Stadium this season.

Expected to be formally announced today, the deal has actually been in place all season, according to Tap.in2 representatives. The deal follows Tap.in2’s breakout contract with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers to bring similar services to the lower bowl of Quicken Loans Arena. A product of a Cleveland-area startup incubator, Tap.in2 partnered for the second time with Aramark to facilitate the delivery service, which offers a full menu of stadium food and beverage for in-seat delivery.

And while the Bengals are no longer undefeated (losing 10-6 to the Houston Texans on Monday Night Football) select fans at Paul Brown can at least enjoy in-seat concession delivery for the remaining games this year by ordering directly from the team’s stadium app. To our knowledge it’s only the second NFL team to offer app-based food and beverage delivery services, following the San Francisco 49ers and their VenueNext-powered app which supports in-seat delivery to every seat in the 68,500-seat Levi’s Stadium.

Let the food-delivery app battles begin

beng1What’s interesting about the Bengals deal is that it has Tap.in2 melding its services with an app built by sports-app giant YinzCam, which does not offer a food-delivery option in the current version of its app used by many NFL teams. However, YinzCam did just sign a big deal with the NBA to re-do 22 NBA team apps, with the option of adding concession delivery services mentioned in the press release; however, YinzCam has not yet stated publicly how it would add such services to its core stadium-app product. Could more deals with Tap.in2 be on the YinzCam horizon?

The well-funded VenueNext, meanwhile, has signed new deals with the NBA’s Orlando Magic as well as the New York Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys, to bring more VenueNext features (possibly including food delivery) to those teams’ stadium apps. While some VenueNext features have already crept into the AT&T Stadium app for this season, food ordering and delivery to seats is not yet available at that venue. VenueNext will also provide the app for Super Bowl 50, which will be held at Levi’s Stadium in February.

Though Tap.in2 has not released any actual figures about how many orders were actually taken at games this season, it does claim to have positive feedback from the fans who have used the service, and did claim that orders were being delivered in less than 5 minutes, on average. VenueNext, which did release some food-delivery numbers from Levi’s Stadium last season, is no longer making those statistics available. However the company did say that its app brought in nearly $800,000 in revenue last season, which may give you some idea why this service is hotter than a hot dog when it comes to increasing revenue inside stadiums.

Twitter, Live Nation and Aruba are investors in $9 million Series A round for Levi’s Stadium app developer VenueNext

Screen shot from VenueNext's Levi's Stadium app

Screen shot from VenueNext’s Levi’s Stadium app

Almost as interesting as today’s news of a $9 million Series A venture round for Levi’s Stadium app developer VenueNext is the list of participants in this round of funding, which includes Twitter Ventures, Live Nation Entertainment and Aruba Networks, among others.

While there’s also an interesting story to be mined about lead investor Causeway Media Partners, whose managing partner Mark Wan is one of the San Francisco 49ers’ “one percent” minority owners, the other listed investors offer an interesting take on VenueNext’s potential future beyond its current single client, Levi’s Stadium.

In a press release announcing the funding, VenueNext CEO John Paul said the funds would be used mainly to expand the VenueNext team to support deployments of venue apps for 30 different new clients before the end of the calendar year. Though VenueNext has yet to name a client other than Levi’s Stadium, its upcoming list is expected to include not just sports stadiums but entertainment venues as well, a facet which partially explains the potential investment interest for Live Nation.

Aruba Networks, now owned by HP, is the gear used in the Wi-Fi and beacon networks at Levi’s, which are integrated tightly with the app, so perhaps the Aruba investment is a small way to gain influence at venues still considering Wi-Fi infrastructure purchases. And while we caution that all this is guesswork at this point, Twitter Ventures’ interest in VenueNext is most likely related to the app’s ability to integrate live video, which at some point could conceivably come from the phones of Twitter users via Vine or Periscope. Like we said, interesting partners to have!

Midseason version of Levi's Stadium app, with clearer icons on main screen

Midseason version of Levi’s Stadium app, with clearer icons on main screen

Much different approach

While VenueNext is still a newcomer in the stadium-application marketplace — trailing far behind established players like YinzCam and MLBAM in numbers of deployed apps — its approach to embracing a small number of fan-focused and revenue-generating features like concessions, ticketing, replays and loyalty programs is much different than most stadium apps, which have historically tried to cram as many features in as possible. VenueNext’s top calling card right now may be the in-seat food and merchandise delivery feature it implemented at Levi’s Stadium last year, impressive mainly because of its advertised ability to reach every seat in the 68,500-seat stadium (which worked pretty well for football games but not so much when hockey crowds showed up).

But what may prove more interesting and useful to other potential clients are VenueNext’s integrated ticketing and marketing-analysis features, which not only make it easier for fans to purchase and redirect tickets, but also allows teams to build databases with rich information about fan purchasing preferences.

On both fronts, VenueNext was successful at Levi’s Stadium last season, with the app accounting for more than $800,000 in food and beverage purchases (according to VenueNext) while also registering more than 200,000 unique users, who are all now a part of the Niners’ marketing database. And while the instant replay feature didn’t get as much fan traction as was originally thought, its backbone systems were impressive in action, and were witnessed last season by a weekly parade of IT guests from interested teams.

Originally conceived and funded by Aurum Partners LLC, an investment entity controlled by the Niners’ owners, VenueNext is part of a sports/technology group of investments by Causeway (including SeatGeek), a boutique-ish firm whose partners have a long history in investment and finance, including being owners of the Boston Celtics. Wan will also join VenueNext’s board as part of the investment round, according to VenueNext.

UPDATE: Wan wrote a post on Medium about the investment.

(VenueNext image parade follows. Credit all Levi’s Stadium photos and app screenshots: Paul Kapustka, MSR. Credit John Paul photo: VenueNext. Enjoy!)

First replay tablet app, which adds info about the play

First replay tablet app, which adds info about the play

Second replay tablet app, which adds a thumbnail to the replay

Second replay tablet app, which adds a thumbnail to the replay

Photo of directions function in Levi's Stadium app.

Photo of directions function in Levi’s Stadium app.

Probably the first time many fans heard the term "NiNerds" (Nov. 23, 2014)

Probably the first time many fans heard the term “NiNerds” (Nov. 23, 2014)

NiNerd sporting the new neon vest.

NiNerd sporting the new neon vest.

John Paul, CEO and founder, VenueNext

John Paul, CEO and founder, VenueNext

Season opener issues: Picture of app late in the first half.

Season opener issues: Picture of app late in the first half.

Wedge Buster Closes Series A Funding as it Launches a set of Social Media Games

Wedge Busters

While looking into RocketPlay, a company that has started developing gaming apps for social media I also started looking around for others in this field since it is relatively new and seems to offer a great deal of opportunity.

Enter Wedge Buster, a startup formed last year and based in Los Angeles that has just closed its first round of funding which will give it a $2.2 million cash infusion and which already has its site up and running.

Wedge Buster is focusing on two different but related areas, sports gaming and fantasy sports, and will be presenting its offerings on two related but different platforms, social media and mobile platforms.

The Series A funding round has some interesting investors including NFL quarterback Drew Brees, pro skater Rob Dyrdek, 37 Venture Technologies as well as some angel investors that the company said include players in the gaming and media industry. The company said that it will use the funding to speed game development, support marketing strategies and expand the distribution gaming network with media companies.

It already has a stable of games at or near a stage where they can be played by users. It has ether developed or acquired 100 games and since its launch earlier this week has a number of games already available.

Among the games is Soccer Trouble, Around the World Darts, WB Striker, WB Footy and a number of others that span everything from baseball to sharpshooting. Currently in the fantasy space it has four offerings including one where it offers a Fantasy Football Commissioner with SI and Turner. The company is now launching on Facebook and expects to soon be launching on Android and Apple phones as well in the near future.

The potential of this space appears to be huge. Earlier this year Juniper Research said that overall, games and infotainment in the mobile space is expected to become a $65 billion market by 2016 due to the growing move to mobile devices.

Wedge Buster claims that others are missing the value that social media offers, but are they? Also are the barriers to entry that high that established Internet players cannot quickly enter? I think the answer to both of these is no.

In the area of Fantasy sports look at RotoWire, which has a presence on Facebook as well as on the Internet and mobile apps as well. Its rivals also have followed suit. Then players like Zynga have entered this type of social games with its first partnership.

Others are sure to follow since this is obviously a growth area and so established players in the gaming field such as EA Sports see opportunity here. That said with its broad based approach, having so many games that can appeal to a wide, diverse audience will certainly place Wedge Buster in a good position right from the start.