June 2, 2017

Entrepreneur Spotlight: Chen Shachar, Founder & CEO of PlaySight

Can you set the stage? What was the inspiration behind founding PlaySight and how is its global sports SmartCourt platform connecting the next generation of athletes?

At the elite levels, technology has greatly impacted how sports are coached, played and consumed. We founded PlaySight with the idea of delivering the same cutting-edge experience to all levels of sports. Through visual learning and analysis, we are helping athletes improve their skills so they can play with more purpose and focus (Click to Tweet).

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The ‘lightbulb’ moment for PlaySight came a few years ago when one of my co-founders was watching his daughter perform a repetitive drill on the court while a disinterested coach looks on. Tennis parents know this story all too well. They practice and practice, but there is no way for a player, or parent, to really track improvements over time. My co-founder recognized the need for technology at this level of the sport and we decided to get to work, refining technology we had already developed in another industry. We consulted with top tennis coaches to ensure our product would fit the market and we introduced SmartCourts to the tennis world in late 2013.

At that time, tennis was second to last in sports when it came to incorporating technology. Now it is a leader, especially at the recreational and collegiate level. We have rolled out SmartCourt technology across numerous sports all over the world, connecting courts, fields, rinks, pitches, diamonds, gyms and other sports facilities to our cloud-based analytics and video sports platform for athletes. While most sports technologies are focused on the coach or the team, PlaySight focuses on the athlete and allows them to stream, create, save and share sports content and data (Click to Tweet).

Our vision of connecting the next generation of athletes is more than just words. Today’s youth athletes are growing up in a connected world, and we wanted to  harness that desire and need for technology by combining their physical and digital worlds. Through this process, we’re seeing more kids move from couches to SmartCourts. We’re seeing a number of different use cases and benefits, including comparing stats on a global athlete database, streaming games with friends and family, building SportsCenter-worthy highlight clips, and improving overall athletic performance. This is what drives us.

PlaySight has achieved a dominant position in the tennis marketplace and announced its partnership with Ana Ivanovic earlier this year. What new sports verticals is the company expanding its footprint into?

There are now close to 700 SmartCourts across the sporting world: 40+ NCAA programs, including Georgia, Oklahoma State, Ohio State and USC, and the new USTA National Campus is completely outfitted with SmartCourt technology.

In 2016, we expanded beyond tennis with our multisport SmartCourts and built momentum right away in several new verticals, particularly basketball. Our global footprint now covers China, Japan, Canada, Israel, Australia, Europe and of course the United States.

Our multisport technology is another key differentiator. It allows us to power everything from dance studios and MMA gyms to swimming pools and skating rinks, as well as facilities for local clubs/academies, high schools, colleges, national federations and professional teams. With our new partnership with Verizon Ventures and Greg Norman, we are excited to bring our technology to the world of golf as well.

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As sophisticated video, analytics and media solutions for professional athletes and teams are becoming accessible to the recreational and youth athlete, what trends do you anticipate taking off in the sports technology space?

SmartCourt technology is riding the third wave of innovation in sports – digital/connected courts. Technology is most often driven from the top down, and it is no different in sports. Products are created to serve the needs of the most elite at the top of the pyramid. This was the first wave – Hawkeye in tennis, SportVU in the NBA and several other technologies across the pro level.

The second wave was the personalization of video, data and analytics with personal trackers and action cameras. Although this technology was developed many decades ago with heart rate devices, it has taken off in the last five or six years with wearables and fitness trackers. This development has given everybody a taste of data and analytics.

Right now, most sports video and analytics technologies are manual (i.e. smartphone cameras and tagging software). With SmartCourts, we’re automating the entire sports experience from recording and streaming to analysis, all while communicating with personal tracking sensors, smart shirts or shoes, mobile devices, manual tagging platforms, action cameras and scoreboards. The true power of SmartCourt technology is its accessibility. A 14-year-old high school basketball player may not have the same skills as Stephen Curry or LeBron James, but at least he or she can train with the same technology.

In your experience, what’s the best way to work with investors?

We are lucky to have an investment team that shares our passion for sports and believes in our vision of connecting the next generation of athletes. We have strategic investors across many relevant sectors, including business, media and technology, and among notable figures such as Novak Djokovic and Billie Jean King.

For me, the key to working with investors is to develop a culture of trust and transparency from day one (Click to Tweet). We consider our investors as true partners and regularly lean on them for their experience, network and expertise to help guide the future of PlaySight.

What’s next for PlaySight?

The sports video and analytics technology space moves extremely fast. It is important to balance what needs to get done now with our long term vision. In the short term, we will continue expanding deeper into tennis and basketball, and across new sports verticals such as soccer, golf, football and hockey.

We’re really excited about the new partnership with Verizon Ventures and Greg Norman, and look forward to connecting many more courts, fields, and athletes while driving real disruption in how sports are played and consumed.

Tags: sports tech , Dave Famolari , PlaySight , data and analytics