Financial Review

Melbourne company Catapult Sports hopes the trial of its GPS-tracking technology inside the footballs that will be used in the 2013 AFL pre-season NAB Cup will be the catalyst for it to export its products.

Catapult’s SmartBall technology inserts a microchip – or miniature module – inside a football, and sends data to coaches and fitness staff to monitor ball movement in real time.

SmartBall will be inserted in all the NAB Cup balls and trialled throughout the month-long competition with a view to potentially introducing it in the AFL competition proper in future years.

“We already do a lot of work on the data of tracking the athletes and this will look at the other side of things, the ball, and measure where it goes on the field,” Catapult co-founder Shaun Holthouse says. “So it really completes the puzzle.”

The SmartBall technology complements Catapult’s existing GPS-tracking device that is attached to players via a vest worn underneath their playing jumper, and is used by 17 out of 18 AFL clubs to measure player movement and fatigue during matches and training.

Holthouse and co-founder Igor van de Griendt established the company in 2006 after working on the technology with the Australian Institute of Sport in the late 1990s through the Cooperative Research Centres (CRC) program.

Being in Melbourne, the pair concentrated on the AFL but in recent years have begun exporting the GPS system to teams in the United Kingdom, including the English Premier League, and the United States.

However, Catapult, like many emerging companies, struggled to keep up with demand for its product, so Holthouse and van de Griendt brought in Melbourne entrepreneur Adir Shiffman as chairman last year to help commercialise its products, which are being extended into other ball sports as well as a wireless tracking device developed with the CSIRO.

In the past year, Shiffman says Catapult’s customer list has grown about 40 per cent to 250 sporting teams, including the Dallas Cowboys and Olympique de Marseille in France.

Staff numbers have more than doubled to about 25, including those working in the company’s London and San Francisco offices.

Shiffman says the challenge now is for Catapult to grow at a sustainable rate. “We’ve never had a sales team until now, for example, and now we’re making those outbound calls.”

Catapult has annual revenue approaching $10 million, is profitable and has been funding its expansion through spare cash flow.

Shiffman says the company has had several approaches this year from prospective buyers but adds: “We think we’ve got at least two to three years of extreme growth left in us and then plenty more after that."


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