Think of Catapult Sports as a start-up a decade in the making because the pioneer of wearable analytics devices for professional sports is reimagining itself as a global, mainstream brand. With recent high-profile investors onboard, the company that serves every AFL team and has a legion in United States NFL, NBA, college sports and even soccer World Cup teams, is set to tilt at the burgeoning consumer market, says chairman Adir Shiffman.
“Think of us as Google Analytics for athletes,” Shiffman says. Pointing to the success of the Scandinavian Polar heart rate monitoring platform, Shiffman says the path from industrial to consumer applications “is well worn and we’re starting at top end”.
But he is critical of many consumer devices that fail to live up to their hype: “The key to a technology for committed amateurs is to build hardware and software that solves real problems these guys have”. RockHealth, a US analyst sceptical of fitness trackers, found that users disengage from their devices once the novelty wears off. And despite analysts Endeavour Partners finding that 10 per cent of American adults with internet access owned an activity tracker, more than half stopped using it within 18 months.
“In the not-too-distant future there will be the opportunity for very committed amateurs to access a version of our platform based on that [used by] the elite guys,” says Shiffman. “It wouldn’t surprise me if down the track this platform offers an open API, a la Salesforce.”
Catapult Sports charges pro teams $100,000 a year for the system that includes player sensor vests, ClearSky arena tracking network (developed with CSIRO), software and cloud analytics. Shiffman says the enormous budgets of US teams means they don’t quibble. Even US high school sports programmes and elite Australian schools are likely customers in the near future, he says.
“There’s not a ‘capacity to pay’ issue with our customers,” he says.
And players, despite early fears they would resist the technology, have been keen: “They’re ultra-competitive.”
Catapult Sports, which grew out of the Australian Institute of Sports and Microtechnology cooperative research centre at the start of the century, is a success story for the “Creative Nation” policy championed by former prime minister Paul Keating. Despite struggling to inspire backing from Australian investors, Shiffman says Catapult’s founders are constantly rebuffing US companies keen to buy out the company.
“Every tier-one venture capitalist in US has approached us to make an investment and we haven’t taken any of those investments and we haven’t entertained any offers. We are endlessly contacted by consumer brands; [an alliance] is not out of the question but it needs to be more substantive to be interesting to us.”
Founders: Shaun Holthouse (CEO), Igor van de Griendt.
Application: 350 professional sports teams worldwide (emerging consumer fitness analytics brand).
Investment: self-funded by revenue; Government grant; $3.5 million series-A; “several millions of dollars” from US investor and pro sports team owner Mark Cuban for 5 per cent of the company.
Location: Docklands, Vic; Dallas, Texas; London, UK.