December 1, 2010

C.U. Alumni Create Prediction-Based Sports App

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Social norms dictate that when it comes to professional sports, fans know better than the coaches on the sidelines — or at least like to think they do.

After all, wagers have been made, money has changed hands, and football savvy has been called into question based on the outcome of a few plays on the field.

Now, due to the efforts of three Cor­nell alumni, fantasy sports gurus and fans alike have the opportunity to prove that they do, in fact, know best.

Pre Play Sports — a start-up company co-founded by former Sun columnist Andrew Daines ’10 and former Sun Editor in Chief Emily Cohn ’10 — allows iPhone/iPad/iPod users to predict what will happen next in a live NFL game.

As Daines, company CEO, ex­plained, the idea for the app sprang from his experience at a Yankees/Nationals game in June 2009.

Sitting in the bleachers and “watching the Yankees get killed” in the eighth inning, Daines started shopping ideas with his friend about how to keep people engaged after the seventh in­ning. Looking around, he noticed that almost everybody was on their cell phone — not actually disengaged from the game, but checking scores and stats.“We were thinking about ways to capture value, make it more interesting, and kind of came up with Pre Play from there,” Daines said.

In addition to Daines and Cohn, chief marketing officer, the company also boasts a third Cornellian — Matt Maxwell, a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in oper­ations research. “He’s like … the brain,” Daines said. “He came up with this amazing scoring algorithm that when you play the app you kind of get a feel for … it’s essentially the more risk you take, the more reward you can also get — but it’s not, strictly speaking, gambling. It’s really based on the history of the NFL.”

Daines detailed the process through which they developed the app: “We had the idea, we did a lot of market research, we realized there wasn’t anything out there … in the mobile space.”

From there, the team was able to raise a little bit of money from family friends and scrape together some of its own — enough to pay for a prototype that a development agency in New York helped create by implementing Maxwell’s scoring algorithm.

The prototype was met with lots of enthusiasm, enabling Daines and co. to “raise quite a bit more capital to create the beta version.”

Actually getting the app into the Apple store, however, presented more of a challenge.

“[Around] Sept. 2 it was pretty much done, and the NFL didn’t start until Sept. 12, so we thought we had plenty of time for Apple to review the app and then submit it,” Daines said. “But they actually fouled up and by accident tested the app on airplane mode.”

Since the app requires Internet, this blunder delayed the release by about two weeks.

“Regardless, we were really excited to have it on the store by Week 2 of the NFL season,” Daines said.

The app is currently free and Daines expects it to remain so, though, “if by some turn of events we have 10 million users and we have to say ‘Hey, stop downloading so much,’ we’ll make it like $10 or something.”

As for where the revenue comes from?

“The short answer is we don’t make any money right now,” Daines explained. “We’re in what you call a product-development phase. Most companies don’t make money in their first couple years anyway, so we’re not sweating it too much.”

Next year, however, the group plans to work with the television networks and stadiums to incorporate targeted ads and sponsorships into Pre Play.

“The same time that a commercial comes on T.V., is the same time there’s not that much to do in the app because you can’t predict any plays,” Daines said. “So we fill that commercial time with T.V. broadcasts with similar types of commercials.”

According to the company’s CEO, reception to the app has been “better than we expected,” though that’s not to say Daines and his team haven’t encountered difficulties along the way.

“What we learned is the economics of doing this with the team; teams are a lot of ways big companies, in other ways they’re really just licensing,” he said. “They license their logo, and for you to be associated with the logo, it means you have to pay them. So even though we feel like we’re adding value to fans, sometimes these teams when we talk to them about a deal ask us for money when we think either it should be strictly a cross promotion — so no money changes hands — or they actually pay us. Convincing the teams to pay us is one of the challenges of the business.”

The group, which has its headquarters in New York City, decided to hold off on marketing the app until the release of version 1.4 a couple weeks ago. That said, “The adoption has been really, really strong considering … we haven’t marketed at all,” Daines said. “We’ve had lots of people use the app and love it.”

On Oct. 26, Pre Play Sports was ranked No. 1 on Apple’s list of “What’s Hot” sports apps; it has since eclipsed 10,000 predictions and a global point total of 100,000.

As far as expanding the app beyond football goes, “I’ve got to see this in baseball,” Daines said. “It’s where the idea came from. For timing reasons we started with football, but I would have just as easily started a company around the baseball concept.”

Besides baseball, Daines mentioned college football as a likely pursuit, in addition to soccer, which would also cater to international fans.

The team is currently hard at work to launch the baseball version in coordination with Opening Day on March 31.

“We’ve been … surprised by how many companies and teams see that this is where mobile sports is going, and so we’ve been really excited by all the different companies that have reached out to us,” Daines said.

Original Author: Alex Kuczynski-Brown