SFU alumni snag prize for app that drives sports fan engagement

December 14, 2015

By Allen Tung

At this year’s SportsHack held at SFU’s Segal Building at the Vancouver campus, a team featuring SFU alumni has created an innovative app that team members say will boost fan engagement in the world of spectator sports.

SportsHack, which SFU is a host partner, is a 48-hour hackathon that brings together teams of hackers annually in cities across Canada to compete in developing innovative sports-related software solutions.

This year’s more than 170 participants in Vancouver, Toronto and Halifax were given access to the Canadian Football League's statistics, video and website analytics. They were challenged to develop real-world technologies designed to drive the league’s fan engagement, ticket sales and social media.

SFU alumni Jay Kulkarni (computing science), Andy Wong (economics) and Kevin Chua (Beedie business), and UBC business and computer science student Godot Bian developed 110 Yards, an app designed to engage fans during breaks in action.

The app won them a second-place $2,500 cash prize and incubation support from Ryerson University’s iBoost Zone and other support services to bring their app to market.

The 110 Yards team estimates a typical sports game features up to 60 minutes of total breaks where fans at home are watching advertisements and fans in the stadium are experiencing a void.

“We wanted to build a platform that would engage and educate CFL fans during breaks and commercials to improve their overall experience,” says Kulkarni, who graduated in 2012 with a master’s. “We also wanted to convert casual fans into hardcore fans.

“Our solution introduces gamification to the CFL experience in order to increase user engagement for fans watching live in the stadium, at home on TV and at the pub.”

The app leverages statistical data from sports leagues such as the CFL to ask prediction questions or pose trivia questions about how the game works. Advertisers can also use the platform to learn about the audience through survey questions.

If users are unsure about their answers, they can look at answers that others are choosing in real-time.  Both accessing the app and answering questions correctly unlocks rewards such as free prizes and discounts for season tickets or fan merchandise.

Kulkarni says they hope to bring their app to market before the start of the 2016 CFL season in June.

“Our vision of the app is to collaborate with third-party partners and services to enhance user engagement and help more fans connect with the game,” he says. “There’s also the possibility of expanding this to other sports such as hockey, soccer and basketball.”

Also winning at SportsHack were Fanalytics from Toronto and Impact Replays from Vancouver, which took first place and took third place respectively. 

"Local teams executed on a phenomenal opportunity provided by the CFL," says SportsHack judge Brenda Irwin, managing partner of Relentless Pursuit Partners. "I was amazed at how code, creativity and teamwork converged into products that, as both an investor and football fan, I could get excited about.

“Groups zoned in on developing modern experiences that are guaranteed to jazz passionate fans of the sport while also creating and engaging new football fans. In addition to national podium winning teams 110 Yards and Impact Relays, shout out to Hype Up, another member of Vancouver's top three picks. They all slayed the hackathon."

Ian Hand, SportsHack mentor and executive director of SFU’s Innovation Office and VentureLabs adds, “SportsHack 2015 brought hackers together to solve real world problems for the CFL and teams in Halifax, Toronto and Vancouver rose to the challenge.

“The winning teams not only conceptualized innovative fan engagement products and services, but they built them using real world data and state-of-the-art big data tools in less than 48 hours. The judges, mentors and event team were amazing. We’re looking forward to the next innovation challenge.” 

The 110 Yards team (left to right): Kevin Chua, Godot Bian, Andy Wong and Jay Kulkarni