SportsEngine Tests Scheduler With Pond-Hockey Tournament; Video To Come
The youth-sports–technology platform helps league organizers run their events
The world of youth sports is a busy one, full of volunteers giving up evenings and weekends to help kids have a fun and rewarding experience. Maybe those adults deserve a weekend of their own.
That’s exactly what the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships offer: a time for adults to get together, play outside on the ice with no referees, and be a kid again.
The Championships began in 2006 and were acquired by SportsEngine in 2010. The youth-sport–technology company created a software platform that league organizers use to run all parts of their events. It includes components for building a site, registering teams, and running a tournament. Its features are available through a web interface, and there’s also a mobile version.
SportsEngine was founded in 2008 and acquired by NBC Sports Group last July. Not much has changed since the purchase: the company is still based in Minneapolis but now has wider resources to draw on when creating new features.
This year’s pond-hockey tournament, which took place Jan. 26-29, was the biggest yet, with 2,200 players representing more than 300 teams from 40 states and several Canadian provinces. The event has never had more than 300 teams before. There are no lead-in playoffs to the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships; the whole event occurs over three days and is played on 25 rinks created on Minneapolis’s Lake Nokomis.
Although it might seem odd for a company that creates youth-sport software to run an adult event, there are two good reasons, according to SportsEngine CEO/co-founder Justin Kaufenberg. One, the company believes in the spirit of the event and wants to be the steward of it. And two, it’s a useful testing ground. If the company is going to create products that run tournaments, it’s valuable to go hands-on with its own event. The Championships also allow SportsEngine to test upcoming products, as it did this year.
“We used this as the testbed to roll out the first version of our artificial-intelligence automated scheduling engine, [which handles] 600-plus events,” Kaufenberg says.
The scheduler should save many youth-sports managers from their Excel nightmares: it lets users input a wide variety of variables to create an ideal schedule. For this year’s event, SportsEngine set it to rest two nearby rinks each period so that a Zamboni could efficiently resurface both.
In addition, the scheduler ensured that players had enough time between matches to get to their next rink and also considered individual travel schedules. It passed the test with flying colors, Kaufenberg says, and will now go into beta testing with the company’s 2,500-member user group before becoming commercially available sometime midyear.
SportsEngine also handles videos, which Kaufenberg and his staff wish had been around years ago.
“We’re jealous that we don’t have an on-demand library of our playing time as kids,” he says. “It’s important to kids these days to document these moments and have the video on demand, to have a library and that archived history as well in the event that you can’t catch it live or just want to relive those moments.”
SportsEngine offers two options for video. The lower-tier lets coaches embed clips or add links from popular video-hosting sites, such as YouTube and Vimeo; videos can go on team or player pages. The higher-tier is automated but requires use of a paid video host, such as PlayOn Sports or HockeyTV. Here, coaches can use tags or game IDs to create a fully automated system in which videos show up on appropriate pages.
But good news: a third option is coming. Although Kaufenberg can’t say much about it yet, it will apparently take advantage of NBC Sports Group’s experience to create video hosting within SportsEngine.
“We fundamentally believe that the best experience for youth-sports administrators and volunteers and for moms and dads and athletes,” he explains, “is an integrated suite of products that are all truly the same and not a cobbled together suite of solutions: a single platform technology that can allow rich experiences because of the very native integration.”
Look for more details on the video project in the middle of this year. And don’t be surprised if it’s tested out at the 2018 U.S. Pond Hockey Championships. There’s something special happening out there on Lake Nokomis.
“When you get outdoors and you’re cold and you get the camaraderie of doing it together and meeting new people, playing outside hockey is just good for the soul,” Kaufenberg says. “It’s what we all grew up on and continues to be a great reminder.”