Not all startups are brand new companies housed in some student’s garage. HockeyTech is one of those companies that doesn’t fit the usual mode.
An amalgamation of five separate small companies, HockeyTech is an attempt by former Florida Panthers chief executive Stu Siegel to put together a one-stop shop for hockey analytics.
Comprised of RinkNet (player management), ISSHockey (scouting system), LeagueStat (statistics provider), NextTesting (skills assessment) and FastHockey (video streaming), HockeyTech is aiming to deliver a full suite of services to big and small leagues around North America.
Siegel has spent the past three years acquiring the companies and molding them together into a single organization based in Waterloo. Chief operating office Jim Price, originally the founder of RinkNet, sat down to discuss how the amalgamated startup is going to work.
What’s Siegel’s interest in all these startups?
His previous success was in technology. He had a number of online websites and [software-as-a-service] businesses in the States and he cashed in on the dot-com bubble, so to speak. He was interested in hockey too and had an ownership stake in the Florida Panthers for a few years, before selling that interest. He’s a serial entrepreneur, but he wanted to stay in hockey so he bought ISS three years ago.
That’s how he met me, because they were a client, so we started talking about RinkNet and we went from there. He didn’t really intend to be in Canada, but the largest company that he bought, which was RinkNet, was here so that’s how that happened.
When did RinkNet start?
About 1999. We do database systems for hockey teams, mainly scouting. An NHL team may have two dozen scouts who just go watch hockey all day. In our program, they do their schedule, evaluations, list for the draft, depth charts. We’ve had our program in 29 of the 30 NHL teams for several years and it spread to the CHL.
That’s been a bit of a vehicle for us to deliver some of these other products as well. Once you put them together, you realize that some of them had great technology but didn’t really have a way to get the word out.
Is incorporating all these companies your primary job now?
Yeah, right now, for sure. One company was used to Microsoft tools and another open source, so it’s all those kinds of things, the nuts and bolts. There wasn’t a lot of overlap but there was a bit and a lot of it fit quite nicely. Now it’s upselling – going to one customer that had a product over here and selling them something else.
There’s opportunity, but there’s challenges too because we’ve grown so fast over the last little while.
How many employees are you now?
We’re 50. They’ve got about 10 in Boston and about 40 here.
As if that wasn’t enough, we’ve been working with the University of Waterloo to do a location-tracking system so that the player on the ice will wear a chip that we can track. That’s more an R&D project at this point, so that we can come up with a product we can sell.
What’s the purpose of the project?
Right now in all sports, analytics is the big catch phrase. In hockey we’re behind because of the data – there just isn’t as much. A lot of the people who have been doing analytics have mainly been using video, which is the human eye looking at things, or a statistician at the game. It’s kind of behind the times that way. This will automate some of that and do things we can’t do now.
Something like puck possession is a big deal, but they don’t really have a way to measure that. They have proxies, but it doesn’t really physically tell you. It’s a great opportunity really because it’s where everything is going.
Are the various leagues resistant to adopting new technology?
No. When we had a press conference here recently, we had the Toronto Maple Leafs send two people out, we had the Canadian Hockey League, the local Kitchener Rangers were out. People are interested in what you can do. A lot of it is still at the exploratory stage. People don’t know what they want because they don’t know what’s available.
What did you do before RinkNet?
I started working full time in the hockey industry in 1985. I worked for a team in the OHL, in Hamilton and they moved to Niagara Falls. Then I got a job with the CHL – I was actually the first full-time employee – and worked there for a few years.
I was going to get out of the hockey business and get into technology because that’s what I had taken in school – I thought I should do something with this computer stuff – but I didn’t because I got contacted by some NHL teams. They said they’d heard I was in computers and they said they were looking for a scouting program.
My first three customers were expansion teams – Nashville, Atlanta at the time and Columbus. They needed a program, so off I went. I met Stu three years ago.
Is Stu the primary investor?
Yeah, we don’t have any other funding at this point.
How has the reaction been from customers as you try to upsell them to other products?
It’s been good. Some of the sales have been the easy ones where they already used one of the competitors, so it’s just been switching them over. We haven’t had any resistance.
What else is on deck for the future?
We’ve got tons of ideas and business plans that we think we can add in to the new products. I don’t think Stu is done buying companies so we’ll probably get a call one of these days of him saying, “I just bought a new one,” because that’s what he does. That could potentially take us in a new direction. But the analytics is what we think could be our biggest opportunity.
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