In any industry, knowing your target audience and their specific needs are necessary not only to acquire business, but retain it over time. Sports are no different. While in more established markets fan loyalty does drive ticket sales, sports teams are seeing more and more issues from lack of fan engagement during games.
South Carolina-based Bandwagon wants to power up the fan experience by using data analytics and market insights to help sports organizations get to know their fans and provide a customizable experience.
Originally set up as a B2C model, CEO Harold Hughes founded the startup in 2014 as a marketplace for sports fans to protect home game advantage — a Stubhub for fans that wanted to sell tickets only to fans of their team. But as they began to grow, Hughes reached out to their customers directly to assess the viability of the idea. Users shared that they would also like to know who would be sitting near them when they bought their tickets — would they be near Facebook friends or family, for example.
That feedback triggered Hughes to pivot Bandwagon into a B2B model where fan identity and experience are prioritized and analytics on attendance and interests can help the team engage further and better with their fans. They are currently focusing on college teams, most recently signing a men’s basketball team from California.
The startup raised a $310,000 funding round earlier this year following the Google for Entrepreneurs Exchange for Black Founders program in Durham, NC. The round was co-led by the Black Angel Tech Fund and Atlanta-based Blue Vista Ventures and will leverage Bandwagon’s expansion into all schools in the ‘Power Five’ conferences — the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — for the 2017-18 football season.
Hughes shares more about his decision to pivot to B2B, what he learned during this past football season, and this best advice to grow as an entrepreneur.
How did you get the idea for Bandwagon?
In May of 2014 I was finishing up my MBA. We were focusing on entrepreneurs, the challenges they faced, and how they got over them. Following that class, I left corporate America and focused on creating my own company.
I’m a huge sports fan. I think sports uniquely connects people, regardless of race, gender, religion, socioeconomic status. If we’re all pulling for the same team, we’re hugging and high-fiving if our star player scores the game-winning goal. I wanted to build a community inside of each stadium. I found that the biggest challenge to creating that community was the secondary ticket market.
That fall we started learning about ticketing markets, and why people buy, where they buy, why they buy, and what they buy. That’s really how we started out under the ticketing market.
You pivoted from B2C to B2B in the last few months. What triggered the change?
By trying to build out the ticketing marketplace, we actually stumbled into the fact that if users are going to use this, they want to know who they’re sitting next to. You think about the last time you planned an event, you wanted to invite the people you wanted to be around; you didn’t want to have random people sitting around you.
However, to do that we would need to know every single person inside every single seat. And that’s when we shifted the focus to fan identity at the beginning of this year’s football season.
We’re building out our blockchain solution to help teams be able to capture the identity of the fans who are showing up on game day so they can personalize their game day experience and also do a better job of engagement with marketing afterwards. We ran our ticket marketplace through the end of this football season and this month, we’ve switched our website over to a B2B that talks about our products and services. There’s a bigger opportunity there.
What’s been the feedback so far following the pivot?
What we’ve seen so far is that teams are trying to figure out, “What other doors can this open?” Bandwagon has created a stadium identity management platform. Platforms are meant to be built on. It’s one thing for me to tell you, “This is your ticket.” It’s another thing for me to tell the team, “Hey, team. This person is going to show up. She likes this, she likes that.”
It’s a complete game changer because you can offer a person a service inside the stadium that fits her needs. Then we’re going to offer another one a different service.
The conversations have been really, really dynamic in how they can continue to use the technology as it evolves to build things on top of it, to where they can capture more wallet share, make a better experience for fans, and overall, really just continue to grow as the technology allows them to.
Are you looking for funding now or in the near future?
We bootstrapped through the end of last year. We went through the Google for Entrepreneurs program last October, and since then we closed our annual round of $310K. Since then we’ve had a bridge round which runs our total funding to date to just under $600K.
What’s the revenue model?
Our revenue model is annual licensing fees for the teams, and then we have a per ticket transaction, or per ticket process amount that allows us to scale up or scale down with the team. This allows us to have a static amount for implementation training and development, and then from there, if we’re dealing with a minor league baseball team, they’re smaller. They may pay less than a massive college football team that pays a little bit more.
What’s your advice to emerging entrepreneurs looking to start their company?
My biggest piece of advice is to collaborate as much as possible. Oftentimes we get into this mindset that someone is going to try and steal our idea or take it from us. Instead, we turn inward, and we don’t share. One of the biggest values that I’ve found is that in sharing with others what I’m building, I’m able to get insights and perspectives that I never would’ve come up with on my own.
When we took the big step of pivoting the company midsummer of 2017, it really came because I had conversations with people about what I could do. When you think about collaboration and getting more people to the table and involved in your decision making, that’s when you’ll start to be able to make decisions that you can really have around 360 degree vantage point on going into it. We’ve been managing the work through that by tapping in the networks in the Southeast and trying to leverage every bit of positive resource that we can.