Keith Newman talks to a money market guru who returned to the Bay to launch a winning hi-tech sports site.

Former money market manager Mike Purchas has swapped codes; rather than providing back-end feeds for trading floors he’s delivering a level playing field for the country’s sports clubs and organisations to get their message out to members and supporters.

Mike Purchas

Sportsground.co.nz, managed from the outskirts of Havelock North, has become one of the country’s largest online sports publishers with millions of page views a week. The owner and the host site, however, remain relatively unknown, as content is mainly served up under the name of local sports clubs or national umbrella groups.

Sportsground.co.nz, now behind 40% of all sports clubs and organisations, recently took out second place behind allblacks.com in the 2012 ESET NetGuide Web Awards for best recreation and sports site, beating Sky and Stuff sport.

Subsidiary site, Sporty.co.nz delivers an overview of the range of content going through the system at any time and can be viewed by sport or region including match schedules, cancellations, results and related news.

Mike Purchas, a former Hawke’s Bay boy, was until a few years ago based in Australia, where he ran a group of companies aggregating financial market price information, returning to the Bay in 2002 to run his business.

A sporting chance

Being familiar with aggregating and publishing content on the internet he began looking for a local opportunity and noticed the sports market was “under serviced and largely neglected because it did not have a lot of money and mostly relied on volunteers.”

The ‘heavy lifting’ or initial development to get Sportsground.co.nz robust enough to cope with future growth began in 2007 with three engineers working from a cottage at the Tuki vineyard. “Building something of this scale is not for the faint-hearted; it took three man-years of development before we even attempted to attract a single customer,” says Purchas.

It was an opportune time to launch in October 2008 as there was a growing expectation everything should be online including draws, cancellations, results and sports news, and only 30% of clubs had a website or a presence on Facebook.

Most were struggling with ‘key man syndrome’ where enthusiastic volunteers establish sites which became largely useless and out of date when the knowledge is not passed on to the next generation.

Once Sportsground.co.nz was stable, the sales and development teams moved to Auckland where the core technology is hosted at an Albany data centre, which delivers ultra fast access to sports content across the nation.

The first task, after identifying every club and school in the country, was a month-long campaign of 10,000 outbound calls to let people know the new service existed.

Filling in the blanks

Subscribers can create their own web site with 100 pages of content, group email, online payment options, tools to drive fundraising, an e-newsletter module, a photo and video gallery, and a secure document storage archive.

“Typically the minutes of meetings, employment agreements, registration forms, member’s lists, newsletters and the like are stored on some volunteer’s home PC and often get lost. Now they can store everything online in a secure database,” says Purchas.

Users can upload news items, sports results and cancellations. “Newstalk ZB has been trying hard to push people to look online for some time; in Auckland, cancellations ran to one hour of a commentator talking very fast. It’s just not practical.”

Purchas refers to the hosting model as ‘freemium’; a free service with users charged for additional components, so far 95% get everything free. Clubs and organisations who add value can customise the look and feel to align with their own branding and marketing. “Once the content is on our servers we can serve it however they want.”

Premium local users include Sports Park Hawke’s Bay (www.sportspark.co.nz), Sport Hawke’s Bay (www.sporthb.net.nz), HB Magpies (www.hbmagpies.co.nz) and Pettigrew Green Arena (www.pgarena.co.nz).

NZRFU registration

Purchas’s company is using the same technology to deliver the New Zealand Rugby Union’s new online registration system. It was trialled during the lead-up to the 2012 rugby season by Hawke’s Bay’s Hereworth School, Lindisfarne College, Havelock North Junior Rugby Club and others.

It’s now being used by every rugby club and school in the country. A number of other sports bodies are likely to follow suit.

While Purchas says the NZRFU is one of the most organised sports bodies in the country, with its own customer relationship management system (CRM), it was still generating and managing pallet loads of paper every year.

Every player from five years old is given a registration number for life, so the union can engage with, support and identify talent and make decisions around the game.

That saw 160,000 pre-printed forms being sent to the unions, who then mailed them to clubs and schools so each player could mark changes before mailing them back for manual data entry. That huge effort was prone to human error, security issues and a raft of other challenges.

“We’ve provided a system that shifts all of that work to a secure link where clubs and schools can register and re-register for each season online.”

Mobile apps ahead

Sportsground.co.nz continues to develop its services, although it’s not into re-inventing the wheel. For example, there was no point in developing a calendar system when Google Calendar had everything needed, or to create video codec handling when YouTube is the perfect video streaming partner.

More flexible payment options are being developed, including direct debit and time-payment for fee collection, along with new social networking links and more interactive apps for smartphones.

Every February the Sportsground.co.nz training team runs workshops around the country to keep people informed and to gather feedback for future product development. “At any point we’re usually about nine months of development hours into the next things on the wish list and what’s most important usually bubbles its way to the top,” says Purchas.

He says the company is going through a continual learning curve dealing with feedback from about 5,000 site editors who administer and update content. “We certainly know pretty quickly if we’ve got it wrong when we make enhancements and changes.”

Purchas says great things are happening in sport all across Hawke’s Bay and a lot of that is down to the C’mon the Bay initiative and the work of the Sport Hawke’s Bay trust, on which he is a trustee. “The kind of thinking that creates parochial pride around sport is fantastic because it draws communities together.”

He says working with schools is similar to sporting organisations, although subsidiary site Schoolground.co.nz has been slower to gain momentum. Every school can have a website with sub-pages for each class with a photo and video gallery.

This allows teachers and parents to have a higher level of engagement with the children. For example when BayBuzz called, Purchas was uncertain whether his daughter’s ‘out of classroom activities’ involved fishing or swimming. “With a classroom page, parents could log in and see what was going on.

From a parental point of view that would be fantastic.”

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