Image courtesy of Rave On Sports

Rave On Sports’ app where fans vote and comment on game plays in real time.

You can’t launch a sports social media app when nobody is playing sports. That was the unexpected roadblock facing Rave On Sports as it began ramping up for launch a couple of years ago. The Lexington-based startup publicly released its app, which allows fans to vote and comment on individual game plays in real time, just as the pandemic began shutting down sporting events in March 2020.

Now ready to start rolling with the 2022-23 sports seasons, the pre-revenue startup is recruiting sports influencers to join in its conversation and is developing an AI-based video analysis service for coaches and athletics staff.

We spoke to Rave On co-founders and managing partners James Clark and Brittany Harris about what they hope to add to sports fandom and the challenges of launching a tech startup in the heart of the Bluegrass.

How did you come up with the idea for this kind of experience, where fans get to vote on calls and plays within a game?

Harris: We were really frustrated that fans do not have a good way to say how they feel about the game. And, really, the only apps out there that say they’re fan-driven don’t really care about how things feel. So you know, they don’t really know what’s the best part of the game or the calls that make fans most passionate. … On traditional sports apps, you spend maybe seven minutes. On our app, fans stay over 118 minutes per session, and two to three sessions per week.

It’s an actual text-based feed of everything that happens during the live game segmented by play. So you can vote on everything that happens during the game. … What’s special about these chats is that they’re hosted by sports influencers, podcasters, YouTubers and even former players, so you can actually get in there, talk to them, and ask them questions.

As you mention, the app is largely text-based at the moment. Are there plans to add video and other features?

Harris: We are going to add video into the app. The first phase of that video will be sports influencer-driven content. So, their videos before and after the game. Our goal is to really not distract from the live game, but to enhance it. So we don’t really want to have a video where you’re watching somebody else talk during the game or listening to somebody else’s audio … texting, you can look up at the game on another screen at the same time, so we feel like that’s more successful.

You also are working on relationships with some collegiate athletic conferences for intelligence gathered from your community?

Clark: We are reaching out to different [NCAA] Division I conferences, particularly around basketball right now, for one of our other products, which is an AI-based video editing software. It’s a tool that we’re trying to create pilots with so that the athletes, coaches, or admins can easily break down game film into clickable moments–whether it’s for their athletic department on the social media side–to export them quickly, search for it quickly, or as a coaching tool.

So is the AI based on the feedback your fans provide in the app, or some other dataset?

Clark: It’s a combination. The fan voting feature inside the app does have the ability to influence how the AI goes through the clips. And using a couple of different methods – crowd noise, things of that nature – we can gauge excitement levels that plays have inside the game.

The voting feature is kind of secondary to that. If lots of people in the app vote on a play, it can help the AI learn that this is a very key moment in the game, whether it’s the highlight clip or, you know, a referee call that everyone thought was missed. … So we are still building that out.

What are the main sources of revenue you are targeting in the near term?

Harris: We’re building an ad engine into the app and our first source of revenue will be what we call sports breaks or shout outs. These are text shout outs inside our chat room given by the sports influencers. So a former player saying, you know, ‘Here’s the coupon for Chick-fil-A’ or whatever, that might be in the future. And so we are going to be selling sponsorships to these highly targeted chat rooms, and we will give an ad revenue split to the sports influencers.

Clark: After we go through a pilot program on the video editing software, we plan to make that a licensed part of the business and have its own revenue streams as well. As we build out the user base there on the app side, there’s definitely the potential to put things in there that are related to fantasy sports, sports books, things like that, which can become their own revenue streams.

How has being based in the Lexington area helped shape Rave On’s trajectory?

Harris: The startup community is so kind to each other here. We share resources. We’ve had great collaborations with some new startups, too, that we’re going to be working with. And people have given us really great ideas for marketing and development. We have had some really great investors.

We’re kind of outside of what I think people traditionally invest in in Kentucky; we’re kind of sports tech. Kentucky has primarily been a lot of agriculture, a lot of bourbon, but that’s really kind of changing right now. And there are a lot of new businesses and new ideas coming out of Kentucky.