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The Future of Sports: Kalin Stanojev of GameOn Technology On The New Emerging Technologies That Are Disrupting The World Of Sports

An Interview With Tyler Gallagher

New technologies have changed the way we engage in and watch sports. Sensors, Wearable Tech, Video Assistant Referees (VAR), and Instant Replay, are examples of new technologies that have changed the way we play and watch sports. In this interview series called, “The Future of Sports; New Emerging Technologies That Are Disrupting The World Of Sports,” we are talking to sports leaders, athletes, sports tech experts, and sports equipment companies who can talk about the new technologies that are reshaping the sports world.

As a part of this interview, we had the pleasure of interviewing Kalin Stanojev.

Kalin Stanojev is Founder and CPO of GameOn Technology. After graduating from the University of Florida, Kalin has gained extensive experience in product development, with previous positions at Evnt Live and Coincident TV.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I grew up and spent most of my formative years in Gainesville, Fla. — elementary through college, graduating with degrees in computer science engineering and fine arts/design. Go Gators! It was tough to explore the job market at that time, and I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do with those passions of mine. I just knew I wanted to be at the cross-section of engineering and design. So I packed up my car and drove across the country to try and figure it out in the Bay Area. After a lot of interviews, networking, and some consulting gigs in design and dev, I eventually ended up with my first full-time startup job at Coincident TV. The company was started by David Kaiser and Bruce Schwartz, both brilliant and incredibly successful engineers and entrepreneurs. Being there was an incredible learning experience. It was there that I met my co-founder, Alex Beckman, and after a few years we jumped off to start Evntlive, the first of our two companies.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Coincident TV was located in the penthouse of the old Sears building in San Francisco’s Mission District. The workspaces were essentially the living room and the bedrooms, while the server room was actually in a full bathroom (working and occasionally used). As it turned out, it was actually Harriet’s apartment and rooftop from the movie “So I Married an Axe Murderer.”

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You are only as good as your word.” While I’m sure I’ve heard the quote in a number of contexts, it really stuck with me when one of my friends said it to his 5-year-old son. I think it’s applicable in nearly every aspect of life — from personal to business — and it speaks to the importance of trust and communication in any relationship, which is what the world is built on at the end of the day.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’m grateful to a number of people but I’d want to thank Matthew and Susanna Fassberg, whom I cold emailed on a lead from a family friend who only knew that they produced “cool and innovative stuff.” They gave me a chance to work on a number of projects with some big clients, even as I figured things out on the fly. I’d drive each morning from Redwood City up to their house in Marin, work as much as they’d let me, and often stay for dinner with their kids and crash on the couch when working late. They were incredibly kind, and I really got to connect with them as people. I’d love for them to know how much it meant to me during a time when I was trying to figure everything out. Ultimately, it was them that opened the doors that led me to where I am today.

Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I’m a big reader and a bit of a film nut, so that’s a tough one. But one that sticks out is a DVD boxset that collected the short works of Michel Gondry, Chris Cunningham, and Spike Jonze, which mostly focused on music videos. The collection itself is amazing, and each director’s works blending storytelling and innovative techniques in unique ways. But I was most moved by a number of Gondry’s videos, like “Star Guitar” by The Chemical Brothers and “Sugar Water” by Cibo Matto. In addition to being entertaining and inspiring art, it really showed me how empowered one can become when creativity and an understanding of technical tools come together. It showed me that you can come up with new, off-the-wall ideas that don’t have a precedent, and that you can make them come to life.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Belief: You really have to believe in yourself before you can expect anyone else to. The combination of ambition and believing in your creative abilities have always been the key ingredients in taking something from an idea (which anyone can have) to reality (which is much harder to execute). I doubt I would’ve packed up my car and driven across the country without a job if I didn’t believe in myself enough to figure it out.

Pride (and the ability to set it aside): You have to care more about the quality of your work than anyone else. I’ve always enjoyed what I do and I’ve always had an eternal drive to make things perfect and get lost in the details. If you work only to satisfy those around you — and care only as much about your work as you have to — you’ll find it sets a ceiling pretty quickly. On the flip side, if you’ve committed to something as a team and even if you were on the other side of the decision, you need to set your pride aside and always give it everything you have. Pride has nothing to do with having the best idea or winning an argument. Great ideas can come from anywhere and the best ones should always win out. This is about creating your own standard for yourself and living up to it no matter what you are doing.

Empathy: There is always a person on the other side who has a life as complicated and volatile as yours on any given day. Taking the time to really get to know the people you work with, understand them, and find ways to support and connect with them is what creates a family in the office. You are going to run into rough patches, make mistakes, and find yourself searching for help. When you, your co-worker, or your team find yourselves in those moments, it helps to have family around.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’d like to believe I’m only getting started in this regard. I’m involved in some local and personal causes that I care about and to which I have given a lot of time over the years, like as a mentor to engineering students at my alma mater. Though it is on more of a personal level, I hope I’m always doing as much as I can. Looking at it from the perspective of our current company, I’d like to continue to find ways that the technology can help support and scale the efforts of organizations that are focused on trying to make our world more just and equitable. Right now, that comes in the form of partnering with organizations whose values we believe in, and offering our technology, tools, and services to build solutions they wouldn’t normally have the budget for or the scale to deploy. A recent example of this was our work with Rock the Vote.

Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about the sports technologies that most excite you at the moment? Can you explain why you are passionate about it?

The areas I’m most excited about at the moment are the personalization of sport, and the evolution of content, data distribution, and ownership. As far as technologies, I think those are mostly vehicles for innovation at the moment. Conversational AI, more holistic and immersive app experiences, NFTs, real-time data collection, and streaming fragmentation, as well as even bigger incoming changes, are causing massive business shifts and market experimentation. Consumers are suddenly “owning” highlights. Team applications are now supporting the entire fan experience — from content engagement to gamification to finding a lost item. Conversational AI is maturing and enabling brands to scale those “app” experiences into a unique conversation with each fan. Startups are able to sell streaming options for the highlights of a particular game. There’s also the spread of legalized gambling and other exciting trends. There is a lot of innovation right now, some growing from novel technology and some from market experimentation. I’m excited to see how that all collides

How do you think this might change the world of sports?

I think traditional broadcasts, which will continue to evolve, are going to have to follow the current. Right now that is continuing to break apart providers, services, and the overall scope of what a fan can consume and pay for into smaller pieces. At the same time, consumers don’t want to go to 10 different places to engage with different aspects of a brand (think Team or League). That will probably lead to the consolidation of these concepts among a smaller set of larger providers that eventually win fans over. It ultimately feels like consumer choice will decide the overall direction.

The aggregation of player data is going to have a huge impact on how teams approach talent and efficiency, but it is also coming at a time when legalized gambling is becoming the norm. As an example, a recent survey showed a 36% increase in fans who are likely to bet on the NFL this year as opposed to last year. As is almost always the case, this is certainly going to have a big impact on advertising and monetization. This will create new models and opportunities in some areas, while devaluing traditional digital advertising in others. As is the case in many industries, balancing hyper-targeting and context with user-data privacy is going to be a challenge.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Like most, I’m a huge fan of Black Mirror. If we are talking about conversational AI in sports, then not so much yet. I believe the biggest issues there surround transparency, consumer expectation setting, and being honest about what really is and isn’t being handled by so-called AI. It sounds great to say “AI” is handling X, but the reality is most approaches to this are still on the rails. And this is a good thing if you want to leverage the tools while protecting your brand. I think we are a ways away from having a compelling “Black Mirror” episode on our hands. That said, I think it is going to become increasingly difficult to tell whether you are conversing with a person or a machine. There certainly are a number of AI issues that have raised flags recently, especially when it is given the capacity to make assumptions and execute on those assumptions. Experimenting with the technology is one thing, but it’s really hard to take something back, especially in the digital world where there is a business objective over everything.

What are the 3 things that concern you about the sports industry today? Can you explain? What can be done to address or correct those concerns?

That’s a tough question. I think embracing innovation is still something that few people actually do and most just wait to follow. There is usually an appetite for innovation when it’s free, but few really want to invest in it. As much as we’ve discussed innovation — technology, business, or ownership paradigms — there are still big forces at play that don’t want things to shift so quickly that they’d lose power.

I am very curious to see how the legalization of sports betting is going to affect the game and how it is presented to the average fan. Will it affect the purity or integrity of the game? There will be a lot of competing incentives. As a fantasy football player, I’m already rooting for absurd scenarios on a Sunday that don’t align with the game, per se. And I can imagine the focus on the different elements within the game, like player stats and shifting odds, will only increase. This isn’t a bad thing, but just something to watch. I think the larger awareness of inequities in sport, which are conversations you’re seeing with the name image likeness (NIL) issue at the college level, appear to be making some strides. But there is still a lot of work to be done there.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I’d like to find ways to inspire huge groups of people, personalized for each in small localized ways where the lift is low and the impact can be made visible and immediate. I truly believe that little changes across a huge population can go a long way. But the trick is really around incentivizing those changes, especially if you’re asking the consumer to pay more or sacrifice something themselves. Electric vehicles, for example, didn’t really take off until Tesla came in and made them sexy. Now people want to drive EVs because they are cool, and the industry as a whole is getting a kick in the right direction. That’s a big one. On the flip side, you never know what the next Ice Bucket Challenge or viral social trend like that will be. I’d love to focus on incentivizing little changes in people’s lives that have a big collective impact. Specifically, I’d like these changes to focus on sustainability, education equality, and the preservation of our natural world.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)

Probably David Kelley, the founder of IDEO. I hope he is reading this!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Keep your eyes peeled for news at the intersection of conversational AI and eCommerce.

Thank you so much for these excellent stories and insights. We wish you continued success on your great work!

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