Every year the tennis season is at its peak when the French Open and Wimbledon are being played right after each other. Reason enough for us to take a deeper look into the TennisTech landscape, asking ourselves what kind of innovative solutions exist out there. One of the things we found out: Tennis was the first sport to implement a line calling system in major events (2008). This system, called Hawk-Eye, is still in use to this day, and recently replaced line judges in major events. Despite the early adoption of this technology, Tennis Tech startups only started to emerge in recent years. Interestingly enough, Roger Federer, one of the all-time best tennis players, sees tech as an important factor for success in today’s tennis. In a recent interview, he claims that tech can help tennis to be more exciting for viewers and to gain more popularity globally.
This article was written in collaboration with Elad Stern, who’s tennis tech savvy and a growth expert. It was a pleasure to work with you Elad, thanks a lot!
We have screened TennisTech startups all around the globe and analyzed them according to our SportsTech Framework. Our findings show that over 60% of the startups were founded in the last 5 years, with a total investment of about $90M. In the following paragraphs we dive a bit deeper into the topic.
Activity & Performance
We found that most traction in TennisTech came from startups that are developing Smart Courts technologies. Smart Courts are standard tennis courts, which are fully equipped with automated cameras that record, stream and analyze all of the on-court actions. The technology uses image processing and analytical algorithms to track strokes, ball trajectories, player movements and shot speed. Potentially, Smart Court technology will replace physical officials in future tennis events. Several startups developing Smart Court Technology have already begun getting positive traction. Playsight Interactive, for example, is backed by VC’s such as Verizon Ventures, Softbank Ventures and even well-known tennis legends, such as Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Pete Sampras, Tommy Haas and Novak Djokovic. Playsight Interactive has managed to raise $21M in April 2018, and currently operates the largest number of smart courts around the globe. Other interesting startups focusing on Smart Courts Technology are the Finland based Zenniz, Spain based Foxtenn, France based Mojjo which announced a second funding round of $450K in Feb 2019, German based Wingfield which got a seed round of $1.35M in July 2018 and Israel based Baselinevision which got a seed round of $625K in Dec 2018.
In the Activity & Data Analytics section we see solutions that automatically capture and process data, like LVision, Zlam, and Dartfish, but also various offerings that target the wrist of the players, by offering apps for watches. Examples of these are BestShot or SmashPoint. Coaching & Preparation holds typical offerings such as explanatory videos (e.g. Tennis Assistant) or offerings that improve the collaboration between players and coaches (e.g. Tech Tennis or SevenSix).
Management & Discovery
The Marketplace sub sector is gaining positive momentum, especially regarding startups that are trying to solve a problem many tennis players face: who should I play with, when and where? Several funded startups are developing an efficient user friendly way to connect tennis partners and tennis courts. For example, the Swiss based GotCourt connects tennis players and tennis courts with a user friendly mobile app, which raised a total of $2M, with a last round of $1M in June 2018. Another good example is Deuce Tennis, a London based “AirBnB for Tennis”, which received funding recently(of an undisclosed amount) by none other than Andy Murray, Britain’s greatest tennis player of all time.
In the sub sector Organisation, Universal Tennis has been gaining a lot of traction. It evolved from a tennis rating system called UTR (Universal Tennis Rating) to a tennis platform for players, organizers, and coaches. In 2018 Universal Tennis announced new ownership and a series of strategic partnerships which includes the Tennis Channel and Oracle. In early 2019 Novak Djokovic joined Universal Tennis as a partner. The rest of the sub sector mainly consists solutions that help club and event/tournament managers to organize their businesses. One great example is the Los Angeles based Kourts, who received a funding of $3.8M.
Media & Fans
While the previous sectors are full of various startups, we didn’t find as many in Media & Fans. One of the main reasons for this might be because many news pages, live tickers, betting pages etc. have a variety of different sports in their offerings, while we are looking for tennis specific solutions for this article. We still managed to find some interesting ones despite this.
In the News & Content section, we see a typical mix of live tickers and articles on current happenings in the scene. For Fan Engagement we found Bleachr, a mobile app for fan engagement which worked with tennis events such as Rogers Cup. Also, we found that the organizers for the Roland Garros and Wimbledon are putting a lot of resources into tech innovations in order to boost fan engagement during the tournaments. For example, Roland Garros which occurred last May announced tech partnership with Infosys. Infosys system, allowed organizers to share match insights based on data analytics. Moreover, Infosys developed augmented reality and virtual reality( AR / VR) environments which allow fans to experience what it is like to play in the Roland Garros Center Court.
For Fantasy Sports & Betting we see established giants like Draft Kings having tennis specific offerings but also new players getting into the market, such as Tennis Prophet. We didn’t see any tennis only betting apps in the market (as betting companies typically offer various sports) but we did find Top Tennis Tips, a website that gives predictions for upcoming matches.
For the eSports sector, we did not find any tennis specific offerings. What we found was an event, the Roland Garros eSports tournament, called “RGeSeries”, with participants from 10 countries and prize money of $11K. The event is sponsored by the French bank BNP Paribas and the finals took place at the same time as the Roland Garros. There is definitely some room for improvement in this sector.
Note: Some companies cover two or more sectors/subsectors. For the purpose of this overview, they were assigned to only one.
We see a lot of different applications in TennisTech these days, with a clear focus on two areas: 1) In the Activity & Performance sector, where the game is actually happening, we see many offerings that try to make the court smarter or solutions that track the activities optically or via different kinds of wearables (preferably smartwatches and equipment that can be attached to the rackets).
2) In the Management & Discovery sector we see a lot of traction regarding startups with classic marketplace model and offerings that promise to improve the lives of people who are on the organizational side of things.
In the other areas, however, there is room for improvement. We only found one solution in Fan Engagement and Social Platforms that was specifically tailored to tennis. That field is wide open. And eSports offerings for tennis are slim.
The potential for mainstream adaptation of tech in tennis is big, so we’re waiting for courageous entrepreneurs, players, event organizers, and media companies to go for it. Game, Set and Tech!