Huddlers Wants to Help Connect Amateur Athletes

There are plenty of places for sports fans to connect online, from forums to social networking groups and email lists, but for people playing sports in non-professional, casual leagues, there’s not really been much in the way of organized connection hubs. Enter Huddlers, a just-launched Toronto startup looking to bring recreational athletes together to help them plan their hobbies and keep in touch with one another, for those crucial moments when you’re down a goalie or your competitive soccer team needs a new all-star striker.

Huddlers founder Adam Epstein is a lawyer by trade, but got the idea for his sports-focused startup playing basketball through various recreational leagues during university and after he graduated. “I played basketball my whole life growing up, and I was a pretty good player coming out of high school,” he said. “I tried to get in a bunch of men’s leagues in Montreal, and even though I would’ve been an asset to any of those teams, I’m just ‘Adam E.’ trying to join these teams.”

The idea then with Huddlers is to provide a way for amateur athletes to basically carry around a ready-made resume, which they can then pull up and show to others as a way to prove they’d be a good fit for their team. Huddlers does this not by requiring that users do anything time-intensive and hard to manage like keeping track of stats, but instead by allowing members to nominate themselves for various awards specific to their chosen sport, and then having other members endorse them. So, for example, if twenty of your friends recommend you as a “Defensive Stopper” in basketball, others will know you’re probably pretty good at playing defense.

While its match-making abilities are one of the key differentiators for Huddlers from others attempting to organize rec league sports online, that’s not the only thing the site offers. Users can also completely manage play schedules, bookings, teams and pick-up games from the site, and Epstein has also built in a product recommendation tool to help athletes find the right equipment, which could also eventually become a solid revenue opportunity for the startup.

“For every sport that you select, you set the products and equipment that you use,” he explained. “We’ve created a database through site-scraping software of about 10,000 products for 25 different sports, and each is categorized by sport, brand, model, type and an image for that. We’re the only site where you now have products tied to the athletes themselves.”

For athletes, this makes it possible to check out what the competition is using, and make and receive recommendations on, for example, the best basketball shoes available or the best kneepads for volleyball players. For Huddlers, this could become a prime opportunity to work with brands in the future for marketing tie-ins, like providing sponsored slots to feature equipment or providing data to sporting good stores about which products are most popular.

Another route to making money from the site will be getting leagues to sign up to use the Huddlers software as their online presence and scheduling tool. Epstein says that for now, however, the company is focused firmly on building up the user base in order to be able to go to leagues with a big pool of players already on board, since he’s found that leagues are skeptical about signing up to use new tools without a clear sense of exactly what kind of benefits it will offer. With players built-in, however, Huddlers can offer leagues additional sales opportunities, as well as analytics about what sports and venues are popular, what players are looking for teams, and more.

In terms of competition, there are lots of sites out there that offer league management, like Bluefields, and social networks for athletes, including LockerDome. Huddlers is unique in that it provides one-stop shopping for both, and also focuses more on building actual practice-based credentials, instead of just providing a vanity platform for amateur athletes to crow about their perceived accomplishments.

The Huddlers platform is solid, easy to use and mobile versions are on the way. It’s also a big opportunity; Americans spent around $40 billion on sporting goods last year alone, as one indicator of the consumer interest in the market. The site is starting with 21 sports, and plans to add more, so athletes of almost every stripe should be covered. The challenge will be adding on enough users that leagues start adopting the platform, which will in turn help push growth further, and eventually get brands paying attention, but all the right pieces are in place off the starting block.

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