Playfinder is bringing an ease to playing sport that’s seeing an increase in grassroots participation across the country

The term ‘grassroots’ sport is used more and more in sporting discussion as governing bodies make increasing efforts to improve facilities available to children and older to offer more accessible sport to those who seek it.

Beyond governing bodies, there are brilliant movements in the UK to bring greater opportunities for sport to those who would otherwise find it hard to come by, and Playfinder are leading the line, with a wonderful venture that looks to offer a simple and easily accessible booking system for aspiring sportspeople.

Jamie Foale, CEO of Playfinder, spoke with Digital Sport to discuss his company in great detail, starting with explaining exactly what they do: “Playfinder started originally as MyLocalPitch back in 2004, where we launched as a result of finding it so difficult to book football pitches, tennis courts, and other sports facilities,” he said.

“My friend and I came out of University and wanted to keep on playing sport and seeing friends, so we looked at the market and found that there were about 90,000 sports facilities out there and only about 10% of those facilities were accessible online, so we thought that if a similar kind of website can revolutionise our industry as much as restaurants and flight bookings, then why can’t it do the same for sports players? And the net benefit of that is getting more people playing sport.”

Jamie expanded on what he discovered in the market, and how Playfinder is looking to change people’s mentality to playing sport by bringing the ease of organisation that the sport booking-site can offer.

Jamie continued: “One of the biggest aspects was the fact that it could be booked online.

“So when we speak to venues our main proposal is just to offer them the ability to publish their availability online so people can find them and see what’s available and book it within a few clicks. We just know that the conversion rate of someone booking a football pitch is about five times better because they can book it instantly rather than going through the laborious process that many people go through.”

The product works and the service is now there on offer to everyone who before might have struggled to book themselves into some exercise or social sport with their friends before. But could this new service offer hope for nations and their hopes at major sport tournaments?

“I think there is definitely a clear link between the quality and the accessibility of facilities within a country and the quality of the professional games and how they’ve performed on the international stage,” Jamie said.

“It’s interesting when you look at someone like Germany who has twice as many astroturf football pitches per capita as England and you look at the differences in the International teams, and I think what’s happening now is there’s a recognition by the governing bodies to make many more facilities available to people right the way from kids at school through to people playing after work. And that will have the biggest impact, especially with the younger ages, it will have a serious impact on what the overall ability of a country can be.”

Jamie added: “We need to see there is a lot of money going into facilities and then that they are being made more accessible online. We’ve just won a contract with the football foundation, the largest funder of football pitches in the UK, to provide their pitches with booking software so that they can be found and booked instantly, and I think the funding bodies now are providing the digital infrastructure.”

So we could have new systems in place that improve the average standard of performance in our country amongst multiple sports, but how does the technology work?

“The tech that underlines our services is relatively simple at heart. It’s just aggregating the availability data of sports facilities that are out there, and we do that in two ways. We plug into existing booking software, often the kind of property management software of the big leisure centres, and we also have our own booking system that we give to independent clubs and schools so that they can upload their availability and sell it through Playfinder.

“Just through that simple data aggregation you’re able to show a customer or a sports player what exactly is available within their local area, and we have launched the industry first search-by-time which makes us the only platform in which the user can actually search for a specific time, and that again has a huge impact on their likelihood of making a booking and therefore playing a game.

“Users who book with search-by-time feature are about 3x more likely to make a booking than if they don’t, so you can see that there’s a tangible impact there. And then our platform is really across iOS, Android and the website, and we’re quite keen to make sure that anyone searching is able to access the service.”

Technology and the ease of getting things done can only be a good thing for sport, right? Well, it should be considered whether increased technology advancements are perhaps lowering people’s willingness to go outside because gaming is now so developed and broad. The question was put forward to Jamie:

He replied: “I think we can see there is definitely a link between more technology and sport, and we see that with YouTubers that get millions of hits per video on their gaming videos. One YouTuber did one of their videos that at one of our venues and brought loads of hits to our website, and those are from younger millennials who are used to seeing the kind of YouTuber gaming on their channel, but also showing a real interest in playing football as well.

“So there is that kind of influencer effect for sure. But more generally we do see the frequency with which people play sport going up quite a lot, because if you make something easier to do, people will do it more often.”

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