Sports stars come out to play

How Artificial Intelligence is helping fans get closer to their idols.

Pickstar is a platform that opens up access to many of Australia’s biggest sports stars to the fans and the general public. It enables mums and dads to engage the likes of Caitlin Bassett, Dustin Martin, Sam Kerr, Hugh Bowman and over a thousand other stars across the sporting spectrum to attend a fundraising event, birthday party or even their backyard barbecue.

“Most people put sports stars on a pedestal, seeing them as either out of touch or too expensive to engage for an event,” Pickstar’s co-founder James Begley told ISB. “Many of Australia’s sportspeople – both the huge names and those just establishing themselves or who play sports that receive less coverage but who are, nevertheless, stars in their own right – want to get out and about in the community and support causes they’re passionate about.”

Alongside the perceived cost of engaging stars, Begley realised they were difficult to get hold of. Agents and managers invariably have many stars on their books, and having to constantly deal with contracts, media requests and so on can mean lots of time spend on hold or unreturned phone calls. He saw the opportunity for a centralised marketplace with instant, open lines of communication between those who want to engage sports stars, the athletes themselves and their representatives.

Through the platform stars can be booked for local events for just a couple of hundred dollars through to large-scale public engagements or product launches with endorsement budgets of thousands.

Begley, co-founder of Pickstar alongside recently retired AFL great Matthew Pavlich, says that the platform’s instant success and rapid growth comes down to technology.

The dashboard is the platform the athletes use to view all the opportunities available. In the same way that prospective homebuyers can filter properties by location, number of bedrooms etc. on real estate.com, athletes can filter opportunities by budget, location and commercial type (whether, for example, it is an in-person appearance, a social-media engagement, a school clinic or a birthday party. If the athlete sees an opportunity they like, they then apply for a role.

Opportunities advertised that stipulate specific stars make up only a small percentage of requests, although many opportunities are posted with a shortlist of preferred talent. If an athlete is specified as being sought after for a particular opportunity they are notified, both via the dashboard and the “talentside” app that all the registered athletes have access to by download to their mobile device.

“Many of Australia’s sportspeople…want to get out and about in the community and support causes they’re passionate about.”

This technology has enabled many opportunities to be completed within two hours of the initial expression of interest being made. Athletes are notified the second an opportunity is posted, and clients are notified the second an athlete registers interest, and the client can decide whether or not to confirm the booking.

Once a client has made a booking they and the athlete(s) booked are linked to each other via an instant messaging service so they can finalise minutiae (how early to arrive, where to park etc.) That instant messaging service is disabled the moment the event has finished.

After the event Pickstar focus on client feedback, sending an instant survey that firstly ascertains the event has actually taken place (so Pickstar know to pay the talent) and also a questionnaire on the quality of the service provided.

A growing number of Pickstar requests are not physical appearances – they can be posting video messages, providing testimonials, or brand alignment on a website. And many clients have hybrid engagements that involve more than one form of engagement – perhaps attendance at an event backed up by a series of posts on an Instagram page. The technology allows athletes to see and understand whatever is required at first glance, and decide whether or not they want to be involved.

This state-of-the-art booking management platform was launched in June 2018, the in-house development team, in partnership with the digital agency Pickstar appointed to help get the word about its services out, has launched a range of new features including the Manager Dashboard and the aforementioned Talent app.

The Manager dashboard allows talent managers to use PickStar’s platform and engage with commercial opportunities with and on behalf of their talent.

The app makes it easier for PickStar talent to engage with booking requests. Athletes are instantly notified of any requests, and can respond to clients instantly – this has resulted in an increasing number of bookings being completed within minutes of the client first registering the opportunity. Through the app, athletes can apply for any other opportunities they’re interested in and manage existing bookings, payments and their live profile.

Begley tells us that the website and the app are in constant development, with many other exciting technology projects and features in the pipeline. Many of these enhancements are due to the fact that Pickstar are harnessing the possibilities presented by Artificial Intelligence.

“One of the critical parts of identifying the right talent for an opp is having a rich data set to draw upon,” Begley says. “The system crunches all the data on the nature, location and budget of the opportunity, and the previous experience of all the talent on Pickstar’s books to identify the most suitable talent. As soon as the request is lodged the system identifies the most suitable talent on the database and notifies all the appropriate talent that there’s an opportunity they may be interested in.”

Pickstar’s system relies on a central algorithm that assesses four key criteria:

  • Availability.
  • Location.
  • Budget.
  • Passion (whether the opportunity is of a type that the athlete favours – public speaking, interacting with kids, and so on).

The ability to instantly process large amounts of data means the platform can target athletes who might be interested in each opportunity as soon as it is posted, and advise them accordingly. That means those looking for talent do not have to ascertain who looks after different athletes, try to make contact with them and then establish whether or not they’re interested and, if so, whether or not they are available – they rapidly get notification of all this information online.

Having started as a series of arrows and bubbles on a piece a paper while Begley was having a coffee in late 2012, Pickstar is now leveraging cutting edge technology to connect sporting stars with their adoring fans.

Tim Ladhams, Editor, Inside Small Business.

This story first appeared in issue 23 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine.

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