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Posted: June 01, 2014

Sports biz: Improving on the old college try

Stewart Schley

Congratulations, proud parent! Your kid just scored the goal, blasted the home run, swished the three, leapt over the linebacker, won the heat, blocked the kick or chipped it in for birdie to win the tourney. Later than evening, as you burn a fresh DVD highlight reel in your MacBook Pro, you can almost feel that $30k tuition melting away.

But here comes George White, ex-college coach, business executive and all-around connected sports guy, with some advice: Stop right there!

“College coaches don’t recruit from highlight videos,” White says. “Everybody makes great plays. What coaches want to see is full game video.”

And White should know. As the men’s head basketball coach at Virginia State University and an assistant coach at Stanford, Metropolitan State University of Denver and other programs, White spent plenty of time in front of the screen, scoping out prospects and watching what players did not only when they had the ball, but when they did not. Somewhere around the time he mastered the art of the fast-forward — “I can watch a 2 ½ -hour basketball game in 45 minutes,” White quips – he had a business epiphany. There had to be a better way to match up high school athletes with college coaches than pawing through stacks of DVDs and hitting “Play” on scattered YouTube uploads.

White’s Denver-based company, Recruiting Sports Network, hopes to be that very solution. Recruiting Sports matches promising athletes with colleges, helping families navigate a maze of schools, coaches, divisions and skill levels with a level of scale and dexterity that’s new to the game.

Recruiting Sports does it through Web-based tools and mobile apps that draw from a proprietary database of more than 50,000 college coaches plus insider intelligence about everything from what sports are offered where to how well a particular team has performed relative to its division. “There’s a big knowledge void and lack of exchange of key information to help athletes and coaches make the best decision,” White says.

The platform lets athletes upload videos – full games, of course – to a centralized platform. It pre-populates email messages with information coaches are looking for to make judgments about prospects. And it doles out advice about how to find the right academic and athletic fit. If White does his job right, he won’t just make money, but he’ll help curtail the tendency for many student-athletes to experience buyer’s remorse and transfer to new schools after their freshman year.

The economics seem attractive. Out of 8 million or so high school athletes, more than 2 million seniors are legitimate candidates to pursue athletic scholarships or at least qualify for roster spots. As White points out, it’s a market that replenishes itself every year. Recruiting Sports collects fees ranging from the modest – $14 for access to the coaching email database – to the pricey – several hundred dollars for individualized counselling and recommendations. If that sounds high, White notes it’s a bargain compared to college recruitment advisers that charge thousands of dollars on the promise of helping kids get accepted.

White’s Colorado connection comes from a market development role for the Denver Nuggets in the early 1990s. After that, even as he accepted coaching jobs elsewhere, White’s family stayed in Colorado.

The latest wrinkle for Recruiting Sports is a new mobile application for iPhones, with versions for Android devices and iPads on the horizon. White credits his outside development partner, Boulder-based Digital Wasabi, with helping snag the top ranking on Apple’s App Store in the sports-recruitment category. Additional visibility comes from an in-kind exchange deal with the national high school sports publisher Stack magazine. White’s company supplies articles, podcasts and other content in exchange for advertising to a readership of millions.

How’s it all working? White says he’s happy with his progress, although “nothing ever happens fast enough.” When we spoke, he was close to completing a second-stage “angel” financing, and hoped to complete an institutional-level capitalization later this year. Assuming the money pans out, White could be well on his way to helping both coaches and kids elevate the way the recruiting game is played.

Stewart Schley writes about sports, media and technology from Denver. Read this and Schley’s past columns on the Web at cobizmag.com and email him at stewart@stewartschley.com

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