As the holidays end and parents get back into the routine of shuttling kids from school to winter-sports practice, they're getting help from mobile applications that are ushering local sports leagues into the digital age.
Consider the Colorado Premier Basketball Club in Littleton, Colo., which is run by former NBA player Keith Van Horn. To gain an edge over competing clubs, it adopted an app called TeamSnap, which users can check into on their smartphones to mark player availability, look up game locations and who's bringing snacks.
"It's like day and night; it's so much more automated," said Wendy Dominguez, 45, who has a 12-year-old daughter in the Colorado club and serves as a team administrator.
TeamSnap is one of many technological tools that Dominguez and others are increasingly using to simplify parenting. Along with software to track the whereabouts of teenagers and apps that turn phones into baby monitors, the apps are part of a growing "parent technology" category that will be in the spotlight this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the world's largest trade show.
Parents are "the fastest, largest and most vocal group of technology adoptees" as they look to keep family members connected and to improve entertainment and organization of kids, said the Consumer Electronics Association, which is conducting the show. At the heart of the effort is the smartphone, which moms and dads can check into at any time and use to control everything from clothes dryers to sports schedules.
"The smartphone has become the viewfinder for our digital life," said Shawn DuBravac, chief economist of the association. "It changes the way we interact with kids."
The trend is particularly noticeable in kids' sports, where coordinating with coaches and dozens of other parents can become a full-time job. That has given rise to TeamSnap and rival apps including Sport Ngin and RosterBot.
TeamSnap Inc., which raised $7.5 million led by venture firm Foundry Group last year, now has 7 million individual subscribers and is adding about 250,000 users a month, the start-up said. RosterBot Inc., used by more than 10,000 teams, said subscribers increased fivefold between September and November, while Sport Ngin has 500,000 teams. The apps combined have raised more than $50 million from venture capitalists, according to the companies.
While the basic version of each app is free, TeamSnap charges as much as $18 a month for a professional version with enhanced features such as the ability to collect money online. Sport Ngin takes a cut of payment-processing fees when people pay dues to a sports team through the app. TeamSnap and Sport Ngin declined to disclose revenue figures. RosterBot said it doesn't have revenue.
Clears up communication
The apps are smoothing out what had previously been a complicated process, with coaches often unclear who was showing up until it was game time, or with kids arriving at a field only to see practice had been canceled.
Now we "send a blast out, a quick e-mail as opposed to even probably 10 or five years ago when everyone would have turned up to the field and the game was canceled," Scott Misfeldt, 44, who coaches his second-grade son's soccer team in North Vancouver, British Columbia, said by phone. Misfeldt started using RosterBot in September to organize the team after hearing an ad for the app.
TeamSnap was founded by entrepreneur Dave DuPont in 2009 after he attended a meeting for his son's lacrosse team and found notes were being manually recorded and money was collected with paper checks.
The Boulder, Colo.-based start-up now has one of the top 50 sports apps by downloads, according to researcher CB Insights in New York. Users are 35 to 50 years old on average, which suggests the app is mostly downloaded by parents, DuPont said.
Sport Ngin, based in Minneapolis and founded in 2008, is run by Justin Kaufenberg. The app registers athletes for teams and lets them pay through the software to join their groups.
"Parents these days, they are those that are expecting that technology solution," Carson Kipfer, a co-founder of Sport Ngin, said. "It gives them more opportunity to focus on the kids themselves."
RosterBot is still nascent, though it's taken off among hockey players.
"Originally we built this for beer-league guys," said Ian Bell, a recreational hockey player who founded RosterBot in 2008. "Now we're trickling down to their kids."
The companies are building more features for the apps. With TeamSnap, DuPont said users can now send real-time updates about scores and post photos for people who miss the game.
Given the amount of data on children the apps collect, DuPont said TeamSnap has limited who can view the information, including addresses and pictures of kids.
When employed by leagues, TeamSnap only lets the minimum number of eyes look at data about kids.
"We are extremely paranoid about that," DuPont said.
Bruce Reed, 44, of Corte Madera, Calif., who has coached softball and football teams, among others, said the adoption of sports-management apps has made the playing experience better for kids.
Before "it was a lot of chaos, missed connections, a lot of long group e-mail threads, poor accountability," he said. An app "removes those common downsides of coaching and parenting."