sportaneous

Going to the gym is boring. But playing sports, like basketball, soccer or ultimate Frisbee, is exciting. Getting exercise is just a bonus when you play a game.

Based on this truism, Sportaneous is a free app and website launching this week that connects people who want to play a pick-up game with others looking for the same. It uses GPS technology to identify what’s scheduled near the user and enables members to organize their own sports events.

According to the founders, San Diego natives Aaron Royston and Omar Haroun, three quarters of the nearly 90 million Americans who exercise would rather play sports than exercise alone. And 89 percent of those surveyed said they would participate in a game if it was convenient — right place, right time.

What I find interesting is that Sportaneous comes with a ready-made, motivated audience and fulfills some of the basic criteria for creating a strong brand community.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Susan Fournier and Lara Lee describe Harley-Davidson’s process in building an unusually strong network around their brand — and anybody who can inspire such devotion in its followers that they actually tattoo the logo onto their bodies must be able to teach us a thing or two.

Harley-Davidson used events, shared experiences, members-only perks, rallies, a summer camp and other tactics to build a “brotherhood” of riders.

A brand community must exist to serve the people in it and members are more interested in the social links that come from such relationships than they are in the brand themselves, according to Fournier and Lee. They go on to observe that people have strong associations with a shared activity or goal, or shared values, and these are the key to a community.

Another example they give is a website called Outdoorseiten.net that started as a venue for hiking and camping enthusiasts to share information about their shared interests, such as advice on boots and where to hike with children. The site is an example of how the needs of a community actually gave rise to a brand — the website eventually began selling its own line of tents and backpacks, note Fournier and Lee. The brand succeeded “from a desire to meet members’ specialized needs,” they wrote.

Critical to Sportaneous’ success would be moving beyond just connecting people for games and developing a social network that thrives off the court.

To that end, Sportaneous has features that allow you to post comments on a game, trash-talk the competition, etc. The app will also reward top players with recognition and show their participation and win/loss records. It’s an opportunity to “show off your own personality. It draws people into a community aspect,” said Royston.

Since users will be meeting in person to actually play the games, there’s the potential to build especially strong ties.

Haroun and Royston are wise to keep the app itself and website very simple and easy to share. They’re not going to reinvent Facebook, but instead will be integrating this and other social media sites into Sportaneous.

“With Facebook you can easily bridge over into their real life,” explained Royston. “You’ll know (your Sportaneous friends’) favorite movies and other things about their personal life through Facebook.”

For now Sportaneous is focused on building an audience first and will worry about making money later. Certainly there’s a precedent for this. An obvious example is Facebook, which recently landed a $450 million investment from Goldman Sachs and is valued at $56 billion.

Initially, Haroun and Royston will do some of the usual outreach, such as partnering with gyms and tapping into local organized sports groups in town.

Basketball and soccer are the most popular sports for pick-ups games now, but the Sportaneous founders believe that by making it easier, they can increase the popularity of other sports through pick-up games.

“If it works it’ll be the first time a networking tool is combined with something that is enjoyable for people. Rather than that time on the treadmill, play a sport with people,” said Haroun.

Disclosure: Cook + Schmid is providing outreach services around the launch of Sportaneous. Image provided by Sportaneous.