Over the last decade, we’ve grown to understand the power data has in improving athletic performance. From wearable watches to back-mounted devices, tech has helped the biggest names in sports track their progress and see where and how they can improve. Some of these technologies even alert athletes when they’re at risk of injury.
But what would happen if this technology was available for youth athletes? If parents could help their kids track their athletic progress from an early age?
That’s what Playermaker set out to do.
The company created a wearable tracker for football that, rather than wearing on your wrist or back, is mounted directly on the source of movement - football boots. The sensors are lightweight and comfortable, easy for athletes to wear while playing and training. The information is transmitted directly to the Playermaker app where you can track distances run, touches, kicking velocity, speeds and much more, including player workload.
The end goal, Playermaker CEO and Co-Founder, Guy Aharon says, was “to provide parents the best tools for their kids.”
As a parent, I know that I want to encourage my kids, I want the motivation to live healthier lives, but I don't know if I'm selecting the right thing,” says Aharon. “I have no technology to help me make sure that what they are doing, they’re doing right.
But before they could help parents and youth players, Aharon and his team decided that they first have to make a product that is good enough for the biggest stars in the sports world.
“First we needed a hero-driven market,” Aharon explains. “Because when a young boy or girl wants to buy new sneakers, they want to buy the Messi sneaker.”
Playermaker wanted to create a product that the biggest stars would endorse. They wanted young players and parents to see that it “wasn’t a gimmick,” that professional athletes trust the product and promote it.
After creating a product that fit this profile, Aharon and his team started knocking on doors, literally.
“They thought we were crazy,” he says about their journey approaching clubs in one of the biggest football nations in the world, the UK.
“It took a long, long while to build a network until we got the first shot,” Aharon explains. One of the first teams to use Playermaker was Fulham F.C., who started using the product immediately, and were satisfied with the results. At one point they were concerned that the product may not be working because some of the results seemed too good to be true. Turns out they didn’t realize how big of a talent was coming up through their ranks, Aharon jokes.
One of the most pivotal moments for the company, says Aharon, was when Arsène Wenger invested in Playermaker. The company’s profile skyrocketed after the legendary former -manager signed on; after all, a high-profile backing is more trustworthy than knocking on doors.
But even getting Wenger on board was a covert, non-traditional operation. In order to avoid headlines and give Wenger a chance to understand the product, they decided not to demonstrate with high-profile players. Instead, they gave several young players the opportunity to learn from Wenger himself. They surprised these players with a trip to Wenger’s home, where they had a once-in-a-lifetime, 30-minute training session with Wenger while wearing Playermaker’s product.
“Right after he looked at the data and said ‘listen, I’m in, but I’m not an endorsement. I don't do marketing, the only way for me to go in, is if I can really impact the product and I can be an investor,’” Aharon recalls.
Since, Wenger has helped pave the paths and structures of Playermaker with his vision.
The company now works with more than 150 of the biggest clubs in the world, which meant they could finally set their sights on their end goal: B2C.
In 2020, Playermaker was hit by COVID-led adjustments, like many in the industry.
Several clubs asked the company for sensors the players can use at home. Aharon’s team scrambled to produce kits for players for at-home workouts and soon players were training while isolating and challenging one another, all while coaches could follow their progress.
Several teams also credit Playermaker for the physical condition of their players when returning to the pitch, allowing players to stay fit and the teams to pick up (almost) where they left off, coming back stronger than others.
"I want to believe we had a small part in it,” Aharon says of the teams' successes. But It also pushed Playermaker to start thinking about B2C markets, and to finally target parents and youth players.
“We listened to the market and realized this is the time. We weren’t sure what was the next phase of expanding from B2B to B2C, even though it was designed from day one to get to this.
“And then we said, 'okay, let's do it.'”
They started working on the product in June 2020, and by December they soft-launched their B2C product.
Since then “it’s exploding.” The company has seen tremendous growth with tens of thousands of new players training with the sensors.
Playermaker “creates a window for the parents to have a dialogue with their kids,” explains Aharon.
Parents are able to watch their kids improve and celebrate successes together, he adds. Many have even purchased additional sets for other family members.
“They want their kids to leave the video games and go outside," Aharon says. “We help them do it together, with passion."