Lynne Bermel's Column|
October 27, 2000
Interview with Sportstats
Runner's Web: How long have owned Sportstats?
Mark: I started working with Sportstats back in 1993 when Terry and Adam McKinty owned it. From there, I took on more and more responsibilities. I bought Sportstats in May of 1996 and built it from there.
RW: Can you describe some of the growing pains you went through in the early days?
Mark: In the beginning, it wasn't unusual for us to put in over 70 hours a week. It involved a major investment ($$$$) on our part. We took some chances, such as the ChampionChip at the beginning, but I think they've worked out in the long run.
RW: Can you describe in layman's terms how your program works? I think most of us are mystified at how quickly you get the results up.
Mark: The main program we use is called "Runscore." It's a DOS-based program that allows us to time many events (running, triathlon, skiing etc.) using different technologies such as time machines and the ChampionChip. We modify the program for each event.
Our number one goal is to get results up as quickly as possible while making sure the data going in is correct.
RW: What are your biggest events you are doing this year?
Mark: The largest event we time is the National Capital Race Weekend with 12000 participants! We also time the Toronto and Quebec Marathon
We would love to get Hawaii to time the Ironman one day. We are presently timing Ironman California, Ironman USA Lake Placid, Ironman Canada and Ironman Florida.
RW: Describe one of your typical weekends.
Mark: Each weekend requires a lot of planning. It's not unusual for us to have 3 or 4 events on the same weekend - or even on the same day.
Planning has to start months before each event to ensure we have all the information about each event. During the week leading up to the race, we are busy entering all the data, etc.
I usually do all the events in the Toronto area and my wife, Isabelle, takes care of the Quebec races. Fortunately, we also have 2 other crews so we can easily time 4 races on the same day.
RW: Who are your competitors in the area/Canada/North America. What do you offer differently that might set you apart?
Mark: We have a few competitors in Canada, including RResults in Toronto), Stat-Timing in Montreal and Race Headquaters in Vancouver.
We do mainly large events since we have the rights with ChampionChip to Eastern Canada. We have a few competitors in the USA but that's not really our market at this time.
RW: Is it a lucrative business?
Mark: At this time it pays the bills. If I take into account the hours I put in, (still around 70 hours a week) it's not a bad way to make a living.
I was teaching before I purchased Sportstats and decided to quit in order to concentrate on running the company. We've invested huge amounts in the ChampionChip technology which will take some time to pay off.
I am still paying for the initial investment in Sportstats. The main problem I forsee is that in 10-15 years, it may not be a company that's so easy to sell.
RW: Please describe some of your interesting stories from life on the road with Sportstats.
Mark: The nice thing about Sportstats is all the travel and the opportunity to meet a lot of people. The Ironman Events are special as they are in great locations and, yes, we meet a lot of neat athletes.
At the same time, Ironman events are pretty difficult because of the hours we put in each event. On race week, we start on the Tuesday preparing for registration. Registration happens on the Wednesday and Thursday. The Friday allows us to set-up and test the equipment and live coverage with Ironman Live. Race day starts at 4am with final preparations. The events doesn't finish until midnight. By then, we'd been working flat-out for 20 hours and we still have another 4 hours to put in printing the results and certificates. We usually close up around 4 am the next day - a good 24 hour day's work.
RW: You were the first to introduce the Championchip in the area. What did you have to go through to get people to start accepting its use?
SportStats in action!
Mark: The ChampionChip system was first tested at the Physiotherapy Run in 1998. We offered the system at no extra cost so we could learn how to use it.
Our first real test was the National Capital Race Weekend in Ottawa and it worked really well. We worked out the bugs fairly quickly in the first year and did about 10 events. In 1999, we timed about 20 events using the chip and over 50 in 2000. We will probably have 80+ chip events next year as we are purchasing more systems.
RW: Now that you're going on 5 years, would you say Sportstats is still well-received in the sporting community?
Mark: I'd like to think it's still quite positive. The comments we hear certainly seem to be that way. The rate of return year after year is almost 100%. Many see our services as a package not just the timing. We know offer Live Results Coverage, on-line registration, registration consultation etc...
RW: What are your future plans for the company?
Mark: We started a new company called EVENTS ONLINE.CA and we will launch the web site on January 1st 2001. The address will be: www.eventsonline.ca. It will be similar to Active.com in the USA. We will offer a Canadian Based event calendar with secure on-line registration.
We are also expanding in the USA. We will open an office in the USA in 2001. We are actually looking to have an office in the Toronto area and we will be hiring 2 full time staff in May of 2001.
RW: Thank you Mark.
SportStats Web Site
Contact Lynne via email @ email@example.com
For more on Lynne's background read this interview with Wayne Scanlan which appeared originally in the Ottawa Citizen.
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