Sports Teams Gear Up With New Collaboration Tools

Desk-bound employees aren't alone in using new communication tools. Athletes, too, are taking teamwork digital with the cloud.

This program was produced by the Marketing Department of WIRED and Ars in collaboration with CA Technologies.

Twelve years ago, Zach Maurides ran plenty of stadium stairs at 4 a.m.—punishment for being late to practice for Duke University’s football team. The offensive lineman didn’t skip out on purpose, he just couldn’t keep track of a complex and demanding schedule arranged by his strength coach, academic advisor and team coach. His disorganization—and aversion to stadium stairs—ultimately led to an epiphany to create Teamworks, a platform that’s transforming how professional and collegiate sports teams run their operations.

Think of Teamworks as Slack for athletes and coaches. The mobile app lets players, event managers, academic tutors, professors, nutritionists, administrators, physicians—anyone associated with the team—communicate in real time about itineraries, bus times, meals, media interviews, practice schedules and other team logistics.

Everything is down to time for us, so to be able to communicate fast and effectively is key.

— Freddie Stouffer, operations manager, Trek-Segafredo Pro Cycling Team

Teamworks is among a number of niche apps popping up in the $37.5 billion cloud collaboration market. CA Technologies with its Flowdock software, for instance, allows professional cyclists competing in such races as the Tour de France to share group discussions about training, travel and more.

“Phone calls, SMS, email—it gets messy,” says Freddie Stouffer, operations manager at Trek-Segafredo’s Pro Cycling Team, which uses CA Flowdock to manage equipment changes and scheduling for its 90 riders and support personnel on the racing circuit. “Everything is down to time for us,” Stouffer says, “so to be able to communicate fast and effectively is key.”

Goodbye, Bulk Email and Printing

Until recently, the sports world had pretty much been left behind when it came to technology. Team coaches would print out calendars and make copies of schedules and announcements or send bulk emails to individuals. They used email, text messaging or maybe Dropbox to save and share files.

Maurides saw the problem firsthand at Duke and designed Teamworks’ mobile app to let users distribute announcements to select groups or individuals, easily make changes and avoid scheduling conflicts now visible on shared calendars. The software can be a money-saver too. Duke University found it saved $244,000 in one year, simply by eliminating the standard costs of printing, ink and employee time.

Today, Teamworks is used by 850 clients, including 375 NCAA Division 1 teams, the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals and the MLB’s San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals. This year, Teamworks inked a deal to serve the NCAA’s March Madness and USA Baseball, the governing body for more than 12 million amateur players across the country. That word-of-mouth momentum helped the company nab $6.2 million from investors this summer.

Playing in the Niche

The future for apps like Teamworks and Flowdock in specific markets, such as sports, depends heavily on the network effect in which people share the app across teams, organizations and leagues, says Adam Preset, Gartner research director who follows cloud collaboration technology. The challenge, he says, will be maintaining that tricky balance of satisfying existing users while evolving to be more agile to appeal to new, younger users.

While handy, these apps are simply a part of a broader toolkit needed by teams to manage administration, player data and playbooks. “It’s not a be-all, end-all,” says Preset, “but [these tools] recognize a market opportunity. Now it’s about gathering as much market share as possible.”


Jennifer Alsever
By Jennifer Alsever | August 16, 2016