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Local startup aims to revolutionize sports officiating

Anthony Schoettle
June 3, 2013
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Officials for The Tyros LLC, a local startup, think they have the technology to revolutionize sports of all sorts.

Their breakthrough, though, has nothing directly to do with the players, teams or playing venues.

The Tyros has come up with what company officials call a unique way to teach and train game referees and officials in sports ranging from basketball, baseball and football to wrestling and fencing.

“We think what we’re offering will have a dramatic impact on officiating at all levels, down to small college and high school competition,” said company co-founder Kyle Armstrong.

The Tyros has pioneered an online system where referees and officials globally can upload game tapes that can later be analyzed and “telestrated” by another referee, group of referees or peers, an association or conference officials, Armstrong said.

"One of the variants of Tyros means 'a new beginning,'" he said. "So for us, we saw Tyros as 'a new beginning' for officials all over the country and world to learn, professionally develop and advance their careers in ways that had never been available to them in the past."

The company recently partnered with Zionsville-based Swan Software Solutions to develop its officiating program, and its subscription-based service was launched online May 1. Individual officials can join for $30 a year, which allows them to watch videos, and upload and send videos to targeted individuals or groups.

Conferences, associations or other peer groups pay $500 annually per sport to have the ability to make notations and voiceovers on the uploaded videos.

Company officials said the revenue stream is currently a trickle, but estimate it could hit $1 million within the next year. They project revenue of $10 million to $20 million within five to eight years.

The company was launched in 2011, but changed directions last year and hired 25-year NFL referee Mark Baltz, 65, as its CEO. Baltz replaced company co-founder Tony Monteleone, who is no longer with the company.

Baltz thinks The Tyros’ products could have wider business and training applications.

“Down the road, this has some interesting verticals in education and all levels of business,” Baltz said. “With anything that can be filmed and reviewed for educational or training purposes, what we offer has tremendous applications.”

Initially, the company focused on helping associations, conferences, leagues and referees coordinate referee schedules, an area dominated nationally by Utah-based ArbiterSports. In 2012, company officials determined there was a greater need and less competition in the area of online video training.

“We changed the entire product vision of what we were doing,” said Armstrong, 27.

The key to the system—and the thing that makes it unique, said Armstrong, is its interactivity.

“A person or group can upload a clip or game video and another person or group can watch it and leave comments via the telestrator like you see during network game broadcasts,” Armstrong said. “With this system, you can critique the officiating by typing words, drawing arrows and doing voiceovers. It’s more than just leaving a text message.”

Now, The Tyros is starting to land contracts.

With the help of Baltz, the company recently signed a deal with Purdue University to use The Tyros’ program to help train referees for all its intramural sports. It also inked a contract with the NBA Referees Association. It is finalizing a deal with the Florida High School Athletic Association, and has earned the endorsement of several top-flight NBA and NFL officials, including veteran NBA official Bob Delaney, NFL official Jerry Markbreit and Bill Carollo, the Big Ten director of officiating.

Former Indianapolis Colt Gary Padjen also has invested in the company and serves on its board of advisers.

Gary Pigott, senior director of athletics for the Florida High School Athletic Association, said The Tyros’ product allows organizations with relatively modest budgets to handle training for a large number of officials working in a wide geographical area.

“We have 11,300 referees and officials spread out across hundreds of miles,” Pigott said. “The Tyros system alleviates the need for numerous phone calls and a lot of get-togethers to work out on-field issues and to keep current on training.”

The Florida High School Athletic Association is working on a one-year deal with company, but Pigott said the association could be a long-term client.

“I think we’ll be working with them for a number of years," he said. "We feel like there’s a lot of potential and value to this.”

If all FHSAA officials sign up and pay the $30 annual fee, that alone would score The Tyros more than $330,000.

While Armstrong, a Ball State University graduate, deals with the technological side of the business, Baltz is heading up much of the marketing and outreach.

Baltz, who has been a football and basketball official for 45 years, said feedback from clients and potential clients has been overwhelmingly positive since the company reorganized in the last nine to 12 months.

“We’re close to this thing taking off,” Baltz said. “I think we’re poised for explosive growth as the coming [fall and winter] sports season approaches.”

Baltz thinks business will take off after he and Armstrong make a presentation at this year’s annual conference of the National Association of Sports Officials in late July in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Baltz and Armstrong own the majority share of the company and are The Tyros’ only full-time employees, but the duo expects to add marketing and administrative staff later this year as sales take off. Co-founder Josh Koch is a third partner.

“I could see what they’re offering being quite appealing to a number of sports organizations,” Pigott said. “It’s a tool to really help improve officiating, especially at the high school and college, and even lower levels. There’s nothing else like what they’re offering in the market.”

 

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