“We want to be the indispensable tool and mechanism and platform that people use to play pickup ball.”
Ball is life. That was my motto growing up because indeed, ball was life — I even had a shirt sporting the slogan, that’s how serious I was about dropping jays on everyone in existence. I’d wake up in the morning and practice my crossover on the kitchen tile. I’d challenge my neighbor to one-on-one bouts in the backyard, big-time contests that basically amounted to each of us exchanging guarded 30-footers until exhaustion set in. Multiple nights per week, my cronies and I would gather together and lay claim to the gym at our local church house, where we’d run for hours and try to throw passes that would make Jason Williams blush. All I did was ball because when you’re a kid, you have something very unique: unlimited time, places, and people to coordinate games with.
Fast-forward to adulthood, where ball isn’t life. It’s not because I now hate hooping or lack the time, it’s because finding a place to ball — and finding nine other, similarly-skilled individuals who want to play — is freaking hard. Like, currently avoiding Pokemon Go dweebs wandering the streets hard. Any of the 450 million basketball players worldwide who have tried to gather together meaningful pickup games knows this feeling. You need a court. You need players. You would prefer players who are all close to the same skill level. Where do you turn?
Blacktop was created with these questions in mind, combining a SaaS-based model with a social network to target the ever-growing community of pickup ballers. Welcome to basketball in the 21st century.
“There’s a general amount of chaos that is associated with pickup basketball,” said Scott Porter, CEO and co-founder of Blacktop. “There’s the disorganization, the variability in competitive level, there is reliability issues as well. There’s a lot of problems that this is looking to solve, making the basketball experience better by bringing people together of similar skill levels. And then we’re looking to enhance that experience.”
Porter, along with four others — Craig Weston, Jeff Handy, Seth Jenkins, Collin Hundley — have been working full time on these enhancements for the last six months. They’ve been experimenting with various features in beta mode and plan to officially launch in August. Here’s how it works.
I’m sitting at home, watching replays of Lebron James swatting the Warriors into oblivion. I have that familiar itch: I need to ball and I need to ball NOW. I jump on Blacktop, choose a place to play, and send out the invite. This invite can be exclusive to people I know, it can be to the wider Blacktop community, or a combination of both.
“Based on the feedback we’ve gotten from beta users currently, they want to know the competitive level of play they are going into,” said Porter. “Either knowing where people stand individually or what is the expected level of play of the game I’m potentially joining. That’s something that seems very valuable.”
As the most middling basketball player ever, I can verify this. I don’t want to play a pickup game against a bunch of backwood billy goats that have no concept of picking and rolling, even if I would stand out as the next Lebron James. I also don’t want to get thrown into a game against Lebron because he would eat my lunch, destroy my soul, and turn me into one of the aforementioned billy goats. Neither of these options are appealing.
Thankfully, Blacktop will incorporate a player rating system so everyone knows the exact level of play expected from a game. No one gets thrown into a game they shouldn’t be involved with, on either side of the spectrum. People of comparative skill levels play together, games are more competitive, and the world of pickup ball is better for it.
“We’re building an artificial intelligence piece that will be able to understand the patterns of the users — skill level, frequency of play, even time of play,” said Handy. “Imagine going into BlackTop and saying I want to play at eight o’clock, what are my options? And the artificial intelligence can create a game, choose a place you like to play at, and invite people that would be around your same skill level.”
The team at Blacktop promises to continue tweaking the platform as time continues (such as the ability to livestream pickup games in a manner similar to Periscope), exploring various ways to engage and motivate users. They’ve been bootstrapped so far, are currently in the process of raising a seed round, and have other plans for obtaining money.
“Our core monetization strategy, and also for user acquisition, is through gyms and rec centers,” said Porter. “On the backend, they have access to a portal where they can manage their profile and create a better member experience, as well as optimize these underutilized resources. They have gyms or courts that sit empty for hours everyday. They have complaints from people who come and get snubbed off the court. What we’re looking to be is the scheduling platform for gyms and rec centers.”
There you have it. If playing basketball interests you, Blacktop’s launch next month should be sweet music to your ears. Give it a try, use it to round up a clean game of ball, and help their website slogan — “make empty courts a thing of the past” — come true.
“We want to be the indispensable tool and mechanism and platform that people use to play pickup ball,” said Porter.
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