Complete stadium branding solution: Scott MacCallum meets up with David Pritchard, Chief Commercial Officer for GroundWOW.
It was at Saltex in late 2019 that we first met. Neither of us had a crystal ball at the Show but 12 months on how is everyone at GroundWOW? Safe and well and finding a way to work…?
Amazing how quickly the year since Saltex has passed and I am pleased to report that we are in fantastic shape. As for our way of working, the team is well organised and ahead of the first lockdown, we put together a detailed plan that supported our transition to home working for as and when we’ve needed to.
The faith we had in our team and our processes through that period was paid back times over. Remote working during lockdown worked especially well on areas that sometimes struggle for airtime in a busy production setting.
That all sounds very positive. Does that mean you have you already reconciled the last 12 months and moved on?
Absolutely. Despite the many positives that occurred in GroundWOW during this difficult time, such as new products for the sports sector and in healthcare, I think we are all looking forward to moving on.
Looking back, what we ended up seeing was a split between organisations that were forced to wait for the pandemic ‘storm’ to pass versus others who had decided they would maintain business as usual as best they could. We saw two very different approaches to life “behind closed doors” and to be fair, both were entirely understandable. For anybody less familiar with our business, outside of core sports marking products, we manage a pipeline of development projects, some that we will deliver in to sport and others that leverage our modular technology and state of the art factory into other sectors. It is an approach we envisaged from the outset, endorsed and encouraged by our backers who are profoundly bought into the vision of our core autonomous robotic technology, and our wider RAAS (Robotics As A Service) offering. For them, that is all part of investing in a deep technology business. For us, it is this diversity of opportunity that minimises our exposure to any single sector.
Can you tell us any more about these other opportunities for your core technology?
Outside of sport, we are approached regularly with alternative use suggestions for GroundWOW’s multi-patented technology (now eight patents and counting!). A quick look through the newspapers and you can see that RAAS Technology businesses everywhere have continued to grow massively despite the pandemic.
In our case, it is easy to see how autonomous robotics might transition into transportation infrastructure or last mile delivery for example.
So, while our primary focus today is sport, it was our constant review of analogous markets that led us into discussions with the NHS in 2020. Appetite is all the way to the top of Government and as a result, we are delighted to have an offer currently under consideration for the whole of the Worldwide health care market.
Coming back to opportunity in sport, something we are regularly asked of our technology is, can it service any of our other wider needs. Well, I am pleased to exclusively announce that we’ll be unveiling something new for the sector very soon that will excite and delight everyone in sport – from the grounds crew to the Executive Board. As a self-sufficient manufacturer, we can take a project from the design phase to production readiness in literally a matter of days. But just because we can, doesn’t always mean that we will. Every idea must go via a rigorous research protocol to establish a meaningful strategic benefit, or otherwise.
How has the company grown over the last 12 months?
Commercially, we have continued to build relationships around the globe including with organisations who are either keen to deploy our technology or collaborate with us in their part of the world on one project or another. In the same way as so many others during the lockdown, we developed different ways to demonstrate our technology remotely, but hand on heart, I cannot wait to get back to more in person face to face conversations.
Team wise, we have recruited heavily over the last 12 months, building out a multi-national team of engineers and developers all based at our HQ, and we are still actively recruiting. The unwavering commitment to recruitment was also a clear signal to everybody else at GroundWOW that their livelihood was secure and the business still building proactively despite the biggest downturn in history.
Finally, with a larger team comes a larger space requirement and so we decided that we would accelerate our plans to create the Smart Factory we had envisioned from day one. We are thrilled with the result and the reactions from visitors. We occupy a large facility with an indoor test track in the middle and if you walked through the door today you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Silicon Valley rather than South Manchester.
World class teams deserve world class environments and we have taken huge steps in that direction to invest in our people and our customer journey.
The return of televised sport plays into your hands and I know you had big success at Cheltenham and Soccer Aid. Can you talk a little bit about those and some of the other major relationships you build during these difficult times?
Yes, Cheltenham and Soccer-Aid were like the book ends of a spring/summer period that is normally the prime time for sport in this country.
At Cheltenham, we installed for The Jockey Club’s headline sponsor (Magners) one week before the Festival and we ended up in lockdown a week after the actual event.
The Jockey Club were brilliant partners and hugely excited about new inventory facilitated by GroundWOW technology. As you might imagine, when you deliver an event of that profile, there is an inevitable spike in interest in the weeks and months that follow.
It was during Cheltenham week when Soccer Aid for UNICEF made their initial approach to ask if we would be interested to deliver pitch side branding for their main event sponsors at Old Trafford. As you now know, the original June date was postponed but we picked up in summer and delivered in September. Exactly like Cheltenham, delivering on a major stage like Old Trafford supercharges the level of inbound interest – but it is a nice problem considering these times of general uncertainty across the sector.
Relationship wise, our travel plans to certain parts of the world were put on hold. However, we found we were suddenly receiving a major level of interest from football. Typically, our discussions have been with proactive leaders looking for innovative logo and large-scale branding solutions to support their event delivery.
The other notable and enjoyable feature of our process is the sheer variety of discussions we are having with organisations who differ wildly in terms of available resources. Our technology is not cost-prohibitive and so we are able to engage prospects from all levels of sport.
What can you offer sporting events or sporting venues as revenue generating options during their televised/behind closed doors events?
This has always been the central proposition of GroundWOW, enabling a partner to drive revenue streams by printing sponsor brands and advertising logos on their real estate. Ie. sweating their asset. The main topics for discussion are either about selling pitchside real estate to matchday sponsors or in other cases, activating the pitch perimeter to drive added value for existing sponsors. We have all heard about spikes in TV audience figures and we know the value is always in fixed positions in front of the cameras.
That is what ground printed logos are.
The fact too that we run an autonomous vehicle and don’t rely on huge teams of people to carry out our work is also noteworthy given current stringent controls around stadium access.
What about opportunity outside of game day? You talk a lot about being a complete stadium solution, are these two elements related?
The main point here is that our conversations are not rooted in game day activations only. While conference and exhibition are largely stalled for now, non-game day brand activations are core GroundWOW opportunities.
In football for example, there may be 30 to 40 game days each year (depending on cup runs) but on the other 320 days, it is not uncommon for stadia owners to host multiple events every single day. In many cases, companies that hire out a venue are willing to pay for brand presence in incredible environments like stadia.
GroundWOW makes this possible, as the World’s first enterprise-wide ‘ground printer’ solution that literally anybody in the club can use. Not just the Grounds Team but also the marketing department, the sales department, the conference and exhibition team, and the charitable foundation. Teams have brought to us their own list of desired applications including end of season pitch days, stadium tours, car parks, media use, training grounds, concerts, wayfinding, grand scale art, product launches, partner films – that is what we mean when we talk about a complete stadium solution. Suddenly, the concept of a fully branded campus becomes a year-round reality.
For interested parties, what can they expect of a technology product business model?
Our business model is a really simple monthly subscription for Robot/ Software As A Service. Easiest analogy is a person’s mobile phone subscription. All relevant hardware and software are provided to the client including access to our full cloud infrastructure. How exciting is that?
You have grown the company significantly during the toughest economic downturn in our lifetime. What opportunities do you see for yourselves when we do get back to some sort of normality – whether that be in 2021 or heaven forbid, beyond that?
We feel good about where we are but we are sensitive to the proper process of emerging from lockdown safely. When the time is right, we’ll operationalise our growth plan further in sports marking and whole campus activation and we will also open offices this year in Australia and the United States. In the meantime, our new products in sport and healthcare, will continue to build value for us.
As history has shown, lots of innovative businesses have emerged and thrived as the result of a downturn exposing a need for things to change. We are looking forward with great optimism to whatever 2021 has in store. Watch this space.