The NY Times has an article up about a new social networking website called weplay.com, designed for youth sports teams:
WePlay.com, a social networking site for youth sports – something like Facebook for young athletes – is expected to start in mid-April. The site caters to youth athletes, parents and coaches – a vast audience. About 52 million children a year participate in organized sports leagues, according to the National Council of Youth Sports.
Young athletes will be able to set up a profile, post pictures, communicate with friends and share videos of games. Parents will be able to get practice schedules, coordinate car pools and find out which equipment to purchase. Coaches will be able to communicate with their players and parents, as well as learn about strategy and other skills.
“Two hundred forty million people in America are one degree of separation from youth sports,” said Steve Hansen, the chief executive of WePlay. “Youth sports is held together by e-mails, phone calls and clip boards. We want to change that.”
I think youth sports are a bit farther along than phone calls and clip boards, but if they aren’t, is WePlay.com the answer?
First, WePlay has a ways to go before it’s a ‘niche’ site. I visited the site and signed up to see what it currently offers. Right now it’s your run of the mill social networking site. Users can post pictures, videos, and blog posts. Users can join groups, which can be a variety of types (leagues, teams, tournaments, camps, etc.). Groups can then interact, sharing said pictures, videos, blog posts, emails, etc.
The NY Times article notes that the site will allow for game and practice schedules to be entered and the site FAQ also notes that scores and statistics will be supported in the future. Right now, each group has a calendar that you can add events to, so you can enter game and practice schedules. At least you’re supposed to be able to. I couldn’t find where to enter events, so that may be TBD.
I can’t shake the feeling that someone took an off the shelf social network package and renamed some objects to orient them to sports. Right now WePlay.com feels like an introductory social network using sports terminology. It seems to be based on Ruby on Rails, but I’m not 100% sure. I know it’s ‘beta’, but one thing I noticed is the site is slow to respond at times, even late at night. It will be interesting to see how it responds as more people read the article in the morning.
The one thing WePlay.com does is try to get parents to bring their kids along when they sign up by offering to create them a ‘family’ account and then add their kids so they can monitor what the kids do on the site. This is a good thing on the surface, but it’s also a way to bring in more children to the site, which will appeal to the advertisers.
So will it work? Does WePlay.com offer more than a service like TeamSnap?
I think WePlay.com is shooting for a different ‘layer’ of the youth sports market than a service like TeamSnap. TeamSnap is meant to help manage a team, not involve the players themselves. It works because it makes managing a sports team MUCH easier. WePlay.com doesn’t have nearly the team management functionality that most sports team websites do. Instead, it has your normal social networking stuff (Add friends! Share pictures! Post messages!) The trick is, they need the teams to signup to make this work. Coaches create the teams, invite the parents to create account, who then add in their kids, and you hope the kids start to interact. But the lack of any real team management functionality may keep most parents and coaches from bothering. That may change over time as weplay adds new features, but right now I can’t see the appeal.
Beyond that, as a coach, the whole concept makes me nervous. I’m not really sure I want to setup my team on a social networking site and encourage my players to start interacting online as a team. They interact 2-3 times a week in person anyway, so why do more online? Beyond that, any youth coach will tell you that trying to keep the team ‘together’ is hard enough in person. If they start exchanging messages between themselves about other teammates or crowing about their awesome goal their parents video taped, etc. – it could lead to serious problems in terms of team cohesion and unity. Sure, kids can do the same thing on Facebook or elsewhere. But the whole point of WePlay is to pull in the kids on a team to network and by centering the social network aspect around the team, it only encourages it.
So far, color me unconvinced this will go very far. They’ve signed up some big names to try and generate buzz, but I’m not sure that’s going to get them the buzz they hope for. I think many coaches will look at this and balk at the social networking aspect when there is little benefit to them. Other sites will provide more assistance to them in terms of managing a team. I can’t even imagine a larger group like a tournament or league using this, given how little functionality there is or likely will be in the near future. Sites like SoccerInCollege, Demosphere, YouthLeagues, Score-O-Matic, D4, and others provide functionality that make organizing a league or tournament much easier. Sure, you pay for the service, but you get a LOT. If your league doesn’t manage things online and you’re on your own, your team will get far more out of TeamSnap or a similar service.
And that is why I don’t expect WePlay will be as successful as they hope. In order to succeed, they need the parents and their kids to signup and interact. But they’re only going to do that if the coaches and league/tournament organizers setup the teams/groups first. But the coaches and organizers won’t bother because the functionality they need isn’t there. Sure, they might draw in more informal teams, or perhaps older kids who setup team groups on their own. But beyond that, I think coaches will have more important things to worry about.
Oh yeah – one of the primary drivers behind WePlay is the Internet arm of Major League Baseball – who have fought so hard against fantasy leagues using player names and statistics, information that is in the public domain. So that alone makes me want to stay very far away…
What do you think? As a parent, do you think this would add something to your child’s youth sports experience? As a coach, would this help you more than some other services out there?
ADDING: TechCrunch has a write-up on WePlay.com as well, and they are about as impressed as I was. They make a good catch though – if you upload content, you give them a royalty free license to use it however they please. Funny considering how hard MLB fought the fantasy leagues using the player’s names.