WePlay.com – Do Youth Teams Need A Social Network?

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.

weplay.jpg

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.

Leave a Reply

  1. Youth sports in America is something kids DO, not who they are. Segmenting kids’ lives into specific interests is just not going to work because the kids themselves resist the labels. Today, for 90:00, they are a soccer player, then later this afternoon, they are a music enthusiast and after that, they are a blogger. Tomorrow, they will be a student, then a peer counselor, followed by a fashion consultant. They may become a soccer player again for about 40:00 of the required 90:00…

    They already have a WePlay.com called MySpace and Facebook. Before WePlay.com launched, they should have taken a long hard look at what makes MySpace and Facebook tick. And, segmenting social networks into specific interests is the antithesis of a social network.

    We help manage soccer tournaments and in some respects, we could be called a social network for soccer. But, we’re not and are not delusional about the amount of time and attention players, coaches and family give to the tournament. We are almost relentless about our “90:00 minute attention span” rule. Focus on them when they are playing, do not expect they will care before or after.

    Sports and sporting events need to focus their time and energy into Widgets (Facebook apps) that kids and parents can bring into their Facebook, MySpace pages for the team, tournament, league and integrate THAT into their pages. Integrating interests is how kids see themselves. Parents and marketers need to quit seeing kids as “the soccer player”, “the actor”, “the singer”, “the bandie”, etc.

    Which is why stuff like WePlay.com will fail, technology deficiencies aside.

    PS: Also a parent of travel soccer kids, now 22 and 17.

  2. Both comments are true. WePlay will fail as the online medium only attracts the wrong audience – kids that like to watch TV and chat all day. Kids that DO Sports are active and not bound to online communities.

    Here is something really needed: http://www.sportsDrive.com. They provide online assessments on sports psychology. Very helpful to find out more about how you´re triggered. Unfortunately, they only have producst that focus on professionals and adults so far.

    Eric

  3. The problem is that WePlay, now open for the public, is that it’s extraordinarily droll. This is an off-the-shelf social net reskinned. Scheduling? Can’t find! Videos? Done better, and you do give away theh rights to them! Social net? Not even really possible on the site. Boring…

    I disagree that sporty kids aren’t on the Web. About 80% of the young athletes in the nation are on a social network. Unless we’re going to start pulling the plug on their computers, we had better find a place for them to communicate that we can live with! (That eliminates MS and FB!)

    Try out http://www.Zoosse.com/ (prototype). Right now it’s a social network satisfying the social and scheduling needs of athletes, schools, youth centers and teams, but when the Beta launches in June, they will add complete informational portals for each of the participating sports; to help people learn about their sports, train better, win more, and get connected and recruited. Already, with no advertising, and only open for a few weeks, they have Olympians, pros and ranked athletes on board. Dynamic.

    Most interesting: They are partners with a company that is promising them a million young athletes a year for the next five years, and are committed to making Zoosse as safe as humanly possible.

    This is the best athlete social net out there, and if their Sport Portals are as solid as expected, they may have the right combo of social/functional services for athletes…and the audience!! That will make this THE athlete space on the Web. Watch http://www.zoosse.com/

  4. Hi Mike,

    First off…great blog! Your passion for the game as well as youth sports is inspiring. Love it. Secondly, thanks for noticing weplay’s beta.

    weplay is all about increasing participation in youth sports and helping everyone involved enjoy their activities. After all, the inspiration for our start up was as parents and coaches ourselves.

    I actually think our missions are very much aligned. Your posts (like “Top Ten Things…”) are perfect examples of the type of content that makes a social media site and a group management utility a natural fit. Giving coaches the chance to learn from each other and help parents understand everyone’s role (and vice versa) is key to successful teams/leagues.

    Our site is evolving daily. We built it from scratch and are rapidly iterating. Last week we upgraded the scheduler; this week media upload will take a giant leap forward…so stay tuned.

    Lastly, love TC and all, but they got the image licensing all wrong. weplay is a COPPA compliant site founded on safety and privacy. Our TOS has always stated that we only have rights to post the material on our site. The member retains ownership.

    Thanks again and congrats with OTP!

    T.J.

    T.J. Marchetti
    VP of Product
    weplay.com

  5. Thanks for the kind words TJ. Glad to hear new features are being added to WePlay and I’ll be following the developments with interest. Good luck!

  6. One year later and I hear Weplay is struggling BIG time. Lots of layoffs and running out of cash. All the naysayers were right – not really a great idea and TERRIBLE executiong from what I can see. LeBron Jame, Peyton Manning and Derek Jeter must be so embarrassed to have this failure associated with them!

  7. Does anyone have an update on weplay.com?
    Have they made it or are they still struggling?