By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
How many entrepreneurs have you heard utter these words: “I always had an idea I wanted to work for myself”?
Add Johnson City’s Brad Batt to the list. One of the key players in the “Startup Tri-Cities” organization also plays a major behind-the-scenes role in helping individual referees and schools manage schedules of officials for sporting events, mainly basketball.
In Batt’s case, he decided to act on his goal, founding BlueZebra Sports 20 years ago. Today, his officiating management platform, appropriately named Officiating.com, is used by 20 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I conferences.
“We provide a full suite of tools for conferences to manage everything,” BlueZebra explains on the website. “Whether it is assigning games, communicating with coaches, or paying officials … we have you covered!”
There is a sister site – Assignr.com – that came about when Batt and Jeff Wigal, founder of the latter, joined forces to create BlueZebra Sports. Assignr.com is focused on youth, recreation league and high school sporting events. Like its collegiate sibling, this one helps manage the assignment of officials for events, and both leverage existing tools to maximize communications between the officials and those needing their services.
Batt’s background says a lot about how Officiating.com and ultimately BlueZebra Sports came into being.
“I always liked computers and programming,” he told us in a recent interview. Batt describes himself as a “self-taught programmer,” starting from the days he owned a Commodore 64 and later a Commodore 128.
While the family lived in many different states and even countries during his youth, Batt recalls driving by Compaq Computer’s headquarters in Houston on his way to high school. Ironically, after earning his B.S. in Electrical Engineering with a minor in Computer Science, he joined the team at Compaq where he worked for nearly three years before starting his own consulting company that focused on SAP applications.
Along the way, Batt also says, “I got a wild hair thinking refereeing basketball would be a cool thing.” His first officiating work involved junior varsity games before moving up to the collegiate level and eventually Division 1.
The story takes an interesting twist, thanks to a request from Dale Kelley, a long-time and well-known collegiate basketball referee and also long-time Mayor of Huntingdon, TN.
“I had registered the Officiating.com domain just for fun,” Batt says. However, it turned into more than just a hobby when Kelley asked him to help automate a paper and snail mail or telephone process. At the time, Kelley was coordinating assignment of officials for men’s games in four conferences.
“He asked if we could put the process on the web,” Batt recalls. Today, everything is automated . . . from individual contracts to payroll, and even video uploading of calls.
“It’s been a pretty good lifestyle business for me,” he says, adding somewhat facetiously, “We’re a year or two away from being an overnight success.”
Batt, who was born in New Orleans, moved from Houston to Johnson City in 2011 and has become very engaged in the region’s start-up activities. He’s based out of the Spark Plaza co-working space in downtown Johnson City.
As far as the future, Batt says he’s looking for ways to apply the technology BlueZebra Sports has developed in areas beyond officiating. He thinks the capabilities in areas like payroll and contracts could be valuable in other sectors.
That said, like most entrepreneurs, he’s also continually looking for ways to enhance the two products currently available. “There are some things I still want to do with the software,” Batt says.