(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following profile of a Northeast Tennessee start-up appeared in the newsletter of AccelNow, the Kingsport-based organization supporting entrepreneurs in the region.)
Fall is the time where leaves start changing colors, everything is pumpkin spiced and where most of the country’s major sports coincide. Brad Batt, founder of BlueZebra Sports, is all too familiar with many of America’s greatest sports as having been a sports official for 15 years and now running an online business that develops assigning and officiating management software for almost 20 years. This online business wasn’t something he had necessarily planned out, however. What started out by accident led to something bigger.
Brad Batt, born in New Orleans and current Johnson City resident, had always wanted to work for himself. Even when he was working for Fortune 500 companies after college, and making a great living, he had that itch to become an entrepreneur. At that time, he was officiating on the side for high school basketball and worked his way up the ranks into Men’s Division 1 basketball conferences. He also was very interested in working with web design and really anything involving the internet at a time when it really started to take off. One particular gig he was designing a website for a client who was the coordinator of five Division 1 conferences and he had asked Brad if he could put schedules for sports officials on a website. At the time, their now main competition would just mail out or email the officials schedules which was very chaotic as it resulted in many scheduling conflicts and double bookings. There was no way to better streamline the scheduling process. In a given conference, there might be 60 officials that work basketball games so there was a big necessity to coordinate which dates the sports officials were available. This was especially necessary being that most collegiate officials only officiate part-time and have other jobs that conferences must take into account. Brad saw the obvious need for something easier to manage and started up officiating.com, which is under the BlueZebra Sports company umbrella. His focus was on collegiate sports as opposed to the main competition in this space, who caters more towards high school sports. Word quickly spread of this new officiating scheduling platform, including catching the attention of the Women’s Basketball Coordinator for the Big 10 conference, who signed on for his services. It only grew from there.
Along with providing software that coordinates schedules with sports officials, BlueZebra Sports expanded to also dealing with: updating game assignments right to the official’s phone, uploading games, messaging officials directly, broadcasting emails to officials and coaches, video reviews, a payment system for officials, and more. Brad Batt’s vision was to not only help conferences manage refs and umpires but to make things overall easier for those sports officials. With only one main competitor, and catering towards a different level in sports, officiating.com was able to take a small niche and become a big player in it. It was roughly 10 years ago that the growth of this platform got to the point where he became full-time working with his company. About 4 years ago he knew it was time to bring in more help to assist with the expansion of clientele so he met with a man, Jeff Wigal, who he saw an opportunity to work with immediately. Jeff had created a similar platform, called Assignr, only instead he was focusing on youth and high school sports. He would soon partner with Jeff and merge their 2 companies to form BlueZebra Sports. Together, their company would encompass sports, mainly basketball, from youth to collegiate levels. Their clientele currently covers twenty Division 1 conferences but they’re not done expanding.
Recently, Brad and Jeff saw the need to obtain even more help so they reached out to some of the great resources the Tri-Cities has to offer entrepreneurs. They also recently hired on a contractor to help with many of the daily tasks needed to run a business so that Brad and Jeff could focus more on the bigger picture and that is to grow further to more conferences and gain overall momentum. The next step to accomplishing this is to hire a full-time developer which they plan to do in the near future. Brad had found a small yet important niche that started as an exciting side job and, by a little happenstance, grew to a business that has become one of the major players in the sector. There are no signs of him or his company slowing down either and they will continue to deliver the full-court press with no limits in site.