Twenty years ago Martin Wiklund was plying his trade in the stadiums of Swedish soccer’s top tier. Now he is hoping to bring the sport to a much wider audience.
Armed with a $1.2 million investment from Sweden’s top broadcaster, and a growing buzz, Wiklund’s startup, Sportswik, looks likely to do well in a market that is not always eager to embrace disruptive technology.
Sportswik is an app and media platform which turns any sports viewer, coach or player into a journalist. Users can upload game content to the site, which editorializes it into a package rather like that of an online newspaper or television broadcaster. “It’s a sports app and media platform that allows any team at any level to get the media coverage of top-level teams,” Wiklund says. “And the reporters are the micro-community that surrounds the team.”
Once a midfielder at Umeå FC, from the northern university town of the same name, Wiklund faced off against players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Jesper Blomqvist and Andreas Andersson as the club enjoyed its maiden year in the Allsvenskan, Sweden’s Premier League.
It was while playing that Wiklund developed an interest in tech, creating a homepage for Umeå in 1994, before the sport had woken up to the online world. In 2002 he developed a text messaging service, “so our physio(therapist) would text a phone connected to my computer, that would parse that message and send it out to all the members in the club.”
Sportswik’s platform goes far beyond text messaging, combining photos, videos and text into a timeline that imitates the coverage usually afforded only to soccer’s top sides. Each team’s community, whether it’s an under-10s hockey team or provincial reserve soccer side, comprises around a hundred people, including 20-25 players and four or five coaches.
“They’re the only ones interested in this team, which is why traditional media cannot cover them – because the cost of creating the content is too much,” he said. “Everyone only covers the top teams and leagues, but there are so many people who care about their little team. And that’s why we’re trying to tap in there.”
Until now these people have been confined to their own Facebook groups, a club’s website, or Twitter. “But that means content is scattered,” Wiklund told me. “We connect that. People can put up pictures, video, and reporting. They can do something in five or 10 seconds, and our content machine will aggregate that content, the game fact, the picture galleries, and the personal feed every member gets.”
It’s a solution Wiklund has been pondering for years. He ended his playing career early, aged 28 – “I realized it wasn’t going to be Liverpool, or someone like that” – and immediately focused on tech, moving to New York to work at a subsidiary of management consultant Capgemini “to work on some really exciting projects in the fintech field.”
A stint back in Sweden at tech consultant Sogeti, another Capgemini arm, prefaced work as a local startup consultant. It was there that the foundations for Sportswik were laid. But it would take a night out in the States, and a difficult plane ride, for the thought to become a reality.
“I’d had a very late night in San Francisco after a conference,” Wiklund, who is still as spry and sporty as a pro player, says. “Then on the tough plane ride back that next day, it all came to me. I hammered down all the features, all the team setups, the business models, everything. And we’re still on that path.”
Sportwik was founded proper in the summer of 2014, using Wiklund’s former club Umeå, now in Sweden’s third division, as guinea pigs. Local angel investor Jan Snygg put in $320,000 the following May, and this March Swedish broadcaster TV4 Group added $1.2 million, which has not only allowed Wiklund to build a team of six, but to tap into the channel’s rich advertising vein.
Sportswik now has over 40,000 members, 30% of whom add content. Wiklund hopes to add two more recruits soon, and increase revenues from $100,000 to $190,000. Currently its only revenue is from cup competitions wishing to get more visibility. That will soon change, even if the platform doesn’t.
“The basic principles of giving everyone the tools to have the type of media coverage the big teams have, with technology that’s in their pockets, we’ve never changed from that,” Wiklund told me.
“From a business development standpoint we’re trying to prepare for going global,” he added. “The needs for any game are generic. If it’s football there are two goals, a ball. The things that are interesting in Umea are just as interesting in New York, or Bangalore.
“TV channels might buy rights to the top league, but the rest is not covered at all. With our engine we can give the minor leagues the exact same coverage you would have for the top teams. All you need is someone creating content, and the editorial stuff is done by us.”