URef: Bringing attention to the Referee through data & fan engagement

URef is a popular, World First fan engagement platform - giving sports fans the voice and stats they need to rate the referee.

It is based on the premise that fans need a voice to vent their feelings and thoughts about referee performance while enabling increased accountability of sports umpiring. In this exclusive feature, we sat down with the URef founders, Jack Atkinson and Nathan Derriman to learn more about the platform.

Jack Atkinson and Nathan Derriman, founders of URef in the Hills District, Australia
Jack Atkinson and Nathan Derriman, founders of URef (Source: EYXL)

Zushan Hashmi: Tell us a little bit about yourselves outside of URef?

Jack Atkinson: My two passions are sport and business so outside of URef designated time, I soak up as much information on either topic as I can possibly digest.

Since I was a kid, I had a keen interest in entrepreneurship and was lucky enough to work at a prominent sports talent management company which fuelled my desire to start my own business in the sports sector. I am a big family guy and consider myself very lucky to have such a supportive inner circle.

Nathan Derriman: I am a pretty simple guy outside of work. I spend a lot of time with friends and family, and I enjoy exciting ideas and experiences.

I have always been fascinated by improvements in services and technology, which ultimately facilitated my motivation to create an innovative platform for sports fans.

You’re both sports fans, but I have to ask if you could pick one sport each, what would it be? And why?

JA: I am a sports nut but I’m a self-confessed cricket tragic - test cricket is my preferred form by quite some margin.

In my mind, nothing competes with the mental and physical endurance of test cricket – put simply, watching five consecutive days of something you love is hard to beat.

If the Blackcaps or Aussies are playing, I will almost definitely have one eye on either the tv or ESPNCricinfo.

I think the most resounding surprise that we have uncovered through our first 18 months post-launch has been the positivity towards referees. - Nathan Derriman

ND: I am an NRL/Roosters tragic. I have been to most home fixtures since I was little and have been to all 4 premierships that the Roosters have won in my lifetime. I also respect the NRL in their pragmatism as an organization.

They are willing to adapt to the times and offer a supreme product for their key stakeholders week in week out. My admiration has only grown during COVID, with the NRL being one of the first sports on the planet to resume under strenuous circumstances.

Where did the idea for URef spark from?

JA: URef conceptually emerged as Nathan and I became increasingly frustrated with the quality of officiating across a multitude of sports. However, the more pertinent frustration was the fact that the fan’s feedback and criticism were aimless and far from constructive – the fans didn’t have a voice on what is such a permanently hot, emotionally engaging topic.

We were aware that referees have traditionally been sacrosanct in sport (a protected species to some extent), but we were also acutely aware of the fact that analytics and data were overwhelmingly improving the standards of players, coaches and teams in general, so we knew that we had an opportunity to dive into the untapped niche of refereeing.

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The founders working on their computer
Source: EYXL

Coming to the main discussion, what is URef?

JA: URef is a popular, fan engagement App to our users and a market-leading data provider to clients and prospective partners. The product itself empowers fans to review referee performances and big decisions in real-time and provides unprecedented access to valuable data-rich content as well as unique referee oriented statistics.

URef feels that fans need a voice to vent their feelings and thoughts. URef is that voice. We also feel that referees need assistance from the fans as opposed to aimless criticism or feedback. URef operates with the core aim of reinventing the sports consumption process by effectively activating the voice of sports fans when it comes to the permanently hot topic of refereeing.

As you would know, player analysis and analytics is a multi-billion dollar industry but referees are an enormous asset in a sport that has never been commercially capitalized upon - Until now. Through our groundbreaking innovations in fan engagement, data and gamification, URef is on track to become a major player in sports technology. As our business has evolved, we have found that the strongest commercial opportunity exists in our data licensing capabilities.

The Ref is usually a contentious topic, whatever the sport may be, what was the reason you thought a product such as URef would be the answer to referee woes for sporting fans?

ND: The premise of the product was to broaden the impetus on accountability within the sport.

Players and coaches are held accountable so why aren’t the referees held to the same level of accountability as them? We felt that opening the ‘pandora’s box’ so to speak, would give good referees the credibility they deserve and ensure, collectively, we improve the overall quality of officiating in the process.

What is it that URef does which makes it different from other similar platforms?

JA: There is really no direct competitor to URef’s offering. We offer unprecedented fan engagement features like Fan Jury and general match performance voting that enables fans to voice their valuable thoughts but more importantly, we are the clear market leaders in terms of the provision of stats and fan-driven data when it comes to Premier League refereeing as well as VAR.

Nathan Derriman and Jack Atkinson part 2 URef
Source: EYXL

The EPL is one of your key focuses, and you are planning to launch another product soon?

JA: The EPL is certainly our primary focus at the moment.

What has the response been like on the EPL side of things?

JA: Market receptivity has been extremely strong. We had an incredibly successful first year in which we achieved over 25,000 App installs and a strong, global active user base (active users in over 125 countries).

User sentiment has been outstanding – we have had over 250 reviews on the App Store and Google Play Store combined with an average rating of 4.4/5. The most common piece of feedback, as is evident in our online reviews, is that we need to cover more leagues, which, in time, we will.

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What makes our start more noteworthy is that we achieved quality traction and early user volume growth without a marketing budget. We are just about to complete a capital raising round which will ensure our CPA of just over 40c is put to good use in order to rapidly accelerate user volume.

Tell me a little bit about some of the most interesting football referee data insights you have found through URef?

ND: I think the most resounding surprise that we have uncovered through our first 18 months post-launch has been the positivity towards referees. “Approval ratings” are one of our KPI’s and are based on fan voting on referee decisions.

The sentiment is incredibly strong across the board. Jon Moss is the undeniable King of the refs at this current time across multiple KPI’s. Without going too granular, I have also found it fascinating to see the league-wide averages for contentious decisions in fixtures and their proportions for Home/Away.

The founders at their office
Source: EYXL

As very much, one of the first in the space, what keeps you on your toes in terms of competition and growing the URef brand?

ND: Innovation, and having a plethora of new data sets in the locker/pipeline for future releases. New white label products tailored for prospective clients is also a massive component of our immediate competitive edge. Varmine Sweeper is our new sportsbook product set to launch for the 2020/2021 season.

As an Australian-based company, what are some of your aims to grow within this market, where more often than not, football (soccer) and basketball play second-fiddle to the likes of the AFL, rugby and cricket?

JA: The Australian sporting landscape isn’t in the immediate pipeline for URef. We love Australian sport but with respect to the likes of the NRL, AFL and A-League, our rollout plan is to cover larger competitions with global audiences.

Given that our EPL Football product has been validated by leading media companies, broadcasters and betting companies as being commercially viable, the obvious next step in our product pipeline is to cover more European Football Leagues with a view to then entering the US market.

We recently received investment from the US which is exciting as we are keen to increase our footprint in America too.

For more Sports Tech & Entrepreneurship, visit Sportageous.
Photographs for this article were shot with EYXL. Eric is a photographer based in Sydney, Australia for the fitness and active lifestyle space.
You can follow URef on Twitter and visit their website here to learn more about how the Referee app is changing how fans interact with, and understand referees
Noor Shafiq assisted in the curation of this article. You can follow him here on LinkedIn.

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