Meet the Start-up Revolutionising Sports Facility Bookings

Dublin-based company bookapitch is delivering a web-based solution that makes booking and managing sports facilities easier.

Bookapitch is a new online venture that enables organisations like schools, GAA or football clubs to advertise and rent out their sports pitches without spending their time speaking to each and every person making a booking – while allowing the public to search and book their local sports pitch in a few simple clicks.

Dubbed as ‘Airbnb for Sports Facilities’, the ultimate goal for bookapitch is to become the world’s leading sports booking software. The company, officially launched earlier this year, has witnessed an enthusiastic response from customers in Ireland.

For example, in the academic sector, the likes of Trinity College and DIT, and schools like Belvedere College, Rathdown School and Wesley College have begun using it. Similarly, customers across the different sports, including GAA and soccer, have started using it too.

Council Journal caught up with bookapitch CEO and co-founder Craig Bewley – great-great grandson of Joshua Bewley, who founded Dublin’s legendary Bewley’s café in 1840 – to find out more about the company and its plans to revolutionise booking and managing sports facilities in Ireland and beyond.

What exactly is Bookapitch and how does it work?

“Bookapitch is a simple concept, but with huge potential. It is a cloud based end-to-end solution that advertises and manages the bookings of sports pitches and other sports facilities. It has two aspects; Firstly, the website enables the public to search for and book their local sports pitch in a few simple clicks. Secondly, our sports booking management system enables sports clubs and Academic Institutions to manage all aspects of bookings on their sports pitches and facilities. For example, manage internal and external bookings, take online bookings, manage their finances, run management reports, etc”.

Where did the idea come from?

“I am a co-founder in the Irish Tag Rugby Association (ITRA), which introduced Adult Tag Rugby to Ireland and I also co-founded Alive Outside, Ireland’s largest outdoor sports events company, which runs HELL & BACK.

Therefore, due to my background in the business of sport, the idea for the ‘marketplace’ aspect of bookapitch came from my own struggles to identify venues to organise sporting events. I was also amazed to see the culture of paying “cash on the night” as still being prevalent in the market.

Similarly, from my prior experience in the sports and academic sectors, I identified that the majority of sports clubs and academic institutions are still using Excel spreadsheets to manage the bookings on their pitches and sports facilities and they still insist on you having to ring up or email them to see availability. This was the reason we developed our online sports booking management system”.

What positive outcomes are hoped to arise from an uptake in use of Bookapitch? (i.e. Smart use of space, maximising existing infrastructures)

“We have been called the ‘Airbnb for sports facilities!’ and I think this comparison is justified because our sports booking system gives Venues that have fantastic sports facilities the opportunity to generate additional revenue for these facilities. In most cases, despite having excellent facilities, these Venues have no marketing budget or they don’t have the know how to promote their facilities to the public.

We give them an immediate online presence that enables them to market the availability of their facilities via Social Media, Email, etc. Similarly, we are hoping that due to the increasing number of venues offering their sports facilities to rent and the easy access to these facilities, more and more people will decide to exercise”.

How popular has the platform proved since its launch?

“Since we launched a few months ago, we have had a fantastic response to the product from customers. We have a wide range of customers from large universities like Trinity College and Maynooth University to Schools like Wesley College and Belvedere College and a host of leisure centres, soccer, rugby and GAA clubs. We have made a conscious effort to make the product simple and easy to use both for the customer and the venues.

This is what Trinity College had to say about the product: “We at Trinity Sport are delighted with bookapitch. We have seen an increase in our 5-a-side bookings and major improvements in our customer retention. The software is simple to install, easy to use, has insightful analytics and most of all they provide excellent customer/client service. I would highly recommend bookapitch”. – Rosie King, Sport Business Development Manager, Trinity College, Dublin”.

How big is the team at the moment?

“As a start-up, initially it was just me and my business partner. However, the team is growing and we have recently hired Brian Cashman as our Chief Commercial Officer. Brian’s role is to help drive sales and he has been instrumental in helping us design the platform for the product, so we head hunted him. Brian has an MSc in Sports Management from UCD and over seven years’ experience of managing the biggest sports facility in the country. Over the next few months we are planning on expanding our team and bringing our technology in-house”.

What were the biggest challenges you faced in getting Bookapitch off the ground?

“Initially the main challenge was getting funding to build the platform. However, Enterprise Ireland invested in the platform as part of the Competitive Start-Up Fund (CSF) and that went a long way to helping us build the product. Now the main challenge we face is changing a market that is dominated by what we describe as “biscuit tin” operators i.e. venues that predominantly take cash for booking their sports facilities and store the cash in biscuit tins!

This is the way they have been doing it for decades and the mindset is “current practice, is best practice”. Bookapitch aims to change this mindset. We want to bring these venues online and into the 21st century. It won’t be easy, as they have resisted change up to this point, but we will do it. Our main focus now is recruiting venues. However, we are now looking to attract the right investment to help with our ambitious growth plans”.

What advice would you offer to budding entrepreneurs?

“People are crucial to the success of your business. Therefore, try to hire the best people. I recommend hiring people on attitude as much as experience. Try to put the right people into the right jobs i.e. let the hen’s lay eggs and the ducks swim and not the other way around”!

What are the plans for the future of the project, both short and long term? Are there plans afoot to expand beyond Ireland?

“The initial focus for bookapitch is Ireland. Our plan is to establish a foothold in the market here and then we plan to really focus on the UK. I spent seven and a half years living in the UK, so I know that market very well. On a Global level, in the next three years, we plan to have expanded into Australia and to have worked on a strategy to break into the US market. Our ultimate goal is to become the world’s leading sports booking software”.

Left-Right: Bookapitch CEO Craig Bewley with chief commercial officer Brian Cashman

Left-Right: Bookapitch CEO Craig Bewley with chief commercial officer Brian Cashman

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