NEWS: Software Startup for Referees Raising $2 Million; Whistle Seeks to Transform This Industry With Tech…

More than 100 million amateur sports games that rely on sports officials are played around the country every year.

But there’s a shortage of refs that could threaten the future of sports participation.

The repercussions on youth sports, in particular, include mass disruptions and cancellations, fewer games per season and fewer teams. In some areas, teams get dropped altogether.

A startup, with HQ at the Vine in Irvine, is looking to make it easier for refs to find opportunities. Whistle created an app that connects qualified officials with organized sports events.

It’s now raising a seed round of $2 million.

Whistle recently acquired Rent-A-Ref, a national sports officiating platform. Michael Radchuk, a USL referee, founded this company.

Whistle’s Foundation

Whistle founder and CEO, Oliver Barton, is originally form England, where he played soccer from the grass roots to the professional level.

When a knee injury sidelined him, he got into coaching instead. As he was coaching in England, he said he saw barriers to entry in terms of officiating.

“It hasn’t evolved, there hasn’t been any tech transformation in the best part of 20 years,” Barton told OC Startups Now. “And, unfortunately, there’s so many barriers to entry, it’s impossible for younger people to get into it and an impossible industry to engage with, so they drop out.”

In Barton’s opinion, the officiating associations are too controlling.

“Officials who are members of the associations are making choices based on favoritism,” he said.

Funding

Whistle, which did a soft launch in May 2018, obtained $320,000 in pre-seed funding from Hickory VC, in Beverly Hills.

Whistle is in revenue.

Board of Advisors

Whistle’s board includes Dean Blandino, who served as the VP of Officiating for the NFL for almost seven years and is an NFL and NCAA rules analyst for FOX Sports and the national director of instant replay for the NCAA.

How It Works

Whistle is accessible online and through the app.

Officials sign up with their credentials and are vetted with local and national background checks. They can then submit their profile to available games.

Game organizers are notified, review the profiles and assign the officials.

Typically with hiring refs, communication takes place via email. Whistle enables it to all take place through the app.

Payment is also conducted through the app, facilitating and expediting that process, Barton said.

Whistle is free to join for officials. It charges organizers an upfront service fee.

Ultimately, it plans to build premium features that will be available with a paid subscription, such as instant payouts, mentor matching and commissioner portals.

Competition

Competition includes ArbiterSports,  with HQ in Utah, which has been around for more than 30 years. It’s the sports officiating software company of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. It’s a venture between two NCAA subsidiaries, Arbiter LLC and eOfficials LLC.

Barton said what makes Whistle different is its customer service and that it doesn’t charge a commission fee or take anything from the pay the refs receive.

Recent Milestones

Whistle became an officiating partner with SportsEngine, a platform used by thousands of local sports organizations and national governing bodies to run their websites, tournaments, leagues, player registration and mobile apps.

More than 1 million teams, leagues, national governing bodies and regional associations use SportsEngine.

Why OC?

OC is an area with year-round sports programs that all rely on sports officials.

And, its tech ecosystem is “growing and pushing the market’s status as an emerging tech hub,” Barton said.

“The highly-skilled and educated workforce is a major driver and centrally located in Southern California,” he said. “Its an ideal location for our HQ to attract employees from nearby Los Angeles, San Diego, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties.

The abundance of amenities makes for a high quality of life for both young professionals and established families.”

About The Author

Deirdre Newman is a long-time journalist, who's covered OC startups for a few years.

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