Its patented wearable technology is being used in smart merchandise, enabling sports clubs to offer fans real-time money can’t buy experiences and ticketless entry through gear like jerseys and scarves, while giving them access to data and an industry leading anti-counterfeit solution.
Sportspro caught up with SOLOS chief executive, George Monemvasitis to hear more.
Describe your background in anti-counterfeit technology for designer clothing.
My background in anti-counterfeit technology began in 1996. I became involved in a company in Australia that was providing technology for protecting motor vehicle spare parts against theft. I took that technology to China and became the first foreign national to be accredited by the Ministry of Public Security in Beijing. That led me to get involved in a business that was producing tags. I began providing them with the technology for brand protection within their tags and we’ve worked with them ever since. We produce 500 million tags a year for well-known, globally recognised brands, but more specifically for high end luxury Italian brands.
How did you decide to move into smart wearable technology for the sport industry?
There is a significant global problem with counterfeit sports merchandise. Particularly in the UK, US and Europe and unfortunately not a lot is being done about it. We felt that with our experience, having a tag with anti-counterfeit technology embedded into it isn’t quite enough to deter a counterfeiter. We wanted to take it one step further. We came up with the technology for a washable tag that could be embedded into any sports merchandise, including hats, scarves, shoes, jerseys. We combined that with the concept of providing people with benefits for purchasing that merchandise with things like fast track entry, VIP experiences, seat upgrades and more. So there is an allure for the consumer to purchase the genuine article.
The counterfeit industry is worth around US$1.8 trillion and it’s growing exponentially. The problem we have today is that counterfeit goods are quite often as good as the genuine articles. It’s tempting to consumers to pay much less for counterfeit sports merchandise. We wanted to use our experience in the luxury brands industry to do something that was very much unique in the sports industry, something that no one else in the world is doing. We’re enticing fans to purchase the genuine article.
One of the questions we often ask as we travel the world talking to sporting organisations in football, NFL, tennis, AFL, is ‘can you tell us how many fans in your stadium are wearing the genuine merchandise and how many are not?’. The answer is, no one knows. That’s very unfortunate and represents a huge loss of revenue. We see this as a very important programme of providing a smart wearable with benefits, but at its core, it’s about brand protection.
What do you think is currently lacking in the way sports clubs/teams engage with their fans?
I think what’s lacking is any emphasis on protecting the brand. Sporting clubs and teams are doing a lot of work to engage with their fans, but they’re not necessarily looking at fit rom a brand protection point of view. Eventually we’d like to see only genuine merchandise being allowed into stadiums.
What opportunities does SOLOS provide in terms of enhancing that fan engagement?
The opportunities are endless. The advantage of SOLOS technology is that we have the ability for the sporting organisation to communicate personally with its members and reward them in real time. That’s a very exciting prospect for sporting clubs because it gives fans a far better experience than simply attending a game, sitting in the same seat and only being sent an offer the following Monday when clubs are trying to boost ticket sales to the next fixture. The types of things this system can provide are exclusive membership cards, with the embedded tag acting as your ticket to the game., Members pass through the SOLOs proprietary express smart gates as a fast track entry, unlocking food and beverage rewards and accessing content only available to those wearing the merchandise. Because these are real time experiences, we also have the ability to change them up match-by-match, sending push notifications pre, during and after the game.
Describe how the technology works.
Much like any kind of tap and connect system, you simply tap with your phone to connect. There is no app in the first instance. A screen will appear providing you with information and a series of opt in and opt out options. You can opt out for privacy purposes and we’re very cautious as a company about that. Once you’ve completed the questions we then proceed to inform you of events and offers as they occur, sending details of items to be purchased through the sporting organisation’s app. That information is then loaded to our cloud system and connected to the smart gates within the stadium. The push notifications are in the form of an MMS or SMS to your cell phone. The sporting organisation is given a software engine that is incredibly easy to operate by a single operator, who can simply manage hundreds of thousands of fans. The software has been deployed in a number of largescale stadiums around the world, including Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, home of the Atlanta Falcons, Banc of California Stadium, home of the LAFC, Golden 1 Centre, home of the Sacramento Kings NBA team, and Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions.
There is also a wonderful feature called ‘fan swarming’, which is like a Groupon for fans. If we know you’re in proximity to other fans, or to the game, we can send you a push notification for a nearby bar, for example that is a sponsor. The more friends that come to meet you there, the lower your beer pour price or food price. It is a fantastic opportunity for sporting organisations to work with sponsors and to provide them with measured results.
Tell me about your relationship with Real Sociedad.
We were selected as one of the winners of the Sport Thinkers Smart Stadium competition organised by the Global Sports Innovation Centre, powered by Microsoft in collaboration with Real Sociedad. The contest focused on the development of smart stadium solutions to transform Real Sociedad’s home ground Anoeta during its reconstruction. The competition rewarded 11 companies with a start-up acceleration programme, including SOLOS, giving us access to the Global Sports Innovation Centre, mentors and advice from sports industry professionals.
Real Sociedad fans will be trialling our new technology during La Real’s home game versus Real Madrid at Anoeta Stadium in San Sebastian on 12th May. Wearers of a limited edition scarf will receive automated messages direct to their smartphones, granting them the opportunity to experience the future of game day in stadium or whilst watching the blue and whites from the comfort of their own home.
Do you think the sporting community is receptive to change and new technology/ideas?
Yes. I think more so than ever before, sports teams and clubs are realising that their fan base isn’t necessarily within their local community alone, it can be quite diverse. They have fans all over the world and they need to be able to reach those fans as well and provide them with opportunities to become better engaged. With SOLOS, we’re able to address that. If you’re outside of that sporting organisation’s country, you can purchase merchandise, tap and connect and receive benefits such as the fan swarming I mentioned earlier. For example, the Golden State Warriors NBA team has a huge following of fans in the Philippines. Wouldn’t it be nice if their fans could get together and have just as good an experience as their local fans and know that in the Philippines they’re also buying the genuine merchandise.
I think sporting organisations are certainly open to it. Particularly when they consider protecting their good reputation and their brand. That’s so important for them.
What is your vision for SOLOS in the sports industry?
I’d like to see us get to a stage where counterfeit sports merchandise is vastly diminished from where it is today. I don’t think we’ll ever eradicate it, but if we can reduce peoples’ desire to purchase counterfeit merchandise, that can only be a good thing. Sporting organisations can only benefit from that increaed revenue.
What are you most looking forward to over the next 2-3 years?
What we’re most looking forward to is seeing as many sporting codes as possible join us to take part in this process and begin utilising this technology. It’s a win-win for both of us. It’s great for the club to know that they’re doing things that at every turn are of benefit. Simply getting people into the stadium more rapidly, means they consume more than if they’re outside waiting in the queue. They also know that their fans will have a great experience and that they’ll keep coming back for more. That means more members and more fans going along to more live games. What we want to see is that reduction in merchandise being ripped off and sold out on street corners at vastly reduced prices.