Players In Motion

Joseph Burt remembers watching his buddy, former San Francisco 49er Guy McIntyre, struggling to learn Coach Bill Walsh’s complicated offensive maneuvers from the professional football team’s playbook. “He had his finger on this complicated play and tried to follow its path along the page,” says Burt. “I knew it would be easier if you could see the movement of the plays.” Within hours, Burt, an Apple Computer engineer at the time, was at his keyboard creating a program that used line animation to show the route of each play.

Burt’s creation led to the 1994 launch of PowerTeam Sports Inc., a multimedia company that sells interactive playbook animation software. Its PowerBoard and ChalkBoard product lines allow football, basketball, and soccer coaches to chuck three-ring-binder playbooks in favor of technology that accelerates learning and increases retention. Clients include the San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons, Pennsylvania State University, and the University of Notre Dame.

PowerBoard users can point and click to animate precise routes and curves over a standard football field background. Unlike competing products, the program uses proprietary technology that enables coaches to edit and import video clips from game tapes and create plays directly over the footage.

“With PowerBoard, our coaches can show a close-up of an offensive tackle running a play during a game and then animate the exact route he’s supposed to be following. That makes it easier for him to focus on what he’s doing right or wrong,” says Robert Unagi, head video coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers. The technology has been especially effective in helping coach rookie wide receivers, who are learning plays faster and anticipating defensive players better after using PowerBoard, he adds.

“A coach works from Monday through Sunday after the game,” says Larry Kennan, executive director of the NFL Coaches Association. “You got a set amount of time to get as much information to the players as possible. With this kind of technology, there’s so much more information you can give players.”

PowerTeam generated $1.4 million in revenues in 2005, and Burt expects sales to double in 2006 because of new products and more distribution channels. New products are in the works for hockey, rugby, and lacrosse, and Burt already has begun localizing PowerBoard and ChalkBoard for the French, Italian, and Spanish markets with plans to sell through distributors in Europe. The company currently distributes its soccer product in Australia through SportsTec International.