He’s on the ball and real smart

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Can you be a sports fan and a geek? For a generation raised on Eighties classics like Revenge of the Nerds, the answer is an unequivocal “no”. Today, thanks to TV shows like Fringe and 24, being tech savvy is no longer synonymous with social ostracism. Quite the contrary.

These days, at least if popular culture is your yardstick, it takes mastery of gadgets, not just guns, to make you a bad-ass. Try questioning Jack Bauer’s masculinity and he’d set you straight in no uncertain terms, just as soon as he’d finished torturing his prisoner and uploading the GPS co-ordinates of the hidden nuke via his smartphone.

But that’s TV. What about real life? Enter Durban web developer Justin Raleigh. I’d been tipped off that he’d built a smartphone app that’s going to dramatically change the way we shop and watch live sports.

When I request an interview he suggests we meet, not in some Dilbertesque cubicle, but at that temple of testosterone, King’s Park Stadium. As I arrive, I park my station wagon next to Raleigh’s muscular Chevy Lumina SS. Another tick in the jock box.

But here comes the geek bit. About a year ago, the 36-year-old Maritzburg College old boy and married father of one became so concerned about falling attendance levels at Sharks games that he decided to come up with a high-tech alternative to the old-fashioned and, let’s face it, rather tired concept of the loyalty programme.

His company LoyalT had run a traditional card-based version successfully for a local premier league football team and was in the middle of introducing one for the Sharks. “But the further into the process we got, looking at printing cards and installing expensive machines to read them, the more we realised just how archaic this model was,” he recalls.

“No one wants a dozen loyalty cards cluttering their wallet. I knew there had to be a better way.” The solution for this iPhone-toting app addict was blindingly obvious: a smartphone based programme.

“Virtually everyone who comes to a Sharks match has a cellphone. Tying the loyalty programme to their phone was the answer.”

Making this a reality wasn’t nearly as simple, but after months of gruelling 18-hour workdays, the fruits of Raleigh’s and his team’s labours, the SharksFrenzy app, is available for most smartphones.

I’ve played with the app for the past couple of weeks and it looks like a winner. Here’s how it works:

Sharks supporters download the application from the Apple, Android or BlackBerry app stores.

It’s a free download, but you’ll need to “activate” it at a cost of R100-a-year to unlock its true power.

This gives you access to freebies and discounts at a range of local shops, bars, restaurants and hotels, from guaranteed instant rewards like a glass of wine or a cappuccino to surprise random rewards.

Raleigh estimates that if a fan takes full advantage of the rewards on offer, his or her R100 annual membership is worth around R4 000.

All very nice, I hear you say, but what’s that got to do with getting fans to switch off their TVs and go to Sharks matches? Well, every time you “check in” to one of the SharksFrenzy affiliated establishments using the app, you not only get the reward on offer there, but also an entry into the prize draw at the next Sharks game at King’s Park. And here’s the bums-on-seats bit – you have to be at the game to be in line for one of the prizes.

There are some pretty attractive prizes up for grabs, including a family holiday worth R47 000, free tickets for KZN Sharks fans, flights and tickets for fans from other provinces and gaming consoles for kids.

Geo-location technology is key to the success of the programme, alerting members whenever they’re near an affiliated establishment and helping authenticate the check-in process both there and at the game. The developers have also cleverly integrated social networks like Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare into the app, so expect an explosion in viral growth once the rugby season kicks off next month.

More partners are being added to an already impressive list all the time.

l For more information visit sharksfrenzy.co.za. You’ll find an online version of this article, with all relevant links, at geekbeard.posterous.com. Contact me on Twitter @alanqcooper.