In the beginning ….

I moved to Pittsburgh in 2001 to become a professor in electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. I was born in India, raised in Africa, and I was not a sports fan to begin with. Going to my first live hockey game changed everything for me–I fell in love with the sport, with the beauty and the excitement of watching it live, with the gasps of fans at every save, every breakaway, and with the level of skill required to play the game. Unfortunately, as a faculty member, I could afford only the nose-bleed seats, and I was never able to see the goal, the fight, the save, or anything spectacular, when it counted, because my view of the ice was always obstructed by taller fans standing up in front of me.

In all honesty, my experience at home was so much better–I could see and follow the puck on my crystal-clear high-definition TV. Even better, I could easily control my experience–I could rewind, pause, and review the action, whenever I wanted. On the other hand, nothing, absolutely nothing, came close to the experience of watching a hockey game live, along with 20,000 other rabid, cheering, fans who are hanging in there with every shift. I wanted that level of control over my experience (that I had at home) when I went to a live game at the arena. I wanted to be able to see what I wanted, when I wanted it, right from my seat, without craning to look over and around a number of standing, cheering fans.

And, thus was YinzCam born, as a Carnegie Mellon University research project, as a way to help fans like myself not to miss a minute of the action when it mattered. The Pittsburgh Penguins gave us a chance to pilot this new technology in 2008-9 at Mellon Arena (the oldest NHL arena at the time), and we debuted the concept of letting fans watch different live camera angles and on-demand replays (also from different camera angles), directly on their smartphones, over an in-arena Wi-Fi network, while at their seats. We were the first to have tried doing this on smartphones over Wi-Fi, within a sporting venue. Incidentally, this was way before there was any talk of “high-density Wi-Fi,” as we know it today. At the first game that our pilot went live, we had but a handful of users. For me, that was amazing, and I was over the moon. I thought to myself, “Wow, people I don’t know, other fans, are using what we built. We must be on to something here!

By the end of April 2009, leading into the Stanley Cup Finals, seeing the increasing growth usage and engagement from fans, we knew that we had a company on our hands. The picture in this post shows three different smartphones (iOS, Android, and, yes, Blackberry) displaying three different camera angles at a Detroit Red Wings vs. Pittsburgh Penguins playoff game in that critical pilot season, leading to the Penguins’ Stanley Cup win. The pilot became a product that day. Exactly five years ago this month, YinzCam was incorporated and became a company.

Five years after its inception, YinzCam now supports 85+ sports franchises around the world, with a mobile experience that goes well beyond the in-venue replays and in-venue live cameras that we started our journey with. I started this company, first and foremost, as a fan. In fact, even our company name comes from the fact that it really was and is about you, the fan, and your view/perspective of the game (“yinz” is the Pittsburghese equivalent of “y’all” and comes from pronouncing “you ones” fast enough). To this day, we’ve never forgotten that the fan is the ultimate client in all that we do.

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