By Jayson Hron
When the Fantasy Sports Trade Association bestowed its 2016 Elevator Pitch Award on Bloomington-based Inside Edge last week, it marked a rare public salute to a company quietly operating in private since the mid-1980s.
But that’s the nature of business-to-business sales, especially when your specialty is covert intelligence that helped win six consecutive World Series.
Founders Randy Istre and Jay Donchetz will tell you it all started in a Twin Cities garage, where they launched a deep-dive into baseball statistics. Kenny Kendrena, now vice president of product and sales for Inside Edge, tells it like this:
“Randy and Jay worked with college teams to begin with, then they added the U.S. Olympic Team and then the Milwaukee Brewers. Randy developed software to capture pitch data – pitch type, velocity, location – and he took that information and turned it into something useful for teams. It became an advance scouting tool. Inside Edge was one of the first, if not the first doing it.”
As the client list grew, so too did Inside Edge, eventually moving into a larger space, and national prominence, a mere three miles as the baseball flies from where Harmon Killebrew launched hanging curveballs through the Minnesota skies.
Today the company works with 20 of the 30 teams in Major League Baseball, providing real-time data and comprehensive scouting reports that augment those clubs’ internal efforts. But Inside Edge also cultivated parallel business lines with national media (FOX Sports became a client in the mid-1990s) and in the burgeoning realm of fantasy sports, an effort that diversified the company’s business and helped position it for the future.
Its recent FSTA award-winning product – called REMARKABLE – represents a first step into what could be an expansive venture for Inside Edge, one that begins with baseball but could grow far beyond.
“The sports model might only be a starting point,” said Kendrena, himself a former professional pitcher in the Florida Marlins organization.
The baseball version of REMARKABLE performs deep data mining in hundreds of categories, crunching mounds of statistics, splits and timeframes. The resulting output can be sorted, filtered and predictive, making it valuable both for teams – scouting departments, media relations staff – and for media covering the league.
“We already have a few major-league clubs using the tool for advance scouting,” said Kendrena. “It cranks the data, weeds out the non-remarkable and then converts the remarkable to plain-language notes.
“A team could filter for high-granularity notes, like chase percentage against sliders. That makes it useful not only for advance scouting (against opponents), but for internal scouting and also media relations.”
Inside Edge also has a football version of REMARKABLE in beta, working in partnership with Minneapolis-based Sportradar US and Pro Football Focus. But as Inside Edge looks to the future of its REMARKABLE tool, discussions are underway about how the technology could be unleashed in non-sporting arenas.
“Applying the power of REMARKABLE to outside industries is something we’re very excited about,” said Kendrena. “One area we’ve targeted is finance. Short-form remarkable narrative notes have appeal for anyone consuming financial information. REMARKABLE does the work of discovering the important and interesting characteristics of players and teams. It can do the same for companies and stocks. We want to create quality content that is easily consumed and actionable.”
That kind of thinking is an example of how a garage-launched baseball business remains relevant and vibrant as it approaches 30 years in operation. But have no doubt – baseball will endure at the core of Inside Edge.
“That’s always been our mission – to provide information that helps people around the game do their job better, whether that’s a baseball manager, a broadcaster or a fantasy player,” said Kendrena. “And we’ve been innovative in terms of helping them. That’s who we are.”