The Sonar Company, which hopes to enable in-venue and at-home fan engagement opportunities for teams and broadcasters, has closed a $1 million funding round that includes investment from Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers.
The startup uses ultrasonic tones (that is, sound beyond the limits of human hearing) to communicate with user devices. One implementation would be replacing the QR codes that have become part of telecasts with an inaudible tone that could trigger similar on-phone experiences for those who opt in. The tech could also be used to communicate with fans at outdoor venues with less internet infrastructure.
Sonar CEO Roy Terracina highlighted the tool’s advertising capabilities, too. For instance, a tone could play when Bryson DeChambeau steps up to the tee, triggering a message in a PGA-related app about his shoes and club, with links to buy. Sounds could also help broadcasters sync devices with streams, so that fans are prompted to predict an at-bat outcome before (and only before) they see the first pitch.
After being selected for Comcast NBCUniversal’s SportsTech Accelerator program, Sonar has tested the tech at Comcast Spectacor’s Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia and worked with NBC on TV implementations. “You’re only limited by creativity once you open up a line of communication that hasn’t been feasible before,” SportsTech head Jenna Kurath said in an interview.
Through SportsTech, Sonar also connected with Danny Abelson, a longtime sports venue tech expert, who is joining the company as COO. “Ultimately,” Abelson said, “we should be able to let our customers know who is watching at that instant.” As for the tones’ effect on animals that can hear them, Abelson said his greyhound, Domino, has so far served as a willing and unbothered test subject. High frequency sound waves are also used in ultrasound devices, with startups attempting to harness similar tech for wireless charging.
The Sonar Company was founded in 2018 by Nick Hayward and Allan Matarrita. Last year, Hayward died in a parasailing accident. “He really is the reason I’m here,” Terracina said. “I’m doing this in his honor.”