BatTalk – with Jon Long
We caught up with Jon Long, international advisor at BatFast, to speak about his love for sport, the future of BatFast, and more.
Having previously worked at the International Cricket Council as their Head of Strategy and Support Services, Jon is now the Managing Director, UK and the Middle East, at the sports and entertainment consultancy, ONSIDE.
Read on to gain some interesting insights into the professional life of one of BatFast’s most experienced team members.
Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
I love sport, both playing and following – and the positive impact it can have on health, wellbeing, and connecting communities when it is well-governed and managed.
I have had the privilege of working in the sector for over two decades and it has taken me around the world, supporting dozens of governing bodies, event owners, sponsors, clubs, and athletes.
I spent over a decade at the International Cricket Council as part of the leadership team as it became more professional and took on responsibility for so many new areas including women’s cricket, Twenty20, and the development of the game beyond its traditional heartlands. I was fortunate to be involved in some of the sport’s biggest strategic decisions and learned a lot about the impact of policies and processes, as well as politics.
I was then given the opportunity to expand my sports and entertainment experience by leading a major agency in the Middle East and UK where Formula One, Premier League, FIFA, Emirates, and Red Bull were all clients, an experience that emboldened me to set up an independent sports advisory business in 2018.
I now provide strategic and commercial advice to a range of sports and entertainment organizations in the UK, Europe, and the Middle East as the Managing Director of ONSIDE.
My most recent foray into the cricket world was supporting USA Cricket and West Indies Cricket with their successful bid to co-host the ICC T20 World Cup in 2024 which has the potential to be a game-changing event for the sport.
Tell us about the beginnings of the BatFast project and its inception?
I first met the team in 2019, ahead of the ICC Cricket World Cup in England and Wales and felt an immediate alignment to the ethos and ambitions of the co-founders, Runish and Jignesh.
As soon as I tried BatFast it was clear it was a proposition that was fun to play and had the potential to take sport to places it had never been before.
What is it about BatFast that you’re passionate about?
It is accessible to people of every age, gender, background, and ability. A lot of people perceive there are barriers to trying cricket, tennis or baseball including expensive equipment and the risk of getting hurt or being embarrassed.
BatFast removes those barriers and makes all the sports fun to play.
Yet the simulator is also flexible and credible enough to appeal to experienced players. We had a legendary England batter in the simulator in Nottingham recently and it was amazing to see his competitive instincts start to flow as he smashed balls around the cage.
As well as entertainment, I expect BatFast will be used for training and talent identification in the future.
While the experience is already outstanding, BatFast is still only scratching the surface of the ways in which it can use technology and data to enhance the experience, particularly for those that want to develop their game.
BatFast simulators have already sent down over six million cricket deliveries. Insight from this data could prove to be really useful in the future. Individuals will be able to work on specific aspects of their game and BatFast may find itself at the forefront of coaching innovation.
What are your expectations/predictions about BatFast in the UK and around the world in the coming 2-5 years?
The UK is the home market for BatFast and it has established a strong base in both events and competitive socializing through some fantastic partnerships. The latter is an urban trend that will grow and grow over the coming years, and I don’t think there’s a better competitive socializing experience in the market than BatFast.
This will be a significant driver of growth in the UK through 2022 and into international markets over the coming years. I expect this to start in countries like Australia and the UAE where we already have simulators operating and – when we find the right partners – it will expand into India (cricket) and the USA (baseball and hopefully cricket too).
Over a slightly longer time horizon, we will start to see the BatFast training proposition take off. If we get that right, it could be even bigger than competitive socializing. Cricket batters around the world have never been able to train on their own and the traditional baseball batting cage is long-overdue an upgrade.
As BatFast’s footprint grows, the software will become as important to its success as hardware. Being able to track individual performance, follow development programs and make comparisons across BatFast-powered sites around the world will open a world of opportunities for participants.
Talk us through any BatFast project that you are proudest to work on?
One of my favourite things about BatFast is I am genuinely proud of what a brilliant product it is, what a great team we have, and what a positive and fun experience it can provide for participants of every age and ability.
This gives me the confidence to introduce BatFast to potential partners around the world and has already helped us unearth fantastically diverse opportunities.
It’s been amazing to see our simulators used in activations around the ICC Cricket World Cup, the recent Ashes series, and at the ICC Academy in Dubai.
With some positive ongoing discussions with potential partners in Australia, India, and the USA, I think the best is yet to come.
What is it about BatFast that sets it apart from its probable competitors?
Like batting in cricket, it’s all about partnerships.
The first one is Runish and Jignesh – friends and co-founders who opened the batting back in 2015 and whose styles complement each other so well.
Those strong foundations have enabled BatFast to build other partnerships, helping the business grow in the UK and around the world by harnessing sector-specific skills and local expertise.
Runish and Jignesh have taken time to listen to what different stakeholders want from BatFast and have been able to evolve their approach to build win-win relationships.
In cricket, open dialogue with institutions like the ECB, Cricket Australia, and the ICC has been tremendously beneficial to BatFast’s development.
The events business could not have grown without the support of agencies around the world who have been effusive in their positive feedback of working with the BatFast team.
On the competitive socializing side, the partnership with the hospitality experts at Sixes has also shown what can be achieved when complementary skills are combined with aligned ambition.
The technology is excellent, the focus on delivering an outstanding experience has been critical but, at the end of the day, BatFast’s success so far has been driven by the quality of the team and the effective relationships they have been able to develop.
As a member of the BatFast Tribe yourself, tell us about your first experience on the machine?
Ha! I’m not the strongest cricketer in the BatFast Tribe and completely missed the first delivery I faced. Fortunately, the balls are soft, so when it hit me in the midriff, the only thing hurt was my pride.
After that, a couple of deliveries in, and I was hooked. BatFast talks a lot about the ‘thrill of the hit’ but it’s only because that’s exactly how it feels when you’re in the simulator with a bat in hand.
What is your advice for young entrepreneurs?
I think everyone has a different journey so it’s hard to offer a playbook that will work for all. It’s been great to watch Runish and Jignesh on their journey. Having followed it closely, one reflection is that it is probably more fun when you have a co-pilot to share the experience with.
They also had the foresight to bring in experts to provide guidance and support in critical areas at an early stage. The co-founders are very much in charge but support with operations, sales, marketing, and fundraising has been a big factor in driving the growth of the business.
Importantly, there also seems to be excellent alignment on the organization’s strategy and direction across this group of advisors.
What is your long-term dream for BatFast?
For me, it’s quite simple. I want more people to experience the thrill of hitting a ball – whether that’s with a cricket bat, baseball bat, or tennis racquet.
And once they’ve had a go, I want it to be as easy as possible for them to come back, again and again.
It would be great for BatFast to play a role in broadening the reach of cricket and other sports. But more than anything I want us to help spread enjoyment and, hopefully, to make a small contribution to more people enjoying more active lives.
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BatFast. You’re In Next. For The Thrill Of The Hit.
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