CatchCorner helps Edmonton sport centres reduce booking headache

· The Pulse

A Toronto-based tech company called CatchCorner, which allows users to find and rent soccer fields, skating rinks, and yoga spaces, recently expanded to the Edmonton region and is already creating more overall space on offer while also making life easier for facilities by modernizing the booking process.

Westmount Fitness Club, a not-for-proft, is one of roughly 20 local businesses and organizations in and around Edmonton that have adopted CatchCorner since it arrived about six months ago.

"We've replaced one-off renter bookings … I now ask that (renters) book through CatchCorner because there's fine print, and a waiver, and a release of responsibility that they re-sign every single week," manager Andrew Fulks told Taproot. "And for me, from a liability standpoint, I think that's important. I wanted to take the pressure off of myself and my staff, and then have that stuff just online."

A CatchCorner co-creator said the process to book recreational sports spaces is often cumbersome, and can strain businesses or organizations.

The industry's rental processes "didn't have that sort of Uber-ized model," company co-founder and CEO Jonathan Azouri said. "The way that I would kind of market ourselves is more of an OpenTable … We're kind of a B2C (business-to-consumer) platform in the sense that we don't put anything on our app that isn't an established business."

OpenTable is an online reservation service for restaurant tables that has helped consumers and restaurants since 1998.

CatchCorner (which is sometimes referred to as CatchCorner by Sports Illustrated, thanks to a co-branding deal) operates in most large Canadian cities and several big U.S. markets, like New York-New Jersey and Los Angeles-Anaheim. But Azouri said it isn't just sporting centres that benefit from the platform, pointing to organizations with rec space to rent, which formerly struggled to do so, that are now using CatchCorner to activate it.

"Religious institutions, such as a church or a mosque, may have a gym, but their specific insurance requirements don't allow them to actually rent to the general public," he said. "CatchCorner generates inventory that would have never existed before because it provides all of the insurance-based documentation for a facility, once it does get booked."

A local example of this is True North Basketball Academy, a facility that's normally only open for programs for ages 6 to 18. Azouri said CatchCorner helped open the facility to bookings for people hoping to play basketball, volleyball, and pickleball.

That should be good news for enthusiasts in Edmonton's large pickleball community. Azouri is also working with a few of Edmonton's more than 100 community leagues to explore opening their outdoor rinks to a wider rental market.

Another sport in the recreation world that is often looking for space, especially for kids, is soccer. Azouri said CatchCorner has a large inventory of soccer space at Edmonton venues, including Level 1 Sports inc., Sherwood Park District Soccer Association, and Turf Training Centre. And while CatchCorner isn't exactly a substitute for regular league play, it has supplemental value to youth.

"Whether it's parents booking for, let's say, birthday parties, or whether it's a team manager looking for additional practice space, we do have a footprint and an impact on youth-based sports," Azouri said.

Three games of pickleball take place inside a gym.

The staff at the not-for-profit Westmount Fitness Club are enjoying the streamlined private-booking process offered by Toronto-based tech company CatchCorner. (Supplied)

Another benefit for facilities that Azouri cited is the ability to rent unused space during slow periods.

Fulks brought CatchCorner online in mid August, after Westmount Fitness was closed for six weeks during repairs. "Our summer months tend to be our slower months," Fulks said. "I thought it might be a way to generate a little business there. During the fall-winter season, we're really busy."

Azouri said this was around the time of CatchCorner's "true launch," when bookings opened following the onboarding process.

Given that, and that he adopted the system at the tail end of his slow season, Fulks said he hasn't quite seen a major uptick in bookings yet.

Azouri said CatchCorner also has consumers in mind. The main way the service helps them is by displaying a wide range of availability all at once. Users can also sign up for alerts that fill their specific needs.

"When you bring things all into one, when you have an aggregate-based model, then you're able to really maximize and give people as many different options as possible," he said. "It gives a much higher chance of someone finding something."

CatchCorner is currently onboarding about 20 more facilities, including the Enoch Community Centre on Enoch Cree Nation.

"Those places, in the past, have served specific communities, but now are open to be booked by many others as well," Azouri said. "That marks even another layer of inventory."

Azouri — who co-created CatchCorner with sibling, Maya Azouri — said he will continue to add partner facilities indefinitely. And he's learned a few things since CatchCorner arrived in the city.

"In other cities, we may see certain sports that are more popular than others," he said. "What we have noticed in Edmonton is that the demographic is very diverse. Whether it's basketball, whether it's pickleball, whether it's soccer, whether it's hockey, all of those are extremely popular."