We’ve all been there. You show up to a game, but the referees don’t. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about the referee shortage that’s pervasive right now, and it crosses all ages of play, from youth sports to adult sports.
This was a pain point for a couple of buddy hockey players, so they set about to fix it by developing an ingenious new platform called Refr Sports. The most simplistic way to describe Refr is that it’s like Uber for referees and leagues. Leagues need referees to work their games. Referees want games to work and more say so in the process. Refr Sports facilitates that for everyone involved. Plus, referees get paid instantaneously after completing a game.
Founders Wyatt Gustafson and Huck Sorock grew up playing sports, mainly hockey, and even dabbled in some officiating themselves. As recent college graduates, the pair decided to etch their career paths in the world of sports together, and Refr was born.
Being a 50-year-old female soccer player, I can attest to the fact that referees are not, in fact, clamoring to ref my over 40s women’s league games. It would take more than two hands to count the number of times we’ve had no-shows from refs or only one ref out of three assigned shows up. So, I was excited to learn more about Refr.
The Current Referee Assignment Process
Wyatt explained the current antiquated process and how Refr plans to revolutionize it and take advantage of the continuing swell of popularity in the gig economy.
In the world of officiating sports games, there are three key players: the sports organization, the assignors, and the referees. The sports organization contracts with assignors who rely on their pool of referees to draw from. The assignor assigns refs from that pool to officiate games of their sports organization clients. For newly certified referees, they are responsible for reaching out to assignors to become part of their pool.
Once complete with reffing a game, turnaround time for payment can vary, with some organizations still opting to pay with an old-school check sent in the mail. The use of modern technology can vary widely.
The Refr Sports Method
The intent of Refr is to streamline the current process with the use of modern technology. Users can access Refr via the web or the app. Here’s a deeper dive into how things work with the Refr platform for each key player.
Sports organizations first create an account within Refr. Once they have an account, they will have visibility of their local referee assignors, as well as referees. Organizations that do their own assigning will be able to make their own assignor account and use that for assigning.
If a sports organization handles its own in-house referee certifications, it can set those requirements within Refr to ensure any referees within their pool satisfy those requirements.
By setting up their account, sports organizations can also ensure referee payment is immediate after a game since that’s handled through the Refr platform.
Assignors essentially act as the middleman between referees and sports organizations.
While some leagues might have their own specific certification requirements for referees, others follow nationally mandated guidelines for certain sports, like the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) or the Professional Association of Volleyball Officials (PAVO).
Assignors ensure proper credentialing of their refs before assigning them to officiate. They also ensure credentialing is up to date. For leagues who don’t want to manage this on their own, using an assignor can ease their workload.
Assignors can set up an account within Refr, where sports organizations can then link up with the assignor. The assignors can also instruct their referees to link up with them on Refr. Assignors can draw from their current pool of referees within the app or search for additional referees not currently within their pool. Refr allows assignors an even broader pool of referees to draw from than they may have had in the past.
All assignments and payments are handled within the platform, so it’s a simple and streamlined process from start to finish.
Between assignors and sports organizations, referees are arguably the most important part of the equation. If you’ve ever scrimmaged without a ref, you know how easy it is to get into arguments about fouls, offsides, and other calls refs are there to make.
Refr Sports has built its platform with referees in mind and aims to simplify their jobs from the logistics side of things. When referees create an account, they will be able to connect with local assignor users who post officiating opportunities.
Referees can upload their certifications within the Refr platform. Their profiles will list their certifications so assignor users can easily search for referees who match their requirements.
Additionally, referees will have complete visibility of all the games they’ve been assigned to, or they can search for open games to officiate and assign themselves to those games (that’s where Refr works like Uber).
And since the refs set up their bank account information within Refr, they won’t have to wait for a paper check in the mail, and payout will occur shortly after a game or match is complete.
You can check out a 60-second overview of the process in this video.
Refr Sports demo video
How Refr Will Improve The Current State of Refereeing
While Refr doesn’t yet have the superpower to mute obnoxious fans or players who yell at refs, it does empower referees more than current game assignment methods. Refs who want additional work can find it on their own by searching for open games to officiate within Refr. Like the ridesharing apps, this allows refs to work when and where they want.
It’s also great for assignors and sports organizations who undoubtedly get a jolt in blood pressure when referees cancel at the last minute. Instead of having to get on the phone to call or text for replacements, they’ll be able to log in to Refr and see who’s available nearby, and quickly reassign a new ref.
Refr Is Sports Agnostic
Refr isn’t limited to specific sports. If there is an event that needs officiating, it can be handled within the platform. Soccer, basketball, hockey, volleyball, fencing–these sports and more can benefit from Refr.
“There are filters to help you find and manage specific sports,” explains Wyatt. “But, in theory, if we needed to organize a chess tournament, we can do that on our platform because, at the end of the day, it’s a connecting, managing, and paying tool.”
How To Get Refr
Refr will fully launch soon and be available for Android and iOS users. Users will also have access to the platform via their laptop or desktop computer. While the platform is live, the founders are still testing it in specific markets to ensure the smoothest rollout possible when it officially launches. If you’re interested in testing the platform and giving feedback, you can contact Refr to let them know.