Ride sharing, sports, music: Entertainment meets sustainable mobility

Ride sharing, sports, music: Entertainment meets sustainable mobility

FlickrRonnie Macdonald2013
British startup GoCarShare offers ride sharing services to music festivals and sporting events in the U.K., and is looking to expand into the U.S. serving events such as Burning Man.

This article first appeared at Green Sports Blog.

The sharing economy has been a big sustainability story in recent years, with companies such as AirBnB and Uber building fast-growing businesses in partnerships with homeowners with an extra bedroom or car owners with empty seats. Now, the green-sports world is moving slowly but surely into this space.

English startup and early growth stage company GoCarShare is looking to bridge those worlds.

The company is pioneering ride sharing to sports events and music festivals in Britain. GreenSportsBlog spoke with Alaistair Thompson, GoCarShare’s COO, about how the company found its niche and why GoCarShare might soon make it to Burning Man.

GreenSportsBlog: The GoCarShare story is an exciting one. How did it all get started?

Alastair Thompson: Well, for quite awhile, I’ve wanted to get involved in a green entrepreneurial venture. Back in 2011, while working as a management consultant, I looked to start a solar biodiversity development business but the funding went dry.

Around that time, I was introduced to Drummond Gilbert, who, in 2010 had started GoCarShare as a way to make use of something incredibly wasteful — the millions and millions of empty seats in British cars. Drummond was in need of financial expertise, so we were a match.

GSB: How did you and Drummond hit on the sports market as a niche for GoCarShare?

AT: Well, there already were competitors in the corporate car share market (working with corporations to find workers to share rides to and from the office), but no one in England seemed to be going direct-to-consumer. So that’s where we targeted GoCarShare.

We figured that the biggest numbers of consumers with empty seats in cars would be those going to music festivals and to sports events.

GSB: How did you launch the company?

AT: Music festivals (Blood Stock, Glastonbury, Bestival, Creamfields) made lots of sense to us  attracting over 6.5 million (PDF) attendees in the U.K., and often held in remote areas and on farms. Public transit availability is minimal and/or expensive.

Tickets are also expensive (the average festival ticket goes for about $160). Since festival-goers are, for the most part, of a young demographic, they’re more likely to be concerned with sustainability than their older counterparts, and have lower incomes.

Thus, car share would appeal to them on green, financial and convenience metrics. At the start, in 2012-2013, we didn’t charge anything because we wanted to get our numbers up, test the infrastructure…

GSB: Riders and drivers find each other online and on mobile, I take it.

AT: That’s right. So, we went free at first. As of 2014, we started charging a 15 percent commission to the passenger of what he or she pays as a contribution to the driver(s).

GSB: How did the music festivals react?

AT: Festival organizers got on board almost right away. They pushed out the word about GoCarShare via Facebook, Twitter and email blasts. This was huge for us.

GSB: Did drivers and riders buy in?

AT: Yes. At some of our early festivals, we found that 10 percent of attendees got there by GoCarShare.

GSB: That sounds like a big number. Do you track your environmental impact?

AT: We’re including a Carbon Footprint calculator on the site so, going forward, yes.

GSB: Is there interest from music festivals in other countries?

AT: Festivals in Spain and South Africa have reached out to us. We’re in early discussions with some events in the U.S., including Burning Man.

GSB: Where do sports come in?

AT: We added sports early this year. For starters, both Drummond (tennis, cricket) and I (Norwich City soccer club and Saracens rugby club of London) are big sports fans.

Per the F.A. (English Football Association), over 50 percent of soccer fans drive to matches, and more than 650,000 fans travel to matches every week in the Premier League alone. So, we launched the sports segment of GoCarShare this October with my club, Saracens, of the Aviva Premiership, the top flight of rugby union in England.

GSB: Was that on the free model?

AT: No, we went with commissions it was time to test that portion of the business model.

GSB: Why Saracens?

AT: Well, they’re a big club in rugby. Their home stadium holds 15,000 fans. They have a clear sustainability program, and they are very willing to work with us.

GSB: Why do you think that is?

AT: It’s a great service for their fans. And, a little known fact is that the clubs often don’t own their parking facilities — they rent them. So, less need for parking means less paid out in rent.

GSB: So it’s a dollars and cents issue.

AT: For sure. In fact, Saracens has introduced us to officials at other clubs in the premiership.

GSB: Are you only offering the services to home matches? I could see that away travel would be compelling.

AT: At first, we’re concentrating on the home matches only, as the numbers are much greater. But away travel is on the way as this improves the support for the clubs. We also are having discussions with the 2015 Rugby World Cup, which will take place in England. That would increase our profile and awareness tremendously.

GSB: Aside from the World Cup, with a big rugby stadium in London holding 15,000, it would seem to me that soccer would be the bigger “get,” because stadiums such as Old Trafford (Manchester United, with a capacity of 75,000) and The Emirates (Arsenal in London, with a capacity of 60,000-plus) are 4-5 times bigger than their rugby counterparts. Where do you stand with soccer?

AT: Soccer is a tougher, longer sales cycle for us, as they will want to make a cut. That said, we’re having conversations with several clubs, especially those around London.

GSB: How is that going?

AT: In London, Chelsea in West London is a good prospect as a high percentage of fans drive to Stamford Bridge (with a capacity of 40,000). Arsenal encourages fans to not drive and the Emirates is well-served by the Underground. Still, we are in early conversations there.

More and more, the clubs are getting pressure from fans and other stakeholders to go green. We’re in conversation with both Liverpool clubs, Liverpool FC and Everton. Also Manchester United and Manchester City. And Birmingham City in England’s second largest city.

GSB: Where is GoCarShare as a business now?

AT: Right now we have about 35,000 users. And while we’re happy with that, considering we’re a bootstrapped business established through crowd funding, we really want to focus on hitting 1 million U.K. users. To get that, we’ll need to go for angel and venture capital funding. So we are out there pitching to both. We’re also looking at U.S. expansion on the sports side in the next one to two years.

GSB: As you move from startup to early growth phase, do you see sports or music festivals as more crucial to GoCarShare’s long term sustainability?

AT: Both. Ninety-five percent of our business is sports and festivals. Of the two, sports has the greater ceiling. I mean, you’ll get 30,000-70,000 at a soccer match, but most music festivals draw in the 18,000-30,000 range. So sports just have a greater potential for us.