Spokane Journal of Business

Game Set Match: Looking for an ace

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-—Kevin Blocker
Self-described serial entrepreneur Marsh Sutherland says about 40 Spokane-area tennis players are using the Game Set Match app so far.

Spokane entrepreneur Marsh Sutherland and Boston-based business partner C.J. Bordeleau are in the early stages of trying to solve a common problem within the recreational tennis community by helping players arrange competitive matches.

“The challenge for tennis players is that it’s hard to find those who are at your equal skill level,” says Sutherland.

He and Bordeleau, a computer software engineer, have started a business called Game Set Match, which currently has 40 Spokane-area tennis players signed up as members.

They’re still in the early stages of incorporating the business, and as of yet, Game Set Match hasn’t generated any revenue, Sutherland says.

“We’re using Spokane as a beta-testing ground to fine-tune what we hope to achieve,” Sutherland says. “Online sign up is free so far. We’re going to begin soliciting for investors more aggressively in the approaching months.”

As a way to generate revenue, Sutherland says Game Set Match in the future will charge users an annual membership fee in an amount yet to be determined. The two co-owners say they’re also searching for paid advertisers to the website to generate income.

“The way I’ve expressed it is that we want to democratize tennis,” Sutherland says of their attempts to help tennis players create equitable matchups.

Instead of using the National Tennis Rating Program rankings employed for amateur players, Bordeleau, an avid player himself, decided it would be more effective to use what’s called the Elo rating system to judge players’ skill level more accurately.

The Elo rating system is a method used for calculating the relative skill levels of players competing against each other, and not necessarily in sports. The system is named after its creator, Arpad Elo, an American physics professor who emigrated from Hungary with his parents in 1913, according to the World Chess Hall of Fame.

Elo was a master-level chess player and an active participant in the United States Chess Federation from its founding in 1939. The federation used a numerical rating systems devised by a man named Kenneth Harkness, to enable members to track their individual progress in terms of wins and losses, says the World Chess Hall of Fame.

“The Harkness system was reasonably fair, but in some circumstances gave rise to ratings which many observers considered inaccurate. On behalf of the USCF, Elo devised a new system with a more sound statistical basis,” says the World Chess Hall of Fame on its website.

Today, software videogame developers have incorporated the Elo rating system in online, multiplayer games, Bordeleau says.

“We believe it’s a much better system for assessing tennis skill than the standard NTRP ratings,” he says.

Game Set Match requires users to create an account at www.gamesetmatch.co. Upon setting up their account, however, players are asked to use their NTRP rating as a baseline to gauge whether they’re at the beginner, intermediate, advanced, expert, or elite level.

“At the outset, you may have a match where one intermediate player beats another one, 6-0, 6-0,” Sutherland says.

Players then enter the final score online at the end of the match. The software’s application then uses the Elo ratings system to calculate more precisely the skill level of the participants, Sutherland says. 

Adds Bordeleau, “The system is self-correcting, and ratings continually become more accurate the more you play using Game Set Match.”

As an example, the NTRP rating system is inclined to award a tournament winner more points. The Elo rating system, by contrast, is a more statistical endeavor that uses more of the individual results of match play, Bordeleau says.

Bordeleau, 28, came up with the idea for Game Set Match a little more than two years ago and launched the website in August 2015. Not long after that he met Sutherland who also lived in Boston. Sutherland is a Spokane native who had lived in Boston for 17 years prior to returning to Spokane to be closer to his family.

Sutherland, 49, has made his career, as his LinkedIn profile says, as a “serial tech entrepreneur.”

Currently, he is the national partnerships director for CoFoundersLab Inc., a social networking partnering website based in New York for entrepreneurs looking to start a business. CoFounders Lab brought Sutherland to its staff after it purchased his startup called FounderMatchup Inc.

Sutherland says he was immediately impressed with Bordeleau’s idea when Bordeleau presented it to him.

Upon returning to Spokane, Sutherland approached Jeff Urie, tennis director for the Spokane Club at 5900 E. Fourth in Spokane Valley, and received permission to approach tennis players at the club about testing Game Set Match.

While they hope to grow the business, the two entrepreneurs hope their efforts also will give a boost to a sport that has generally seen player participation across the country decline.

“When I was growing up, there were four channels you watched for sports,” Sutherland says. “Now, there’s a flood of entertainment that people have available to them. Tennis stars then were more embedded in the culture, and unfortunately that’s not the case now.”

 Kevin Blocker
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Reporter Kevin Blocker, a University of Colorado alum, is a rec league basketball addict. At age 47, he still sports a 32-inch vertical leap. He has three children, all of whom are hooked on hoops.

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