While the youth sports industry has a questionable legacy when it comes to great family vacations, it can result in some stellar sports photography. But successfully photographing some of the country’s largest tournaments, where hundreds of players roam across up to a dozen fields, is no small feat. For Haim Ariav, the founder of Glossy Finish, it was a challenge ripe for technological disruption.
The company, founded by Ariav over 12 years ago, teams with local photographers to cover large youth sports events and sell photo prints and posters on site to friends and family. They were purchased by Lifetouch several years ago but Ariav bought the company back when Lifetouch was sold to Shutterfly in early 2018.
“We’re not the only photographers who shoot sports and deliver images on site, but we are the only ones that do it at scale,” Ariav says. The company has partnerships with some of the largest youth sports organizations in the U.S., including USA Football and Cal Ripken Baseball. Their roster of freelance photographers include those who shoot for the NFL and Getty, Ariav says.
What Glossy Finish did was build a technology solution that enables the company’s team of freelance photographers to track hundreds of players across multiple days and playing locations. The company’s Chief Technology Officer Matt Winer likens it to a restaurant table tracking system. Photographers are assigned fields and players to shoot throughout the course of an event. Their images are organized by team and player and parents receive text message alerts when their images are ready for review.
One of the reasons Glossy Finish has built a successful model is its embrace of the “gig economy,” Ariav says. The core full-time team is small, but the company uses freelance photographers as needed to cover big events. Like Uber where drivers use their own vehicles but leverage the the Uber app to find rides, partner photographers show up with their own cameras and lenses but plug into the company’s customized software to manage game day workflow.
Output is also an essential piece of the Glossy Finish business model. The company offers customers two products on-site: an 8 x 10-inch print or a 13 x 19-inch poster, complete with graphical elements designed using Darkroom software (the only off-the-shelf software the company employs). The company custom built two, 30-foot-long mobile photo labs stocked with Epson P400s inkjet printers for the poster prints and the DNP DS820A dye sub printers for the 8 x 10-inch prints.
Customers can produce their own prints on ordering stations in the mobile photo lab, but Glossy Finish also has a sales staff on hand to assist customers in producing their desired product. “Our challenge was: how to go from client engagement to product delivery,” Ariav says. Having the mobile print labs on site at these tournaments made buying prints that much more attractive to customers because they could walk off the field with a print in hand.
“There’s something about that tactile experience [of holding a print] that you just can’t replicate on social media,” Ariav says.
While many youth sports photographers focus on staged team and individual shots, Ariav says Glossy Finish’s success proves there’s a viable market for more action-oriented youth sports images.
“We’ve proven there’s money there, you just have to go about it the right way.”