When watching a Division I NCAA basketball game, how many people stop to think about how that evening's particular referees ended up on that particular court on that particular day? Most fans only care about the referees when a call goes the “wrong” way.
But someone has to coordinate the hundreds of referees in the pool with a given week or weekend’s slate of games. Conference coordinators need to upload training videos and highlight points of emphasis, like certain fouls a league is focusing on preventing. After the game, coaches might fill out an evaluation on the officials who worked their game. The process of centralizing management of officials is a critical one to the function of organized athletics.
Brad Batt and Jeff Wigal, the team behind BlueZebra Sports, have made it easy. They crafted the name from a portmanteau of ‘blue’, a moniker for blue-uniformed baseball officials, and ‘zebra’, a moniker for black-and-white-uniformed basketball officials. For more than a decade, BlueZebra’s sports official management software has helped everyone from Sunday rec soccer league organizers up through Division I universities.
As they experienced traction with college conferences and officiating consortiums, BlueZebra expanded into referee payments. Leveraging a nifty integration with Dwolla’s online payment system, college conferences could use BlueZebra to pay referees through direct deposits.
However, like many software vendors who find themselves in the payments space, one of their toughest opponents yet was compliance. A sports referee is typically paid as an independent contractor, and as such needs to file a 1099. Therefore, as a centralized official management platform, BlueZebra needed to furnish officials with the requisite forms.
Fortunately, the IRS allows electronic handling of 1099s. Most of the 1099s BlueZebra Sports processed were electronic and right in their wheelhouse. Unfortunately, the IRS requires that people be given the option of receiving a paper 1099 instead.
BlueZebra, which began life online, now needed to send physical mail for compliance during tax season.
Brad and Jeff struggled to find a partner for direct mail. Their initial choices offered no flexibility in form factor and had long, impractical lead times to get mail out. Until Lob came along, this operational wrinkle was cost-inefficient and causing heavy delays.
When Jeff began looking for a different answer, he had a couple of requirements in mind. He wanted to keep as much control in-house as possible. More importantly, he wanted to take an API approach: building the exact functionality BlueZebra needed using rock-solid microservices. The more customization, the better for BlueZebra.
Is it any surprise BlueZebra wound up using Lob as a result?
Jeff was able to create an alternate 1099 form with HTML (above) that met his requirements perfectly. BlueZebra could quickly and easily populate and send these new forms for printing and mailing via Lob’s API. While retaining in-house control of key data, they drastically shortened the time it takes from initial trigger to an official’s 1099 entering the mailstream.
Many of Jeff's favorite aspects of Lob are familiar. He highlights the clear and easy-to-follow documentation as a key driver in getting up and running in a couple of days. The ability to design templates and set triggers has helped BlueZebra stay as lean and efficient offline as they are online, a stark contrast with their struggles using a more traditional vendor.
While this particular use case is restricted to everyone’s favorite time of the year, BlueZebra is finally comfortable with the 1099 process now that it’s back in-house. Thanks to Lob making compliance programmable, BlueZebra is finally back on top of their game.