Online fantasy sports platforms & their IPL romance

The booming sector is spending big to get associated with the world’s most valued cricket league

NEW DELHI: Ten years ago, if someone told you that you could create your own virtual sports team and win money, you would have laughed off the idea. However, a handful of techies believed in the possibility. They have not only turned it into a business but have developed an entire new category called online fantasy sports (OFS).  What seemed a laughable proposition a decade ago is now a passion for many consumers.

The OFS category seems to be having a great run in India; there were just 10 players in 2016 today that have ballooned to 150. And there’s optimism all around especially in terms of advertising, funding, hiring, consumer sampling, and what not.

There is no doubt that the front end of this revolution is Dream11’s founder Harsh Jain who saw the huge possibilities and opportunities in the western world and decided to implement the same in India. Once the brand tasted success several other players also emerged in the market such as MPL, My11Circle, MyTeam11, BalleBaazi, FanFight, Cricplay, Gamezy, Howzat and others.

A Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS)/KPMG report released earlier this year revealed that the OFS sector has been registering rapid growth for the past four years. The user base increased from just 2 million in 2016 to 90 million in 2019. Operator revenue almost trebled from Rs 924 crore in 2018-2019 to Rs 2,470 crore in 2019-2020. The report also estimated that the industry clocked contest entry amounts (CEA) of over Rs 6,000 crore in FY19, which more than doubled to about Rs 16,500 crore in FY20.

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Even as the lockdown led to mainstream live sports dying, the OFS apps started tracking smaller leagues all over the world, and fans too followed. But not with the same frenzy or at the same scale as cricket. Now, with the return of the IPL, the action is becoming red hot. Some of the OFS platforms have opted for team and tournament level sponsorships while many others have simply opted for spot buys during the matches.

The IPL attraction

Most of the big guns have been training their sights on consumers, spraying them with ads promising to give them an opportunity to win big money in the hope that they will engage more or sign up to try their luck.

For instance, the baton holder of the category, Dream11 took the title sponsorship of IPL for a whopping Rs 222 crore. A 2019 report by the Indian Federation of Sports Gaming (IFSG) and KPMG suggests that Dream11 dominates 90 per cent of the domestic fantasy sports market. It is also associated with several teams and has already released its IPL campaign.

The Virat Kohli-endorsed MPL, another big player that offers fantasy cricket for its audiences has associated with the Kolkata Knight Riders and Royal Challengers Bangalore as a sponsor. The online gaming brand is saluting the spirit of Covid2019 warriors and telling their stories to people.

Mobile Premier League senior VP - growth and marketing Abhishek Madhavan defines IPL  as the biggest television property in India. “The way fantasy sports companies are heavily involved in the IPL this year will surely help grow the market. We want to grow our brand even more among the masses and give MPL a mass appeal and recognition. It is also a great way for us to take our unique features and offers to existing as well as new users.”

Delhi-based e-sports platform BalleBaazi has also got into the game with  #DumHaiTohYahanKhel and its BalleBaazi Fantasy Festival that offers users a chance to get heavy discounts on its reward stores and play more leagues.

MyTeam11 has unleashed a campaign ‘India Ki Apni Fantasy App’ for the IPL season to promote the message of ‘Indian Brand for Indian People.’ It consists of a series of videos wherein cricket experts can be seen recommending and creating their own teams in the MyTeam11 app. And it also features MyTeam11’s brand ambassador Virender Sehwag along with other cricket experts like Jatin Sapru, Sanjana Ganeshan, Mayanti Langer, Suhail Chandhok. 

My11Circle promoter Games24x7, which is endorsed by Sourav Ganguly, is going the whole hog on promotion. The company’s director - brand & marketing strategy Avik Das Kanungo explains that cricket remains the highest participated sports format in fantasy space in India. Thus, IPL comes out as the strongest event simply because of the viewership and interest it generates over 60 days. 

He adds: “My11Circle has bought spots during matches both on Star Sports on television as well as on Hotstar. We plan to effectively utilise these inventories to put across the right communication to the cricket-loving the audience that helps us establish our brand proposition of 'Play With Champions'. In that regard, we have shot multiple interesting commercials to bring alive the fun and thrill of our core proposition, and we hope it will resonate with all fantasy lovers across India.”

Why Advertise

Playerzpot, an OFS platform established in 2015 avers that an IPL partnership’s effectiveness is not measured over a single season, rather the association is computed in terms of the long term impact and recall it has on viewers and users. “Each fantasy brand is trying to lure new players, bring back the old ones, and retain both in the longer run. A marquee tournament like IPL brings that possibility of moving a notch higher for the whole year. For us, our work the calendar starts with IPL,” says Playerzpot co-founder Mitesh Gangar.

Fantasy Akhada founder Amit Purohit echoes this saying that the platforms particularly use cricket properties to build brand awareness and to get top of the mind recall with fantasy sports players. RoI is measured by the improvement in user acquisition and engagement per user before, during, and after the IPL.

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He explains that cricket in India is a religion and most sports fans believe they know the game well. “If there is a seamless way to leverage this knowledge of cricket and skill of selecting a team to beat your friends or make money, most fans would latch on to this opportunity.”

Estimates are that the only 15 per cent to 20 per cent of the fantasy app players are paying to be on them. The platforms would like that paid subscriber base to increase; hence the marketing blitzkrieg around a high reach property like the IPL even though it is super expensive.

The OFS sector is having a beneficial rub off: the FIFS-KPMG report says that over 55 per cent of fantasy sports players said that they ended up consuming more real-life sports on the telly. That can be called a great symbiotic relationship. 

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