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EP #58: Scaling user growth and engagement in the fantasy sports industry like India’s top e-sports platform, MyTeam11

About this Podcast

According to a study by KPMG, the gross revenue of Indian fantasy sports operators stood at US$ 340.5 million for FY20 compared to US$ 131.64 million in FY19, a 2.6X increase. The industry is expected to be worth a whopping US$ 3.7 billion by 2024. Factors like the pandemic, lockdowns, and work from home have only further accelerated the growth of this industry.

MyTeam11 is one of the most sought-after e-sport platforms in India with over 15 million users. Touted as the fastest-growing fantasy sports app, MyTeam11 offers 150+ exciting contests in games like cricket, football, kabaddi, rugby, volleyball, hockey, baseball, and basketball. Launched in 2016, the app offers an engaging gaming experience by allowing the participants to pick real-match players, build their fantasy team, and win unbelievable rewards.

We caught up with Nitish Bugalia, Head of Product and Strategy at MyTeam11 to understand how the sports landscape of India has been transformed by fantasy sports and virtual gaming.

Nitish shared exciting insights on:

  • How the fantasy sports industry has triggered a massive interest in different sports in a cricket-crazy country like India
  • The role fantasy sports has played in improving the viewership in the women’s game in India
  • How the industry is paving the way towards taking sports to the doorsteps of smaller towns across the country
  • Target personas for fantasy sports brands and how they are widening the audience 
  • How the rising popularity in fantasy sports is having a knock-on effect in viewership and content consumption across various platforms
  • The massive role the Indian Premier League plays in the Indian fantasy sports industry and how brands are kept on their toes for these two months every year

Tune in to learn how fantasy sports gaming platforms are seeing a massive surge in user acquisition and how this is redefining the Indian sports industry.

Episode Transcripts

Santosh Valecha (host): Welcome to yet another exciting episode of the podcast series The Martechno Beat by Netcore. I am Santosh Valecha and with me today, my guest today represents one of the most booming business verticals, we’ve all come to known as fantasy gaming. My guest today is Nitish Bugalia, who’s the head of product and strategy with MyTeam11; Nitish, really thank you for taking time out and having this session with me today, really looking forward to some exciting conversations with you. 

Nitish Bugalia (guest): Thank you so much Santosh. It’s a pleasure. We are truly honored to be a part of this conversation and happy to share our insights with the entire committee. 

Santosh Valecha: Thank you. Nitish, this is an interesting spirit. Fantasy gaming. I was going through a recent report. It caught my attention. It said the global demand for the fantasy sports market from the revenue perspective today stands at USP 20 billion and is expected to grow twice as much by 2027. I mean, what is with fantasy sports monsters? Can you help us understand what it is today for you and the audience? 

Nitish Bugalia: Sure. I think everybody’s familiar, especially in the past two to three years, like we have seen a plethora of advertisements coming on the TV, like last year, one of the biggest fantasy sports companies in India got the naming rights for the IPL. So fantasy sports are definitely speaking to customer interest. The ideal fantasy sport is very simple. It gives any average consumer a chance to become a selector in them. And regardless of who wins the game or who loses the game, it gives them the opportunity to feel, or sort of get the feeling that if they were the selector, like what will they do? And how would they bring out their best playing on the ground, if you will if I have to deep down into it like the concept is very straightforward? Let’s say in India the IPL is supposed to begin in the next two, three days. The first game is between Mumbai and RCB. So now both the teams have like 25 players in the squad. 11 of them are going to be taking the field on that particular day. Out of the 11 players on each side, like you have to be a consumer, has to create an 11 player team on his own, and out of 22, you have to select 11 players and the way those 11 players actually perform in the match. It’s how you basically get awarded the point. At the end of the game, we just rank order simply. And users are able to compare the rise and like to win exciting prizes.

Santosh Valecha: It’s like this; I may be choosing the best player in the team from my selection criteria, the virtually best team. But in reality, you could be having either the best day or the worst of your life besides the fate of my choices.

Nitish Bugalia: So there is an element of skill in it as well. So like, what we have seen is because we don’t allow anybody to pick on the top plates, like what happens is, each player gets, certain credits and by credits, I mean like certain costs associated with that. So let’s say Rohit Sharma has been performing well. So he will typically be in the top tier. Now each player playing credit on our platform will be in the range of seven points to 11 points. And when a user essentially gets a hundred points to feel the best playing 11 out of using those credits. So you can pick some players, but you can’t go and pick all the players, which are top players that have 11 credits. I mean, you have to balance out with some unknown players. And then there are restrictions in terms of that. You can’t take all the players from a single team. So there are a lot of elements of skill involved. And then you create your teams as if you would create a real credit match. So essentially you have to create, identify the balanced team that you think is going to do. When looking at the conditions, looking at the weather, looking at how the individual stats compare of the players. So there are a lot of these factors that essentially help you to strategize, and that’s where the fun starts coming in. That’s where the skill gets involved. When you are such a huge fan of the game, you automatically try to follow the stats of all these players. And like the tournament automatically becomes even more engaging just by the virtue of fantasy sports. 

Santosh Valecha: Excellent. We may be a cricket-crazy country, but I think fantasy sports have grown beyond cricket as well. The platforms we haven’t been up in more sporting events are going on. And how do you see that landscape changing? Are we going to be adding more and more sports to this gaming world? 

Nitish Bugalia: I think yes, for example, if we have to look at the history of fantasy sports, fantasy sports was introduced to the world by the english premier league. It first started rolling out fantasy sports and predominantly it was a season-long fantasy when you were picking your best team before the start of the season, and then you’re doing the trades in between like you’re actually performing as to how the teams can perform now. Obviously, the model in India was likely changed because it didn’t make business sense for having a season-long fantasy, and people prefer to play daily fantasy. But what we have seen over the years are games like football games, like basketball, to the likes of NBA and Kabaddi has made inroads into people’s hearts. Anyways, in tier two, tier three downs in fantasy sports have completely taken it to a different level. 

Santosh Valecha: That’s an interesting growth story, right? It’s like how, at some point, it started with the English premier league, but today when it got customers to India, it would have led with cricket and then followed it through with so many other games like you just spoke of Kabaddi and I’m sure basketball be another, football is another crazy event, but there’s enough and more happening out there. How do you see the sporting events playing a role in the adoption story? I’m sure there’s a lot of connection between what’s happening in the real world and how people adapt to the gaming world. 

Nitish Bugalia: Absolutely. It’s completely connected. So for example, during the pandemic, when there were no sports happening, like fantasy sports industry pretty much came to a standstill like for the applied 20, at least for four months, pretty much all of our sources for revenue dried up and the company had to look at other evictions, like quizzes and other games that people are able to just use to survive. So, yeah, like there is a complete correlation between sports existing because ultimately it’s an activity designed for sports fans dependent on real-life sports. And what we’ve also seen is like not just cricket, not just football and Kabaddi also like, even in cricket, let’s say it has broken the boundaries of gender as well. Like we saw for example, right before COVID hit, the finals of the women’s T20 world cup, which was played in NCG, and Australia and India were playing. That match essentially gained more attention than subsequent Indian international matches, which was a huge deal because we have never seen that kind of attraction on a platform for any women’s game. Now we see that the women’s game is generating, if not equal but very, very close to that of the men’s international games as well. So that’s a huge step in the right direction. Like a lot of women in their own professions are raising a voice for equality. So fantasy sports can act as a barrier for creating that equality as well, where it is giving equal opportunity to everybody, as long as it’s related to sports. 

Santosh Valecha: This is fantastic. I think it’s just a very interesting perspective on how the virtual world will help break barriers. This is really inspiring to hear. This is one thing I think most listeners will want to know is not the only ones playing fantasy sports. Although there are more people like me, who is staying out there? 

Nitish Bugalia: That’s a great question. But generally, our target audience is people who are 18 to 35, then the fantasy sports industry started in India. It was predominantly tiered one city that is participating, but like in the last two, three years, we have changed the dynamic. We have seen, especially with the likes of Kabaddi, like we have seen a lot of participation from like, we are in a tier two city. We are based out of Jaipur and we see a very good number of participation coming from Jaipur and Rajasthan in general, especially for smaller games like handball, for games like volleyball, and for games like Kabaddi, which are the heart and soul of the soil and which people like to follow. So like, it has definitely, as I said like fantasy sports have proven to be a great equalizer. Like if you have the skinny, if you are an ardent fan, it takes an engagement to a completely different level. 

Santosh Valecha: So we think we are a small-time sport or the most well-known sport that may be in the ecosystem. Everyone has an equal opportunity to grow within this watching fantasy sports world of this point in time. Would that be the right thing to say? 

Nitish Bugalia: I think that is the right thing to say. In fact, Nielsen did a report, I think in late 2019 or early 2020, where they had done a couple of surveys. And like they identified that people who are playing fantasy sports are watching more sports. They’re spending more time on platforms. They’re following smaller players more closely now not to be the likes of Rahul Tewatia. And that inning that he played against Delhi capital for Rajasthan Royals in the last IPL is legendary in its own. But fantasy sports is what basically changed the entire perspective of people towards Rahul Tewatia. So like these kinds of things that essentially prove that fantasy sports is not just helping itself, but it is creating a great opportunity for the likes of OTT platforms or the likes of content platforms where more and more sports content is being consumed more and more like it is generating great value for brand ambassadors of the game. It is players that are earning great because of fantasy sports. Like its fun recruiting in all sec, almost all sectors related to sports.

Santosh Valecha: Nitish, we’re just two days away from the biggest sporting spectacle that people await. How brilliant is the growth story in our business?

Nitish Bugalia: That’s a very big question. This is my third IPL and I remember the first one in 2019 and I had just joined MyTeam11. I think I joined MyTeam11might even after the IPL had started. And I just could not believe what I saw on the floor. Like, we were a small company at that time. We had less than a hundred people on the floor. And like, everybody was just so engaged like people were almost working non-stop as I remember, like our CEOs at that time had created a WhatsApp group and we used to discuss all the strategies, very democratically. Now that’s not possible because of the team sizes that have become so big. We used to discuss almost everything, like all the directions were being given on the WhatsApp group like, let’s do this and let’s do this campaign. The enthusiasm and the zeal that I was seeing were just phenomenal. And to this day, like every time IPL comes like I started getting action. Like it’s in two days, as you rightly say, our entire team is working heads on, understanding and trying to find out any last-minute words like they’re making sure that the platform is completely ready. They’re making sure that all the campaigns are running smoothly because somebody experiences running smoothly, the updates are going on time. Like it’s like a war room at this point or time, though we are working from home I think everybody is putting in all the effort to make this event successful. 

Santosh Valecha: Nitish, if I understand the scope a little correctly, then how much ever will prepare you may be a lot of compressions happens about the time that the lineup is announced. So what does your temperament like during that phase? What goes on behind the scenes? I mean, I’m sure people would want to know. 

Nitish Bugalia: Yes. Just so everybody understands there’s this, let’s say an IPL game starts at 7:30 and typically at 7:05 or 7:10 is when the toss happens and within the next two to three minutes, we get the lineups and that’s when the most amount of traction starts coming to the platform. On average, we are getting around 5,000 to 10,000 requests per second from customers on the platform, like suddenly it goes a 100X, sometimes even 150X, like with just the scent of the notification and everything just goes. And that’s what we prepare for the entire year. We do a lot of exercises and try to predict, like what kind of traffic we will be expecting on the platform, how our marketing campaigns will be running, what sort of activities you would be doing? How many different marketing campaigns are running in real-time, how the application will begin reactively, proactively, so all these things you try to simulate. But when the real thing comes, it is a completely different environment, a different experience. Like last year in IPL, we’ll remember, like Covid was sort of succeeding. We had created a war room in one of our buildings and like, we had like seven, eight different TVs installed with all the eyes fixated on that. And the moment the toss happened one team, the notification went out and like all the graphs, like basically going higher than the empire state building. And that was literally crazy to see. And a funny incident was there like I think from 2019 to 2020, one other learning that we got in 2019 IPL in one of the games, right after the pinnacle moment of the toss and it was one of the high opinions between Chennai and Mumbai, but our application stopped responding and we had absolutely no clue what to do; strong then to come into this 2020 IPL, in the first game, we had a smaller incident where just for one and a half minutes, we observed the second blip, but we were immediately able to identify, they were immediately able to fix it without any interruption in customer experience. So that has been the hard work of one and a half years in 2019-2020. And we are super excited about 2021 ideas as well and like evenly awaiting for the next two days. 

Santosh Valecha: Nitish, one simple thing, I just wondered how simple from the perspective of getting the house in full is it to participate with the game? 

Nitish Bugalia: So it’s very straightforward actually. So let’s say if you download the app today, you just enter your phone number and we will get an OTP. You will be able to log into the application. Once you log into the application, you see the list of upcoming matters. Typically they are sorted in their timing. So like, if a match starts in 30 minutes, that will be usually on the top. And some nights it’s starting three days later, then that will usually be towards the bottom. Now IPL will be somewhere in the middle because it’s just two days away. So you scroll down to the match that you want. The moment we scroll down to the match, it shows you different contexts, like basically the type of league that you want to participate in. We offer the freedom model. So if you want to play in just the practice league just to get your skin going, just to understand how it works, you go, you scroll down to that contest. You can use a filter tool on top of that page. Also, like which type of fan base you want to play. For many of the users who get the signup bonuses, can essentially use their sign-up bonus during this time and like to participate in a paid contest. And nevertheless, once you shortlist the contest, you go into the contest and they will, then you will start getting the list of all the teams, all the players that are essentially participating in that categorized by their playing style. So like, if somebody is a wicketkeeper, they would be listed there. You can start selecting all the players that you want. The moment you are selecting the 11 players, it will show you on top of that, which alternative is selected. It takes you to the final preview screen. And there you decide which player out of these 11 that you have selected will be your captain. And now this part is really, really tricky because you have the captain get twice the number of points that they actually score and vice-captain gets 1.5 times the number of points to the score, and then just click Join. And they’re done. 

Santosh Valecha: Excellent. Thank you. I’m sure I’m hoping that many of the listeners will get a chance to download the game and get stuff before the IPL and into the experience. 

Nitish Bugalia: Absolutely. And I would love to get some feedback also like if there are any marketers who are listening and if there are any gaps in the customer experience, we are a company which loves getting feedback. So like, we would love to hear from you guys and like to make improvements as well.

Santosh Valecha: Fantastic. Any advice to fellow marketers on one thing that they should do differently this year, the culture helped you or the situation? 

Nitish Bugalia: I think it has been very difficult, not just professionally, but also personally, like everybody’s in a lockdown. The country was completely in a different state of mind when it was said one and a half years ago. I think like, what is very, very important for marketers to understand is the customer emotion, keeping that on priority as to how the customer might be feeling and things like those. Like, I think that emotional touch needs to be there in the marketing, which I still get to see a hundred percent in all the major brands. 

Santosh Valecha: Right. Empathy is the need of the hour at this point in time. Everybody gets you over the top that puts it in an interesting perspective, right? From understanding how the industry is doing the ease of bridging virtual reality, bringing skill to a game. And it’s not just about the money. I think ensuring that most people have been able to make better use of their time during this difficult period, breaking the barriers, be it from the economy or from the gender perspective. I think anybody and everybody can be participating in an equal opportunity scenario that has been created by the industry. Very interesting points you gave to us. I really enjoy this conversation and I’m really looking forward to people participating and playing a bit more and enjoying a better time. Thank you so much for this conversation that this has been an absolute pleasure. 

Nitish Bugalia: Thank you so much Santosh. It was definitely a pleasure chatting with you and sharing the insights with the marketer. So we are super excited about this year’s IPL and we are expecting a great many things to happen. And as I said, fantasy sports is in a state where it is expected to grow and like, we will continue to be a part of that as well. Once again, we all are in a very difficult phase globally, and I think empathy is something that we all should always have on the top of our list basically, not just the country, but the entire world. 

Santosh Valecha: Excellent. I look forward to re-capturing it with you post IPL. It will be a bit more learning to our listeners 

Nitish Bugalia: Sure, It will be my pleasure

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