Covid-19 and the lockdowns have stalled activities across sectors, and sports and entertainment is one of the worst hit. But the pandemic has forced sports fans to look at innovative ways to keep their spirits alive. Thanks to digital technology, new forms of sport are emerging and they have found immense popularity among enthusiasts. Fantasy sport is one such gaining ground in India.

Delhi-based, founded in 2018, is a leading player in fantasy sport. BusinessLine spoke to Saurabh Chopra, CEO, to know about the sport, the company and the market. Here’s the e-pitch report:

What exactly do you mean by fantasy sports? How is it different from other forms of e-sports?

As internet access expanded and gaming technology evolved, it gave rise to consumers wanting to explore their favourite sports from the comfort of their homes. And fantasy sports enable users to showcase their skill and earn rewards through the process. While e-sports has its own user base and is completely independent in terms of the gameplay and rewards scheme, fantasy sports platforms cater to a different set of gamers. E-sports can be played on different sets of platforms such as the PC, mobile phones and consoles. However, fantasy sports is solely dependent on the live sports that get telecast and can be played on smartphones and PCs too.

Fantasy sports give the user an opportunity to predict and use their knowledge of the game to further increase the chances of winning a proposition at stake, alongside widening the horizon of experience and knowledge of the sport.

How do you think a market like India, under-penetrated on the broadband front, will accept such a business?

India has a huge potential for fantasy sports as internet access has expanded to various regions of the country. According to a report published by The Federation of India Fantasy Sports (FFIS), the governing body for fantasy sports in India, 2019 saw an overall turnover of over ₹920 crore and due to work from home gaining ground during the Covid-19 scare, it has even predicted revenues to grow threefold to touch ₹2,400 crore or more in 2020.

It also showed a rapid increase in the user base of online fantasy platforms as the participants increased from two million in 2016 to nine million in 2019. The industry has also seen more players emerging as it increased from 10 operators in 2016 to more than 140 operators by end 2019. With an increasing number of users, the contest entry amount (CEA) has also shot up, registering ₹16,500 crore in FY20 in comparison to ₹6,000 crore in FY19.

These stats highlight the Indian market’s appetite for OFS platforms and the rise of BalleBaazi as well. While we have new OFS platforms emerging, it boils down to the platform that provides a credible experience and we have been appreciated for the same through the consumers who have played on our platform.

What's the USP of BalleBaazihere?

We started our operations in the market in 2018 with a singular mission of providing ‘The Best Fantasy Sports Experience’ in the field of cricket. We designed our app and website keeping in mind the love and passion our nation has for the game. However, we expanded our horizon after a successful start to the platform and ventured into other sports as well, such as football, kabaddi, and even basketball and baseball, among many other genres of Quiz. With #Playerfirst as our guiding principle, we make sure our users have the most smooth, fun and credible gaming experience. We are constantly on the lookout for new concepts in fantasy gaming and believe in contributing our best to the arena of skill and knowledge gaming.

Other than playing the sport, what are the other incentives for the gamers?

BalleBaazi is the only fantasy sports platform in the country that ensures that users can win — even when they lose. With our reward programme, we have made fantasy sports a win-win for users. When their fantasy team wins, users can take home real cash. When they lose, they get our exclusive BB Coins that they can redeem at the BalleBaazi Rewards Store to claim goodies and win prizes. We gave users a chance to rejoice by hosting India’s first-ever Virtual Fantasy Freeroll leagues. We set new benchmarks in the category by real cash on referring friends through our partnership programme.

Tell us about BalleBaazi’s plans for the future.

BalleBaazi started off independently in 2018 and received a funding of $1 million from the parent company Baazi Games in 2019. We’ve expanded our operations through a round funding of $4 million from two private equity funds based out of Delhi and Singapore., the app that concentrates on providing the best user experience, has grown to a user base of more than three million people in two years and continues to strive to expand the Baazigar family. With the recent addition of American sports such as baseball and basketball, we are targeting becoming India’s one-stop for all fantasy sports.

How have Covid-19 and the lockdown influenced your business and business model?

It was a challenging phase, with sporting events all around the world shut, but we were optimistic of things returning to normal sooner than later. Additionally, we devised new strategies to engage our audiences and introduced Quiz on our platform along with the addition of Fantasy Baseball and Basketball.

While BalleBaazi, which is dependent on live sporting events,is now picking up pace as far as the user base and action are concerned, our other platforms such as RummyBaazi and PokerBaazi saw a rise in participation as users had more time to spare within the confines of their homes. Even in the new normal, we have stayed true to our philosophy of keeping the user first and managed to deliver engaging and credible experiences.