By Darren Davidson, Media Editor, The Australian
This month, 40 years since he was coaxed out of retirement to lead Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket rebellion in the 1970s, former Australia captain Ian Chappell is playing another starring role in a big disruption to the sports business.
Chappell helped shape cricket into a popular global spectacle. He not only captained the WSC Australians, but also played a central role in assisting Packer to gain exclusive international coverage for the Nine Network, helping the late media mogul sign up 55 players from all Test nations.
Today, Chappell is fronting another bold and unlikely new venture that aims to tap into growing demand for a fresh spin on sports betting.
Chappell sees parallels between WSC and the launch of SportsHero, a real-time fantasy sports app and social prediction platform that listed on the local bourse in February.
“When you’re involved right at the start of something new, it’s very exciting,” Chappell, SportsHero’s cricket ambassador, said. “Like World Series Cricket I like the idea behind SportsHero; it’s innovative and I’m excited to see where it goes.”
The SportsHero app has been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times after a recent soft launch on the back of the wildly popular Indian Premier League, the world’s most lucrative cricket competition.
Another sign of success, a five-year strategic partnership with bat manufacturer Spartan Sports, which burst on to the scene in 2012 after inking a sponsorship deal with the then Australia captain Michael Clarke.
The idea behind the Spartan tie-up is to harness the enormous audience pulling power and marketing grunt provided by the company’s impressive roster of brand ambassadors and cricket legends including Clarke, Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni, and Chris Gayle. Between them, these players boast a combined social media reach of 90 million people.
The app, which is free, provides a constant stream of information and exclusive content by expert commentators like Chappell on dozens of cricket and football leagues around the world. The AFL, basketball, tennis and baseball will soon join the app.
What’s the score? Who scored? Users can easily adapt the app to have it only show information about their favourite clubs. Users with the best prediction history are placed on top of a leader board slots in various categories.
It is positioned as an alternative to sports gambling at a time when the Turnbull government is clamping down on betting advertising. Players speculate on the outcome of matches to accumulate points to buy prizes.
Initial prizes supplied by Spartan include personalised signed cricket bats, pads, bags and other equipment. There are plans to introduce other rewards like match tickets and hospitality experiences at stadiums.
“It’s a unique digital offering for fans, followers and customers to interact with the brand, ambassadors and each other,” says Spartan Sports chief executive Kunal Sharma.
“We’re very excited to be part of this growing platform, for which we will be working hard to drive new user registrations,” he says.
SportsHero was created by the founders of trading simulator TradeHero, the fintech start-up whose nine million users simulate trading stocks based on real-time data from international markets.
One of SportsHero’s backers is talent manager to the stars Nick Fordham, whose family-run firm The Fordham Company manages among others Nine breakfast television journalists Sylvia Jeffreys and Lisa Wilkinson.
According to Fordham, mobiles have created a channel to instantly satisfy people’s demand for live sport, and the latest news about their favourite players, but no one has cracked the monetisation model in relation to the millions of followers top sports stars attract. Until now.
“It’s about bringing back the fun, and hardcore sports fan engagement. Sports stars have huge online audiences but no one has tapped into that yet,” Fordham says.
The key to success is combining big digital scale and tech bona fides, Fordham says. “We reach millions of people with just one post. I’m usually a behind-the-scenes person but I’m happy to step up for this one because SportsHero is a unique nexus of talent, media, brand, product, and engagement.”
Revenue is generated by subscription income. Users can subscribe to tipsters for a monthly fee or one-off prediction.
SportsHero collects the subscription fees and splits the income 50-50 with the leaders who are being followed. It will integrate sports app FootballHero’s 250,000 users, which launched in 2015.
Rising sports popularity and internet usage should bode well for this rapidly growing industry. In the adjacent daily fantasy sports industry, the total amount of annual entry fees will reach $US5.3 billion by 2020, according to a report by Juniper Research.
It comes as a boom in sports rights locally and around the world reflects changing viewing patterns in the TV industry. Viewers are watching more programs on demand, underlining how live sport is immune to the rise of online streaming services like Netflix.
After all, nothing keeps a household away from their favourite match on TV. With all the drama and tension inherent in a big match, it must be watched live rather than later via a personal video recorder.
Live sport’s inexorable momentum has not escaped Fordham’s attention. With sports booming all over the world, Fordham believes this will be SportsHero’s most important competitive advantage.
“Sport just gets bigger, and the broadcasters are constantly improving their coverage,” Fordham says.
“Who would have thought the Chinese Super League would become this big? They’ve spent more money on transfer fees than the English Premier League.”
Ian Chappell is exclusively managed by The Fordham Company.