Be it IPL 2018 or the ongoing FIFA World Cup, I am sure you must have noticed one brand doing the rounds – Dream11. Dream11 is the leading fantasy sports platform in this country currently that lets sport enthusiasts connect with the sport of their choice more deeply and get rewarded for exhibiting their expert knowledge of game by building a Dream11 team. We wanted to know more about the platform and the future of Fantasy Sports in India. Hence, we caught up with Harsh Jain, CEO and co-founder of Dream11. This is what he had to say:
1. Please shed some light on the journey of Dream11 so far
I have been an avid fantasy football (EPL) fan since 2001 and when the IPL began in 2008, I went looking to play fantasy cricket online. It was shocking to see that in a country like India, where cricket is watched by 800 million people, fantasy cricket was non-existent. So, my co-founder Bhavit and I thought this was a perfect problem for us to solve. After a few years of experimenting with different formats on Dream11, we found the right fit in 2012. Over the years, Dream11 has evolved into India’s leading sports gaming platform by offering a multi-sports engaging experience to all sports fans in the country and has grown from 3 lakh users in 2015 to 3.8 crore users in 2018.
The IPL has always been the busiest time of the year for us and this year was no different. Not only did we see an exponential growth in our new user base, but also witnessed high retention from existing users who kept coming back to enjoy the quantity and variety of our contests on offer. Our user base expanded from 2 crores at the start of the IPL to 3.8 crores at the end of it, meaning we added approximately 4 lakh new users every single day during the IPL. The Football WC has also seen record growth, with 10 lakh users playing fantasy football on Dream11, representing a 10x growth in fantasy football users for us.
3. What are the current and upcoming revenue models for Dream11?
We offer a single-match freemium model of daily fantasy sports on our platform. Users can play in our practice contests that are free to join or in cash contests that require an entry fee. 90% of our users still continue playing for free but we don’t show ads even to our free users because we want to provide the best user experience possible. Presently, the focus is on creating awareness around fantasy sports in India where the potential is huge with an increasing number of online sports fans.
4. Your take on the Fantasy Sports market in India at present and where is it headed in the next couple of years.
In recent times, sports & technology have converged beautifully to provide Indian sports fans with an immersive and engaging experience, successfully bridging the offline-online sporting divide. Affordable smartphones with high-speed internet access have made it easier and more convenient for sports fans to consume their favourite sport from anywhere. The advent of T20 leagues has further fueled more interest in the minds of sports fans with a shortened attention span and the need for instant gratification, which is why single-match freemium fantasy cricket has worked so well in India. By 2020, there will be 30 crore Indian sports fans watching sports online, so we are sure that 33% of them (10 crore) will play fantasy sports, compared to the US where 65% of sports fans play fantasy sports.
5. Why do we see a sudden spurt in the number of players (competition) in this segment in India this year? Who do you think is your prime competitor?
Today, sports fans in India don’t just want to be passive consumers of their favourite sport anymore. An innate desire to be part of the real-life sporting action has driven fans to engage with fantasy sports, which has recently seen a massive uptake. This along with a huge untapped market of 80 crore sports fans in India has led to a remarkable growth in the industry, as newer players have emerged to provide sports fans with highly engaging and unique sports experiences on their platforms.
Currently, of the 4 crore+ sports fans playing fantasy sports in India, Dream11 has 3.8+ crore registered users with a 90% market share. We don’t have any prime competitors yet, but these are exciting times for this nascent industry and we’re focusing heavily on deepening fan engagement on our platform.
6. Because of the prediction element, Dream11 is often looked upon as a game of chance bordering on gambling. It is also banned in certain states in India. In there an image problem because of that? Are you taking steps to create awareness?
In a landmark judgement, the Punjab & Haryana High Court passed a clear ruling on the legitimacy of Dream11’s paid format of fantasy sports games: users should pick the same number of players as a real world team fields (11 for cricket/football, 7 for kabaddi, 5 for basketball, etc), should not be allowed to change their team after the match begins, and points must be scored for the entire duration of the match. The Court, in its ruling, stated that playing the Dream11 game involves considerable skill, judgement and discretion and that success on Dream11 arises out of users’ superior knowledge, judgment and attention. The Court adjudged that playing on Dream11 constitutes a ‘game of mere skill’, which makes the Dream11 game exempt from the provisions of the Public Gambling Act, 1867.
Fantasy Sports industry is at a nascent stage in India. There are still some myths to be broken and education to be conducted about its impact on the overall sports ecosystem. Fantasy Sports is increasingly being used by national and international sports leagues as their primary tool of fan engagement – the NBA, ISL, CPL have all partnered with Dream11 and even IPL, EPL, NFL, MLB all use it effectively for engaging their fans. It feels good to say that the perception is now changing as consumers and other stakeholders are getting more educated about games of skill and the immersive experience fantasy sports offers to a sports fan. Continued market awareness and educational initiatives by IFSG and Dream11 are clearing the perception faster. This change in perception is also being brought about by an increased exposure to global brands and industry benchmarks where fantasy sports has been a game of skill for decades.
At the same time spreading awareness, safeguarding our users’ interests and having a standardised set of best practices in the industry becomes imperative. Sensing the need for self-regulation and the absence of a watertight industry body to do so, we set up the Indian Federation of Sports Gaming (IFSG) – India’s first and only self-regulatory Sports Gaming industry body in 2017. IFSG works with key stakeholders to create a thriving ecosystem for users and operators, by laying guidelines for a common set of best practices, thereby setting standards of operations and creating a regulatory framework. Games of Skill are a state subject in India. As a compliant fantasy sports operator, we have always abided by the Central/State laws in the country and will continue to do so.
7. What next for Dream11 the product? What new features can we expect in the near future?
As India’s biggest sports game with over 3.8 crore users, our primary goal is to provide Indian sports fans with the best, most trusted, single-match fantasy sports experience. With 80 crore TV and 20 crore online sports viewers in India, there is huge headroom to convert passive sports fans into active participants and keep them engaged with their favourite sport. By offering freemium formats for multiple sports like cricket, football, kabaddi and basketball on our platform, and becoming the official game for several leagues like the ISL, CPL & NBA already, we aim to bring together all sports fans under one roof to fulfil their engagement needs. We will continue working on product enhancements and partnerships to provide our users with an engaging sports experience.