Our aim is to revolutionize the sports fan experience: Siddharth Raman, Sportz Interactive

Raman, Chief Business Officer, Sportz Interactive, shares how the company is fuelling fandom on the back of digital innovations despite sporting events being on halt

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Updated: Jun 16, 2020 1:28 PM

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended all areas of life, sports being no exception. However, there are brands and companies, world over, which have chosen to shine through these constraints and rather disrupt.

One such name is Sportz Interactive (SI), an organization that delivers fan engagement solutions through data, technology and content. The company has not just leveraged the lockdown to launch products and offerings but is foraying into areas like eSports, mobile-based casual gaming, remote production, among other things.

In a chat with exchange4media, Siddharth Raman, Chief Business Officer, Sportz Interactive, spoke about the company’s growth story, how it has been upping its game despite the challenges and engaging with millions of sports and gaming fans, and creating demand till live sports is back again.

Edited excerpts:

The lockdown took us all by surprise. What was your immediate reaction and decision in terms of working? Were there any initial hiccups adapting to the new scenario?

I think the lockdown is a manifestation of a much larger problem that the world, in general, is facing. So I think the first thing was just to ensure the safety of our own players and ensuring that they all are doing fine and also to be there for our partners. But the interesting thing is we actually made a pilot of remote working in the first week of March when lockdown was still a remote possibility. We had 30% of our workforce work from home, in the first week of March to see what are the potential challenges we face, and therefore, be ready to iron them out as and when it happens. So that really helped.

And when the lockdown was announced, and again full credit to our support functions and our admin staff who ensured that all the necessary infrastructure machines that people needed were moved all across the city, and delivered to people at their homes, so that they could start working from there. We are doing what it takes to ensure that none of our players are affected by this. Post that it came back to just focusing on what we can do as an organization for our clients and what's going to drive future growth. So that's what's been keeping us busy for these past two and a half months.

What new opportunities have the lockdown brought in for you’ll - in your way of working or as an organization?

In this lockdown, we launched two or three new products, which didn't exist before March 16. 

It's also given us an opportunity to get into avenues that we wouldn't have considered pre-lockdown. But with the changes in fan behaviour that we're seeing at a time like this, we've been getting into stuff like eSports mobile-based casual gaming. We are exploring other stuff around remote production as well, anything that will be required once live sports comes back. It's already happening in other parts of the world. We are learning a lot from what's happening over there as well and just gearing up to ensure that we are there to ride that wave.

 Take us through the growth story of Sportz Interactive.

 Sportz Interactive, as an organization, was founded in 2002, so we did turn 18 this year. We literally started out of a garage in Andheri. We are a sports-focused company working only in digital and when we say digital we work across data content and technology. We started in 2002 primarily as a sports data company, where we used to capture live scores and license tools to various clients. That's how we started and then on the back of that we grew as an organization.

 We moved out of that garage to a different office in Royal Palms at Goregaon where we grew by over 80 odd people in 2014. That growth was also driven by not just data but also being able to get into technology offerings, from gaming, websites and mobile apps and even a lot of good data visualizations. 

 Again from 2014 to now, it has been another tremendous growth journey with about 80 folks and now we're about 450 people. 

Everything that we do at SI is complete sports focused. And it's a key part of our culture. Nobody's an employee here, everybody's a player. Even simple stuff like onboarding of folks into the organization is done in a way that would happen in any sports team, where you get to choose a jersey number. And that jersey number is handed over to you like, along with the jersey. The jersey number becomes your telephone extension number as well.

You can imagine the demand for certain jersey numbers has gone up. There are certain iconic ones that people will want. So what we've been doing for the past 4 years is that every two years we put the jersey numbers into an auction. People actually pay for jersey numbers that they want. And all the money that's raised goes to a charitable cause which is typically in grassroots sport or development or certain athletes from underprivileged backgrounds. It is something we are immensely proud of, and it speaks volumes about our culture's organization as well. 

We offer fan engagement solutions for our clients across data, content, and tech. And that part is something that's picked up over the past five or six years, where we are offering content solutions across all possible formats. Our vision as an organization is to revolutionize the sports fan experience. 

We work with some of the biggest names in sports, both in India and internationally, something that has been a key part of our growth journey over the past two or three years. We work with some of the largest international federations. 

So while digital is a very big potential medium right now with everybody being there and there is clearly a captive audience. But there's so much clutter. So what do you think is the key to break this clutter, rather than being lost in that clutter?

I think the differentiator will always come from understanding how classic marketing is, understanding the consumer and over here it is understanding the sports fan. So with our understanding of the sports fan we're able to come up with a suite of products and services that cater to different aspects of sports fan.

 So the way we look at it is you have three broad buckets of fans and then there are different offerings that you can get for each of them.

You can offer stuff like stats-led storytelling and data visualization to drive deeper engagement. So we end up creating a differentiation across the board which is a very focused approach based on what fan segment we are talking to, and the offering that makes more sense to them. 

Sporting events are predicted to witness a pause for a while due to the Covid-19 situation. What is SI’s plan to weather this storm?

The live sports industry is going to enter a new normal where you're going to have an empty stadium with a sanitized bio bubble, for lack of a better word, where all the players are going to be in one location and playing but the opportunity to engage with fans is still there. This is a conversation we've been having with our clients and our clients have been reiterating that while social distancing may mandate fans not being in stadiums, that doesn't mean that fandom doesn't exist. And the only way to fuel that is on the back of digital innovations and ensuring that you're creating new experiences for fans so that they don't miss the high of being in a live stadium. 

So that's the opportunity for us and those are the kinds of things we are also looking to work on closely with all our clients as live sports comes back slowly. 

It's about - how do we ensure that we are helping them engage with fans at scale remotely because you have anywhere between 30,000 to one lakh people in a stadium. But this is an opportunity for you to interact with millions of fans at scale at one time to a focused approach, or to deliver innovation.

What would the focus and plans ahead for Sportz Interactive look like in the post-pandemic reality?

Once live sports resumes we will work towards bringing it back in all its glory. The second area around the new things that we're doing is around esports, casual gaming and casual mobile games around the world. Production or remote video production for live and online content are the other big areas we are looking at to drive our future growth.  

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