Bringing together different aspects of the sports fan experience is at the heart of what Irish sports technology startup Sportdec is trying to accomplish with its fan app and its recent global launch.
“If I’m a sports fan that likes to follow Lewis Hamilton, Leinster rugby, and Manchester United, it would be great to have all that in a single product rather than still having to potentially use three different apps,” said CEO Bruce Bale.
Sportdec’s MO is offering live scores, stats, betting, and gaming in one app. It’s a tall task considering the sheer number of sports apps available in the app stores.
Bale was brought in as CEO of Sportdec in January 2016 by founders Neil O’Leary, founder of Irish petrol station chain Topaz, and MoneyMate founder Stephen Byrne. Among the startup’s early minority shareholders are snooker players Stephen Hendry and Ken Doherty, former rugby star Reggie Corrigan, and retired golfer and now Sky Sports pundit Gary Murphy.
Bale’s background is a pretty strong summation of everything that Sportdec is trying to do. He began his career at Leeds United as a sponsorship executive from 1999 to 2003 and also oversaw partnerships at West Ham United. He spent time at Deloitte’s sports business unit, Sky Betting and Gaming, and was Facebook’s EMEA gaming manager in Dublin.
To date, Sportdec is founder-funded. That will soon change as the startup is in the midst of investor talks with a view to raising €3 million to accelerate its growth after launching globally earlier this month.
Sportdec first launched in private beta in Ireland and the UK in March 2016 with user testing during Euro 2016 last summer. This proved fertile ground to test the app with a small user base.
“Going with one tournament allowed us to actually see whether all the different data feeds, sport betting, live scores, notifications etc could all be delivered successfully,” said Bale. The process informed the app’s progress ahead of the start of the UK’s Premiership in August.
The app may be called Sportdec but right now it’s just focused on football and refining features for that fan base. However Bale is keen to point out that the app’s ultimate goal is to be the go-to spot for all sports. Rugby is likely its next stop with testing around the Lion’s Tour.
“The key for me was making sure that we were going to be unique and we were going to deliver something unique and better for fans.”
One of these key features includes WhatsApp integration to allow fans to share content and bets with each other. Under the hood, the app’s sports betting features are managed by London firm FSB Technology in order to handle payments and stay compliant. But even with the forthcoming global launch, betting will only be available in Ireland and the UK as Sportdec only has licenses for those markets. Will that change?
“Depends on the country,” said Bale. “If it’s Australia, [it’s] a regulated market so we could seek a license there in the future for sports betting. Obviously markets like America, it’s not yet legal so we would have to see not only whether there is demand from US fans but what kind of local and federal laws would allow us to do it in the future.”
Sportdec is trying to cover a lot of bases. Betting is one of those many prongs but Bale is adamant that Sportdec is not called just a sports betting app.
“Ultimately it’s how we socialise and connect fans together that will determine Sportdec’s success,” he said. It’s had around 60,000 downloads with its largest demographic in the 30-55 age group.
Despite this high download number, the user activity varies day-to-day with predictable spikes on Saturdays during match day.
One of the company’s biggest ambitions – beyond being the go-to sports app for all fans – is launching its own football game in the app. Bale is tight-lipped on the specifics but the company is shooting for a May release, before the end of the English football season.
“Right now we look at the football games landscape and ultimately it hasn’t changed in 20 years. There are four main types of games. There’s simulation like FIFA, there’s management games like Football Manager, there’s trading card games like Topps, and then there’s fantasy league.”
“Other than that there have been no real developments in games for football fans in the last 20 years. We believe we’re coming up with something that’s both interesting and unique to play but also connects fans to each other,” Bale added.
In-app purchases through this game will be another spoke on Sportdec’s business model alongside betting and limited advertising as well as partnerships.
This could lead to partnerships with, for example, sports gear retailers to offer discounts on a team’s new kit or travel and accommodation deals for fans travelling to big matches.
Sportdec is “in the process of signing a couple of those” kinds of partnerships. It’s also looking at content sharing agreements – such as infographics and podcasts – with media outlets.
“We’ve got a couple of live conversations here in Ireland and one in England,” said Bale.
“Once you have a captive sports audience, there are a lot of great additional features you can offer them.”