Start-up of the week: Sportdec

23 Jan 2017

Sportdec founder Bruce Bale. Image: Sportdec

Our start-up of the week is Sportdec, a sports technology company on a mission to deliver the ultimate sports fan app experience.

Sportdec has created a unique new app with features for fans to follow their favourite sport.

The company launched last year with football, and plans to expand into new sports in 2017. It is currently seeking investment in the region of €3m to rapidly scale the business.

‘We truly believe in the maxim “for the fans, by the fans”’

Future Human

“The app beta launched with football last summer for Euro 2016, offering all the key features fans needed to experience the ‘best of sport in one place’, including super-fast live scores; fixtures and competitions; news and video content; personalised notifications; and fully integrated sports betting,” said founder Bruce Bale.

“We went fully live for the 2016/17 season, adding more than 40 league and cup competitions, and further leagues including the Airtricity Irish League will be added for 2017, followed by further sports in the second half of the year.”

Bale said the approach to commercialising the app is finely tuned to both the live sports experience and fans’ personalised interests, with innovative betting features like bet sharing via WhatsApp, merchandising, and social gaming all featuring in the company’s product development plans.

“With the fragmentation of the fan experience, especially around live sport, there is a significant opportunity for Sportdec to disrupt the industry by focusing on delivering a ‘quality over quantity’ true companion for fans globally, across all the major sports.

“Delivering our current planned raise of €3m in Q1 2017 will enable us to accelerate our growth and deliver these plans for future expansion more quickly.”

The market

Bale said the app is all about targeting the key moments of the fan’s sporting week, starting with the live match experience.

“Whilst there is a convergence around this market, the fragmentation of the experience for fans is an increasing problem; bombarding them with news, information and offers that aren’t relevant to what they care about most.

“We’ve created a clean, simple UX in an app that has fast, relevant information, personalised to the fan’s interests, and this approach is key to our future plans.”

Bale said that there are more than 20m adult sports fans in the UK and Ireland, all of whom are passionate about their favourite teams and players, and 5.9m of whom bet each year.

“Worldwide, estimates suggest that over 1bn people follow sport, and the games (non-betting) market is valued at over €20bn globally – of which casual gaming accounts for at least €8bn. Our typical customers are sports fans, both male and female, aged from 18 to over 40.”

The founder

Bale has worked in sports, technology and gaming for over 15 years.

“Prior to Sportdec, I was head of social games and development at Sky Betting and Gaming, which was acquired by CVC Capital in early 2015; and before that, led Facebook’s gaming team in EMEA, having previously managed European operations for social gaming start-up Lionside (sold to DeNA in summer 2011).

“My earlier roles included head of sports and partnerships at Viagogo (joining pre-launch), head of partnerships at West Ham United, and sports business consultant at Deloitte, working with clients including Premier League football clubs and leading sports governing bodies.

“I actually began my career with Leeds United in its commercial team based at Elland Road from 1999 to 2003, supporting partners including Nike, Siemens, T-Mobile, Ladbrokes, HP, Bulmers and AMD.”

Sportdec’s senior executive leadership team comes from a blend of technology and sports betting in particular, including experienced leaders from SumUp, Paddy Power Betfair, Google and Full Tilt.

Founders Neil O’Leary and Stephen Byrne have proven track records in creating, investing in, and successfully exiting businesses.

“Neil is best known for founding Topaz, which was valued at €450m when it was sold to Couche-Tard in January 2016; and investing in SWS Energy, which was sold to Bord Gáis for €550m in December 2009, while Stephen founded successful financial technology businesses MoneyMate and Risk Intelligence Ireland. The latter sold to Verisk Analytics Inc in April 2016. They are both passionate sports fans and are committed to disrupting industries through new technology.”

Former world snooker champions Ken Doherty and Stephen Hendry; former European Tour pro golfer and Sky Sports commentator Gary Murphy; and former Ireland and Leinster Rugby prop Reggie Corrigan are also minority shareholders in the business.

“The company is based in Ireland, with the founders knowing that the Irish market had a wealth of technology and sports talent that could be recruited to develop and grow the business,” Bale said.

Sportdec currently employs 18 people at offices in Sandyford.

The technology

Bale explained that Sportdec is in the process of updating its platform to deliver even more unique features to fans in the coming months, with a focus on delivering the product to mobile for iOS and Android.

“Various elements of the existing app are already exclusive, and others due to launch this year will also be industry firsts, so I cannot disclose too much at this time. The key for us is connecting fans in a way that has never been done before and seamlessly integrating what they value most.

“The ultimate goal is to scale to a market-leading position as the go-to sports information app for football and other key sports across all the major European and global markets.

“We are achieving that by staying focused on the needs of the fan, their actual interests, and by delivering the best possible experience. Doing this in a unique way, instead of quick and easy commercial opportunities around betting or other monetisation, would give the founders and team a huge sense of personal satisfaction. It’s probably clichéd, but we truly believe in the maxim ‘for the fans, by the fans’.”

In it to win it

In December, Sportdec became the number one sports app in the App Store in Ireland, and broke into the top 30 in the UK.

“The app has seen over 50,000 installs in less than six months since moving from beta, and during that time, monthly active users have doubled from Q3 to Q4, daily active users have almost tripled, and returning users have increased by over 4 times. This has also all been achieved while maintaining an average session time of over five minutes.

“Initially available in the UK and Ireland only, Sportdec will launch worldwide in February with the aim of acquiring 300,000 new users in 2017 globally, and over 1.5m in 2018.

“We have proven monetisation through sports betting on mobile and desktop, and we are really excited about the fact we are developing a brand new social betting and gaming offering, launching before the end of the 2016/17 football season.

“These unique features will further differentiate Sportdec and our business model, putting us in a strong position to build for the following season, leading to the 2018 World Cup – when hopefully we’ll see Ireland and England qualify.”

Just like sport, the past 12 months have been exhilarating for Sportdec.

“We set ourselves some tough targets for 2016. Understanding what fans value most and learning how they use the app, responding quickly to that, and meeting deadlines to continue adding new features in pursuit of our ultimate goal have been both the most challenging, but also rewarding, experiences to date,” said Bale.

Set your vision and focus

Bale said that this is a particularly exciting time to work in the development of new technologies, particularly for start-ups and smaller businesses.

“Investors are rightly focused on opportunities that will create new markets or truly disrupt existing ones, and for those with a product or service to do that, resources including not only finance, but incubators, innovation labs, business networks, and software tools are readily available and easily accessible.

“The level of collaboration, both among founders and with successful entrepreneurs, is also greater than ever before.”

Bale’s advice to other founders is to envision where they want to go and roll up their sleeves.

“Set your vision, focus on and prioritise what matters most … and be willing and able to learn and adapt quickly.

“Also remember that your people are the most valuable resource you will ever have. Recruiting, motivating, and retaining your team will ultimately define whether or not you are successful.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years