A strong fan base is one of the most important factors for any sport to flourish. The bigger the fan base, the bigger emerges the challenge to retain each one of them.
What if the fans can get the experience and involvement of being in the stadium even when sitting at home? That for sure will strengthen the fan-sport, fan-team, fan-player, fan-club ties. That will give sports industry a strong tool to flourish while counting the strength of its committed fan base.
One such mobile application is Rooter that literally means a loyal, committed supporter or fan for a sport, team, club, competition and player.
Piyush Kumar, who has spent most of his years into marketing and advertising, is the brain behind Rooter. The young man realised that a lot of TV marketing happened around sporting events. While studying the consumer insights around this, he realized that fans across the world hated watching sports alone. That one philosophy was the conception point for the rapidly growing fan-engagement application Rooter.
“Nobody likes to watch sports alone,” opines Piyush, the brain behind the world’s first sports fan engagement platform- Rooter.
In a casual conversation with insidesport.co, Piyush discussed past, present, future, challenges, strengths and roadmap of the Rooter business. The application that aims to change the dynamics of the game for fans and advertisers, with an overall effect on the business of sports. Here are the excerpts:
InsideSport: What made you invest your time and money into sports and bring out a platform like ‘Rooter’, while you have been doing so well into advertising and marketing?
Piyush: I have spent almost 13 to 14 years of my life in consumer marketing and all these years into the industry I was able to gain consumer insights. Marketing that is being done around sports was one of them. The brands are ever ready to spend their chunk of marketing budget in and around sports. But what made them spend into sports is the fan base a sporting entity – be it player, match, tournament – provide.
I am myself a huge sports fan and I realize that nobody wants to watch sports alone. This on thought is the idea that gave birth to Rooter. It enables us to access this pain-point, connecting sports fan with each other. I believe that the overall value of the sports industry lies in the number of fans it has acquired. Now, if we can connect sports fans under one roof then we are talking about a very big market.
IS: How did you manage to find a commercially viable plan for ‘Rooter’? What was the response from the investors?
Piyush: We were sure of one thing; if we can get sports fans together at one platform then we are creating a huge commercial opportunity. Fans are the most loyal set of consumers and through our app, brands and teams, clubs or events can get in direct touch with their fans. To do so, we laid out a commercial model where fans are engaged during the live action. They are predicting, connecting with other fans, rooting, cheering up as the live game goes on. They receive a notification before the start of the match. They are able to root sports fans around their vicinity. This in turn becomes an opportunity for brands to engage with the fans.
As far as the response is concerned, 2016 was a very difficult year. Then we got our first investor Boman Irani, who happened to like the idea so much. Thereafter we are able to generate funding through investors like Intex Technologies, Dhruv Chitgopekar, who is a partner in KWAN entertainment. We have Anjali Hegde, Founder of Interactive Avenues and a few others. Now, we are looking for our next series of funding to be somewhere around $ 1-2 million. And as we see 2018 is a big year for us with India touring South Africa, IPL, FIFA World Cup, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, and many others.
IS: What do you bring on the table for the stakeholders?
Piyush: The number one and the most important stakeholder for us is the fan adopting Rooter. We ensure that it is the best experience of watching live games, is the best immersive experience to enjoy the game. Next are our brands, which can actually target the right set of audience through us. They can market their products at the right time and to the right people. For teams, we are connecting them with fans in a better manner with some meaningful engagement. We help them with fan data and fan behavior. So, we are able to provide a lot of things to the whole ecosystem of sports. Even the teams can use our data to pitch their sponsors and make business through our numbers.
IS: How do you decide which sports will work for you and which will not? Considering the huge fan following of cricket, how are other sports doing in comparison?
Piyush: We in fact started with football for two reasons. One, it is a global sport and we have plans for global expansion. Second, it attracts a huge fan following with a very loyal base. Then we brought cricket because one cannot ignore cricket in India, it is like a religion. After that we added Tennis and experimented with Basketball. To our amusement, NBA proved to be a huge success for us. Then we added Badminton as our players were doing very well across the world. And just like NBA we brought on Formula one and finally added kabaddi to our repertoire.
But the good thing about our platform is that the number of people consuming cricket is equal to the number consuming football, badminton or kabaddi. If 10 people are following cricket then eight are following football, nine follow Kabaddi and badminton each, six follow F1 and the same ratio is across all the seven sports that we have. Overall, we have over a three-lakh user base spread across the nation and we are growing at a very rapid pace. Our retention rate is amongst the top 100 around the world.
IS: Within your app, there is a virtual coin that users can earn and then redeem it for various offers and coupons? Will you consider the bitcoins in the near future, if the market starts accepting it more and more?
Piyush: Never, I would never want to monetize this platform. I want this platform to be a medium of fun for fans. I don’t want people to come here to earn money. They should come here because Rooter helps you enjoy live sports better and it helps to connect with the sports fan community in a better manner.
InsideSport: As a startup, what are the challenges you face on a day to day basis and how do you plan to overcome them?
Piyush: For any platform like ours there is a learning curve and it takes time. Like most of the traditional social media platforms, the foremost challenge is to make people understand our concept. The other challenge is to make brands understand why we are really good for them and how we can be an additional value to them, most importantly making it a viable product. To overcome these, we keep in touch with all of our partners. Roll out updates with new features for better fan engagement. And be persistent in our work towards a successful product.
IS: There has been a huge splash of money into Indian sports. The Indian sporting horizon is full of commercial leagues. How do you think this can help your platform?
Piyush: Absolutely, this will help our platform in every way possible. With the growing number of matches we will be able to generate more engagement. As I said earlier, if we can get fans on one platform it becomes a huge commercial opportunity. They are the most loyal set of consumers. We already have brands like Paytm, Tissot, Amazon and many more on-board with us. Now, with the rapid growth in this sector, we will add more value to overall sports advertising market than what traditional content platforms are doing. Working with the content platforms we can make a much more viable model.
IS: What are the future plans for ‘Rooter’? How are you targeting your national and global expansion?
Piyush: We have identified a couple of markets outside India but we will go there at the right time. For now, India as a market is doing very well and there is no geographical bound for us. We might think of now launching a regional version of our app so that we can penetrate into the deeper sections of Indian market while also continuing with what has been effective for us. We want to become an Indian story. Our vision is to cover each and every match that is being broadcast live on television. We just want to connect fans with each other.