Fantasy sports games have been a staple for more than two decades, even starting in the pre-Internet era. Today’s consumers are playing a version of the game far removed from those early days, and one company based in Israel — Funatix (pronounced like fanatics) — is at the forefront of the fantasy sports platform’s development in the 21st century.
NoCamels spoke with Funatix’s CEO Ohad Crystal about the game’s development and the kinds of players it attracts.
“At least 20 percent of our fans are real fanatics; they will sign into the game at least three times per day,” Crystal explains.
He notes that around 50 percent of the game’s players are Gen-Zers, the generation born between the mid-to-late 90s and the 2010s in the 18-24 age range. “Our fantasy is gamified [the application of typical elements of game playing such as point scoring, competition with others, and the rules of play] and this is particularly appealing to these fans.”
At the current time, Funatix’s Real Manager app is the official partner of several leagues, including in Israel, Greece, Mexico, Thailand and Ukraine. The startup is in talks with the German Bundesliga – one of Europe’s biggest leagues – to be one of its official partners.
For Crystal, being designated either an official league partner is an important step. “It is a critical issue from a moral and practical aspect. There are tech tools that allow you to hunt rights infringements; like players’ images, and the clubs’ and leagues’ logos. The companies that try and use unofficial digital assets will likely be extinct within the next two or three years. There is a movement toward NFTs [Non-Fungible Tokens] and the creation of stamped digital assets. For example, if LeBron James makes a great move during a basketball game, the National Basketball Association (NBA) will issue a 15-second clip, digitize it and then somebody owns it.”
Crystal is positive about Funatix’s prospects in the future. “We are a sexy startup and it is clear that we are a company that sooner or later will go public with an IPO, although that is dependent on our business achievements. Our next funding round will likely be pre-IPO and we’ll be looking for around $8-10 million as we continue to grow the brand and expand our multilayered platform.”
Co-founded by COO Yoni Simhon and CBO Lishar Bahar in 2015, Funatix’s vision is to position itself as the official partner for as many leagues as possible, using its Real Manager app. It also wishes to target the major international soccer tournaments, such as those of the game’s governing bodies, such as FIFA, UEFA, and CONCACAF.
Crystal highlights that the way fans consume sports products has radically altered in the last few years and can even be largely broken down according to age. “Baby Boomers and Generation X-ers are more used to sitting down in front of the TV and watching a whole game, whether it’s soccer, baseball, basketball or whatever. However, we are seeing declines of tens of percent of populations who are drifting away; all sports are having issues with retention of fans watching on tv.”
“With regard to Gen-Zers, they watch sport in a totally different manner. Apart from big games such as the Champions League or World Cup Finals, where they will sit in front of the tv – albeit on their phones – for much of the game, they would rather watch snippets or highlights on YouTube or other services.”
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Funatix has been able to tap into that change in the ecosystem and take advantage of the paradigm shift of how sports are consumed, particularly in the younger generation. “Some 64 percent of young people prefer to consume sports via social media,” Crystal says. “We are going to meet those people on those ecosystems and social media and we have developed a way to launch fully localized leagues within a week, including the language. Our solution is both modular and multilayered.”
The game play allows a user to experience what it’s like to manage a real-life team within a certain budget. Other features include; selecting the team’s new name and branding, building the best Dream Team from real life players, managing the training department, signing coaches and assigning training sessions to improve the players’ standard to gain more points.
In addition, customers can challenge their friends and family in weekly competitions, collect incomes from sponsors and daily prizes and compete in the official global ranking of the best Real Manager.
Crystal is bullish about the company’s prospects and its ability to attract and retain players.
“Our year-to-year retention is phenomenal. When a customer is onboarded, obviously some will not last but we can calculate how many of the hundreds of thousands of users will remain with us and there is always room for improvement and for us to hit higher targets. We can appeal to partnerships with other gaming companies and it is very the nature of football fans to be loyal to teams and clubs.”
Funatix also relies on social media and the leagues’ and clubs’ social media channels. In Israel there is also a large national media partner to help create engagement throughout ecosystems, and not just game.
“We send push notices to players about their friends, encouraging them to play, we are not simply sitting around and waiting for them to come back. Our customers have shown enormous loyalty on a multi-year basis, which is more like those strategy or war games that require a long investment of time to get the most out of.”
While one might think that the onset of COVID-19 was a boon for app downloads and increased gameplay, Crystal checks that idea immediately. “The pandemic and lockdowns were not at all a blessing. Real-life games were halted and there was hardly any soccer anywhere on the planet. We rely very much on actual games taking place and the hiatus was bad for us. However, we did notice that even when there were no games, around 60 percent of our fans got into the game for something to do. People remained optimistic, we offered them a daily prize and the general view seemed to be that ‘everything will be okay.”
Funatix monitor’s their customers’ behavior, including when they take a pause from the game. The company can identify how long is spent on a page, as well as monitoring a player who may have gone through the onboarding process but hardly logs on. “It is scientific, we cannot work according to a hunch,” Crystal asserts. “The numbers don’t lie and during the pandemic we were able to view things in a different way, because those same numbers were ‘pure.'”