By Reya Mehrotra
In January 2020, the pandemic had dawned upon the world. But it was also the time when fantasy sports platform Fantasy Akhada, founded by Amit Purohit, took shape and went against the tide to raise millions of dollars and became the face of fantasy sports in India. With Harsha Bhogle as its brand ambassador, who also raised funds for the platform, the sports tech company has not looked back and continues to grow with multiple rounds of funds pouring in right and an increasing consumer base as the second leg of the IPL resumed in September.
Not a new concept
While the tech-enabled and modern avatar of fantasy sports is a relatively new concept in India, it existed as early as 2001. “When I was a kid, we used to see Harsha Bhogle, Navjot Singh Sidhu play fantasy sports in the Super Selector on ESPN Star Sports back in 2001-02. So it is not a new concept. We picked up ideas from there. Then the element of money came in 2011-12 when Dream11 started expanding the category the way they have expanded it,” shares Purohit.
In April this year, the platform raised Rs 5 crore from Prime Securities. Talking about the expansion and funding before the IPL, he says, “We have observed five times growth since our last fundraise in March. We always raise funds well in time before the IPL for our technology cost, in user acquisition (through print, TV and digital) and employee costs.”
Purohit shares that on his platform, users are more interested in short-format cricket like T20s and don’t really enjoy the Test matches as the money is locked out for five days. T10 leagues are likely to be the next big thing in fantasy sports as, he says, the shorter the format, the better the engagement.
On being asked about the comparisons of fantasy sports to betting, he shares, “Fantasy sport as explained by the Supreme Court of India and the High Courts is not just about predicting the outcome of a particular event but about using skills, knowledge and understanding of the sport and understanding of the players to take a collective set of decisions. It is a very informed, calculated and sophisticated choice of the 13 decisions you are making of the 22 decisions you have at hand and hence it is a game of skill rather than a game of chance.”
He says if one goes by gut, the decisions turn out wrong, and if by track record, then the decisions are more right than wrong.
Women’s T20 match biggest draw
Purohit says though the platform has hosted thousands of matches, their India vs England women’s T20 match has been their biggest match till date and that this kind of engagement on platforms like his also become a deciding factor for BCCI to consider the future of women’s cricket.
As for other sports, he says that since football requires a lot more thinking, the volume of people playing that in fantasy sports goes down and the volume of people playing cricket is much higher. Fantasy Akhada is likely to roll out kabaddi for Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) fans on popular demand. “Before Covid-19, Kabaddi was the No 2 sport in India, so we plan to tap into this segment aggressively,” he says.
But can fantasy sports be as addictive as cricket and betting? “We never encourage people to make a living out of it, but to try it for fun for sports engagement,” he adds.