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Chronicling the rapid growth of DREAM 11

By Kaushik G Viswanath

“After a nail-biting end to a cricket match, when people say, ‘I knew Kohli was going to score a hundred today’, I say, ‘Put your money where your mouth is. Show the world that you know what you are talking about and not just talking shop after a game that has happened”

These were the words of Harsh Jain, the CEO and Co-Founder of India’s first-ever unicorn (company valuation of over $1 billion) sports gaming company Dream11 which has also become one of the favourite past-times of sports lovers in the country ever since its inception in 2012. 

Talking about his billion-dollar idea and the journey of Dream11, Harsh reiterated his desire of making the fantasy sports platform to have taken root from the idea of putting people’s sporting awareness to the test. 

But the evolution of the pet project of two young graduates from Mumbai to making it India’s biggest sports app makes for a long and intriguing read spanning more than just the app and the eruption of the Fantasy sports platform as a business. 

The Inception

Idealized in 2012 by Harsh Jain and Bhavit Sheth, Dream11 was born of their love for the fantasy leagues in football. Their idea to recreate fantasy sports for a sports hungry-public like India faced initial impasse as the duo found it difficult to scale the product in a country that views sports in large numbers but only as a necessary pass-time. While the potential was there, the journey was to be long and arduous. 

Another point of contention was the lack of capital to run such an application which would satiate the needs of a cricket-lusty population with competition and reach the right audiences needed to give their pet project the impetus, it did require a lot of effort. 

Hence the duo had to come with a unique model that offered users the chance to connect more with the game through the app. After small initial successes, Dream11 came in with the revolutionary idea of introducing “Cash-based contests” in the fantasy spectrum, a move rarely sought out by reputed big-game fantasy players. 

They also received their first financial shot in the arm when reputed investment firm Kalaari Capital invested in the potential of Harsh and Bhavit’s idea. As of September 2020,  Dream11 is valued at $2.5 billion with investments close to US$400 million from reputed funding organizations like Tencent, Steadview Capital, Think Investments and Multiples Investment Group. 

The company has gobbled up almost 90% of the entire market share and is the third most sought-out fantasy gaming platform in the World as per a research carried out on 344 global apps by Tracxn in October. 

Today Dream11 is the official title sponsor of the Indian Premier League (till 2022), it is their “Official Fantasy Gaming Partner” and is the same for almost every league competition happening in India. Its unique stable of event sponsorships includes – ISL (Football), Pro Kabaddi League, Caribbean Premier League (West Indies T20 League Season), Big Bash League (Australian T20 League season), NBA, and the Hero Indian Super League comprising contests across six different sporting disciplines. 

Dream11 has ushered in the era of fantasy sports gaming which is seen as a workaround on gambling. It’s working policy of cash-based competitions is the reason that the application isn’t featured in prominent App-Libraries like Google Play Store and iOS App Store. 

The Reasons 

While assessing the astronomical growth of Dream11,the numbers are startling to note for a simple idea, but the reasons that it used as leverage give evidence to the scale of growth that Dream11 has achieved in close to a decade. 

  • The boom of Fantasy Sports

For a fandom that spans 850 million people, the advent of Dream11 and Fantasy sports couldn’t have come at a better time and couldn’t have found a better audience for traction, just in terms of the sheer numbers. 

A recently released draft paper by the Niti Aayog states:

  • The number of Fantasy Sports App Companies in India has increased from 16 in 2016 to 140 in 2019. 
  • The number of fantasy sports players in India has seen a CAGR of 212% with 90 million players being active on gaming platforms in 2019
  • The total revenue generated by Fantasy sports companies in 2019-20 tripled from 2018-19 to stand at ₹2,470 crores. 
  • Close to 90 million players participated in Fantasy platforms across India in 2019

Numbers like these indicate that the increase has been profound, and especially in the age group between 18-34 where players’ indulgence in competing and earning money through these platforms has meant that their consumption of sports by fantasy players was 6-8 hours more than casual/regular viewers who don’t play fantasy sports. 

The prospect of earning money and becoming sport-savvy by researching and knowing more on the players who are performing consistently means fantasy sports apps are bridging the connectivity between players and making them an active stakeholder in the game with tangible dealings of the performances of the players. 

Dream11 also instilled the system of competitions where multiple winners can attain monetary gains based on their positions which determines their share of the winning pot. The diversity in the content portfolio has also contributed with the addition of sporting disciplines and events are the Pro Kabaddi League have rekindled the sports’ lost incantation on the Indian audiences. 

  • Cashing in on the IPL 

According to Harsh, India is home to a cricket audience totalling more than 600 million people. The IPL captures this imagination like no other, bringing high-octane cricket and the game’s biggest stars to the most populous cricket base in the world. 

Starting with simple ads and cricketing USP, the craze of the fantasy platform gradually permeated into general cricketing folklore. For their part, Dream11 cashed in as a Co-Sponsor, then becoming the Official Fantasy Game Partner for the IPL and now they stand at the top as the Title Sponsor of the Indian Premier League with a prospective deal running till 2022. 

Over the last three seasons (half of the 2020 season), the IPL has seen average annual audiences of 408.6 million viewers across 24 channels in eight different languages. The IPL brings in over ₹2,000 crores in ad revenue every season and Dream11 is among the chief ad sponsors. 

The exposure that the brand receives from this tournament is something that they were smart to leverage. On an average basis, viewership for a game is at an average of 42 minutes/match/viewer. 

The brand effect through the colloquial reach of Dream11 has particularly resonated within regional and local markets, another vertical where the IPL has firmly planted its roots by offering local cricket content. 

Yearly viewership of IPL in regional markets has increased by 12-15% which has also taken an upturn in the exposure that Dream11 has offered to the Indian sporting audiences. 

  • Marketing, Branding & Promotion 

While Dream11 has had its fair share of exposure to the sporting limelight, it has not been without their efforts in marketing the brand and taking it across to the sport-hungry Indian public in the most affable way. 

But their potent marketing efforts ensure that their reach is sure to touch more and more people every year while catering to arguably the biggest sporting fanbase on the planet. 

According to CleverTap, Dream11 retains 5x more customers than the average fantasy sports app using advanced insights and customized engagement campaigns to recognize and attain customer touchpoints. 

Dream11’s initiative of “make-your-own-team” before the particular match ensures that people are on their feet and obliges them to closely follow the performances of players selected by them. 

Dream11’s biggest strength has been their advertising campaigns. The company has been smart in getting big names to don their name like MS Dhoni under whose name the platform launched the “DimaagSeDhoni” campaign pushing players to test their cerebral instincts like the former Indian skipper.

During the 2020 Indian Premier League season, the ad campaign titled “YehApnaGameHai” celebrated the roots of street cricket in India by casting plenty of Indian cricketers like Dhoni, Rohit Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah and Rishabh Pant among other as part of bringing the local flavour in the game and received wide acclaim. 

The number of searches that Dream11 has on Google is estimated to be 30 times more than any other fantasy platform in India which shows its unanimous domination of the space. 

It’s Promotion and Branding has meant that Dream11 offers advertising companies close to ₹250 crores in revenue a year. This figure is expected to escalate to ₹3,000 crores in the next 5-6 years as per the aforementioned report by Niti Aayog (Government of India Organization for fulfilling Sustainable Development Goals). 

The Future 

Dream11 aims to create a lawful playing experience by casting out the impression of sports betting through their initiative, a system that has for long been legally denied and prosecuted in India and has been at the centre of plenty of sporting-integrity debates. 

The company has been embroiled in plenty of legal challenges and court lawsuits owing to the nature of cash-based contests which also induces a probability of cash losses in the competitions and earlier disputes owing to their rectification of cash refunds and reimbursements to players’ accounts. This in turn meant that the company introduced a system for people above 18 years eligible to participate and the submission of PAN Card to avail their in-game winnings for cash-based contests. 

A step in the right direction towards cleansing the image of fantasy sports is the creation of the Indian Federation of Sports Gaming (IFSG) which Harsh Jain and Dream11 spearheaded to protect their interests and portray Fantasy games as a medium “playing with skill over luck” akin to traditional gambling sports such as card games. The organization now handles the interests of plenty of new fantasy platforms that have taken root in our nation. 

India constitutes nearly 13% of the global mobile gaming population. The competition and popularity are bringing fantasy sports apps to the limelight of traditional sports lovers and fanatics of an industry that is destined to be valued at US$5 billion by 2025. At its centre sits Dream11 as the incumbent front-runner and the game changer in this vertical. 

Dream XI currently boasts a customer base of almost 55 million and are targeting a user base of 100 million by 2021.

For more content on the Indian Fantasy sports market, you can also refer to the following sources:-

  1. Federation of Fantasy Sports in India
  2. The Rise of Dream11 and Fantasy Sports Gaming in India – The Times of India
  3. Growing Engagement in Fantasy Sports (US) – Nielsen (2018)
  4. Improvement in consumption of sports content by Fantasy Sports players: IFSG (ET- 2019)
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