Meet Delhi startup SportsFlashes that wants to be the Amazon for sports
Three-year-old SportsFlashes began as a content aggregation platform, but is now focusing on original audio programming, and boasts that it is already the world’s largest online radio for sports.Sohini Mitter
Last August, a little-known sports startup from India acquired the audio broadcast rights of the English Premier League (EPL) — possibly the world’s most popular sporting league — until 2022. That is a total of 380 matches in four years — not a small bet by any measure. A month later, it partnered with Amazon to bring live EPL commentary on Alexa-enabled devices.
Startup SportsFlashes had finally arrived on the big stage two years since it began. From aggregating multi-language sports content, it shifted focus to audio by launching India’s first internet sports radio, and started creating and owning content.
Since then, the Delhi-based startup has gone on to acquire the global audio rights to some of the most prestigious sporting tournaments, including the upcoming ICC Cricket World Cup, the ongoing Indian Premier League, and all international cricket matches to be played in India for the next five years.
India’s first online sports radio
SportsFlashes claims it has 25 million unique listeners with a cumulative reach of over 500 million for its audio broadcasts. More than 250 million minutes of audio has been consumed on its platform, with listenership peaking between January and March during India’s bilateral cricket tournaments against Australia and New Zealand.
And that’s not all.
The startup is now looking to expand its reach to one billion during the World Cup (which starts in 40 days from now) by broadcasting audio feeds of all matches in 11 languages, including English, Hindi, and even northeastern ones like Khasi and Garo. There will also be content in Mandarin to cater to a sizeable cricket-watching audience in Hong Kong and other parts of Asia.
Raman Raheja, Founder and CEO of SportsFlashes, tells YourStory,
“24X7 sports radio is an untapped opportunity. FM stations in India are not allowed to stream live sports. Only All India Radio can. But they are not going inside stadiums to create original content. Everyone is chasing video today, but we want to cater to the growing demand for audio by becoming the ‘voice of sport’ - all sports, and not just cricket.”
SportsFlashes already houses content - podcasts, commentary, news, live scores, fantasy gaming, expert views, audio interviews, trivia, etc. - on 34 sporting genres, and 400 events and tournaments. “Smaller sports like kho kho, billiards, karate, and taekwondo do not have any visibility on television or digital video. We want to be a platform for those as well,” Raman says.
He adds, “We want to become an Amazon in the world of sports.”
Riding the cricket opportunity
Cricket forms the core of the startup’s business plans this year. It is looking to generate a revenue of $15 million from the World Cup alone. For that, SportsFlashes has struck partnerships with BBC Radio and talkSports in the UK as well as local radio stations in Australia and New Zealand.
The founder reveals that the company would be spending $7-8 million on content and packaging around the World Cup. It is also in talks with radio operators in South Africa, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and West Indies - basically, all major cricket-playing nations of the world.
“We are the world’s biggest sports radio channel, but our immediate focus is to be India’s first and dominant digital sports radio platform. We look to engage fans using text, audio, video, and all other emerging form factors.”
Video? We ask.
“Well, if you add a dynamic scorecard to the screen along with an audio feed, it becomes a video product,” Raman explains. “In fact, YouTube is helping us push out this content. We haven’t spent a penny on marketing yet, but we have distributed content on Gaana, UC Browser, Twitter, and YouTube,” he says.
While most of its current listeners tune in for free, SportsFlashes plans to roll out subscription-driven premium audio programming going ahead.
“Right now, only about 15 percent of our visitors subscribe (email sign-ups). But we are targeting about a million paid subscribers by the end of this year,” Raman states. He claims the company has hit an ARR of $1.5 million, and is now targeting sponsorship revenue from high-profile tournaments. Starting April, it has also begun syndicating content.
Backing of international investors
In June 2018, SportsFlashes raised $1 million from SRI Capital (a US-based early-stage fund). Prior to that, it raised an undisclosed round from Bennett, Coleman and Company Ltd (which also owns Cricbuzz, another multi-format sports content platform) in August 2017.
It also counts undisclosed investments from India’s Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar and Global Edusports Ventures’ Sandeep Singh.
But, the company requires more capital to fuel its ambition of reaching a billion listeners in 2019. The startup reveals it is in “serious talks” to raise a Series A funding of about $7 million. It will also take its team size up to 100, and roll out audio feeds in multiple regional languages.
Industry landscape, and challenges
Talk of the challenges of building original audio content in India, and Raman recalls the time when people dissuaded him from venturing into the sector.
He shares, “Everyone told me that nobody listens to audio in India. There is no content, no money. That is why we are creating IP, which nobody can take away from us. We want to have 25+ commentary feeds on our channel that will appeal to everyone from the paanwala to the businessperson.”
Raman’s faith in India’s audio market is not misplaced. A Deloitte report states that there are over 150 million users of audio-streaming services in the country right now. While most of them are tuning into music apps, the demand for podcasts, audiobooks, and other original audio programming is growing - slowly, yet surely.
“Brands will come as well,” says the founder, “Imagine if you were a brand and wanted to be associated digitally with the IPL. You would pay Rs 70-75 crore to Hotstar for just one season. Only the top 10-12 brands can afford that. The next 200 will line up on our platform because we give them the flexibility and the reach.”
“You can call us the poor man’s Hotstar may be,” he adds.
‘Poor man’s Hotstar’ or ‘Amazon for sport’? You can take your pick. But, one cannot deny that SportsFlashes is out to build something that could become a global rage. Don’t forget to tune in!