“I root for Mumbai Indians, not CSK,” laughs Harsh Jain, co-founder and CEO of Dream11, India’s leading fantasy gaming platform. A scandalised me further probes, “Not CSK? Why?” He continues, “Well, MS Dhoni is our brand ambassador, so yeah, CSK is a close second.” Harsh admits to have been a big sports geek right from childhood.
Harsh and his friends had returned to India in 2007 after studying in different institutions abroad. Soon after, the 2008 IPL became a prominent phenomenon in India. “We were football (English Premier League) fanatics back then, in fact. Even today, we play more fantasy football on EPL than on our platform,” says Harsh candidly, adding that his familiarity with EPL was a starting point to the idea of setting up a fantasy sport platform in India; a first of its kind.
“After moving back, we thought we should make a fantasy team for cricket, but there was no platform for it. This was ridiculous,” adds Harsh. He says that in the US, 75 % of the fan population plays fantasy sports. “Unless you play, you are not really considered a fan,” he observes. It was then that Harsh, along with his friend Bhavit Sheth, decided to found Dream11.
“I went to high school in London and that is when I picked up fantasy football. I wasn’t particularly good in cricket but nevertheless, I love the Indian team,” says Harsh, who is a staunch Manchester United fan and follower. Dream11, 10 years after its inception, has 45 million users. But, Harsh observes that they have been able to penetrate only 15 % of the 300 million online sports fans in India.
According to the young entrepreneur, fantasy sports market in India took shape with the advent of Super Selector. He explains, “Ask any 30 to 40-year-old cricket fan now, and they would know. It was the kind of a fantasy sport which was there till 2002. Pretty much online. Right product, wrong time, I would say.”
Star Sports and ESPN had brought this product together, but owing to poor online penetration and distribution problems, they shut it down in 2002. Harsh says, when Dream11 was brought to the market in 2008, they had to educate the masses about fantasy sports. “Nobody knew then. Now, the market has grown by leaps and bounds but it still has a long way to go. We have grown from three lakh users in 2015 to 45 million in 2018,” says Harsh.
There is a high correlation between viewership of the matches and the number of users in the platform, observes Harsh, “For instance, India versus Pakistan, is the most popularly picked game. Sports and fantasy sports always has a symbiotic relationship, they are always tied to the hip.” According to him, fantasy sports essentially changes the way one watches a match.
It is popular belief that India continues to be obsessed with cricket. Is that true? “ India is fixated on cricket but it is improving significantly. Which is why we are getting more diverse in the offering of different sports. Three years ago, 95 % of our revenue, usage was through cricket. Today, it’s only 85 %. We assume that in the next three years, it would be 75 %,” he says. However, football does not factor in as the second preference. “Kabbadi has become the second choice for users. This is also because sports like kabbadi and basketball have dynamic events every second,” he continues, adding that ISL viewership is also growing every year.
Harsh Jain was in the city to attend Entrepreneur’s Organisation’s forum called Within Fantasy, Beyond Dreams.