Fantasy football’s surging popularity spawns new tech startups

Global Business

Fantasy football’s surging popularity spawns new tech startupsA startup wants to shake up the Fantasy Football playing field.

It’s a thriving industry that has become nearly as big as the games themselves: Fantasy Sports. Topping that list of moneymakers is Fantasy Football, based on the American game.

CGTN’s Mark Niu reports on a startup that is looking to shake up the game.

In the multi-billion dollar world of Fantasy Football, ESPN, Yahoo, CBS and the NFL have dominated the North American market for years.

Fans like Christina Hagan spend several hours a week digesting football stats.

“I am the only woman in the league so I like to beat the guys,” Hagen said. “And that’s kind of why I play.”

The common view that only die-hard fans and chiefly men play fantasy football has the small startup Sleeper thinking and creating differently.

“We treat fantasy as a social product,” Nan Wang, Co-founder & CEO of Sleeper said.

“We think of it as an excuse to reactivate a friendship. It’s not focused purely on the stats and scores and the utility of the fantasy league. It’s more about the conversation, the smack talk, the hangout you have with friends.”

Unlike other Fantasy sports apps, in Sleeper, the messaging feature is front and center.

Interactions are far more colorful and playful.

And at Sleeper Fantasy Football’s design department, you might be a little surprised to find out who’s in charge of the designs. There are seven team members here. Six of them are women, and six of the seven were born outside the United States meaning they had a lot to learn about American football.

“I realize that when I look at Yahoo and ESPN. They are data driven. Sunny Yen, Sleeper’s Director of Product Design said.

“I’m not interested. I cannot learn this it at all. It’s really really difficult. I feel like they build a wall.”

“If you have somebody who has been following football and fantasy for twenty years, they are kind of set in their thinking,” Wang said.

“If you hire someone who has never played before, they are thinking about more macro-level questions. It’s like why doesn’t this make sense to me. How do I make it more competitive for a casual person who is accessing this product for the first time?”

A simple green for positive stats and red for negative.

More than 70 animated mascots can be purchased to liven up banter and trash talk.

Off the promise of attracting new fan bases, Sleeper has raised more than seven million dollars in venture capital funding.

“If you look at just pure content apps in sports the top ones average five to eight minutes of user engagement per user per day,” Wang said.

“On an off day we’re 25-30 minutes when there’s nothing going on. On game days, it’s an hour. We’re closer to Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat in terms of how much time people spend on the product.”

“I invited all my friends in the league,” Shengyuan Liang, one of Sleeper’s Product Designers said.

“So all of them are newbies and I can see some of them turn into like really, really like hard core fantasy football this year. She’s the one that say we needed to stay home because we need to watch the football game and we just pulled out our app and looked at the game and looked at our score.”

With big corporations as its main competitors, the startup believes innovation will be the key to living up to its name — Sleeper – an under-the-radar player who finds a way to have a breakout performance.