The Pakistan Super League (PSL) is widely hailed as one of the biggest events in Pakistan but it’s not just bringing cricket back to the country, it’s also creating space for startups and innovations in the space.
Hello friends, colleagues and co-conspirators!
Let me just start off by saying CONGRATULATIONS (!) to all fellow Islamabad United fans. We won the Pakistan Super League (PSL) trophy last month, the second time in three years! For the rest of you, “koi baat nai, jeet tou akhir Pakistan ki he hui” (Not to worry, after all, this is a win for Pakistan) because this is all part of the broader cricket revival at home. Last month’s final, which was held in Karachi, was the biggest cricket event in the city since the 2009 attack on the visiting Sri Lankan team in Lahore (which essentially drove international cricket from the country).
Due to that attack and a number of other factors, Pakistan has experienced a cricket slump for many years. But recent years have marked the start of a revival, with international teams and players starting to tour Pakistan and most significantly the launch of PSL in 2015, with matches played in the country over the last two seasons.
PSL is one of the biggest events in the Pakistani entertainment industry. According to numbers shared by Nielsen Sports in 2017, the TV Value for the 2nd season of PSL was $21,578,857. The two matches held in Pakistan this year were reportedly sold-out and attracted large crowds. PSL has not only been creating opportunities for cricket fans and players, it has also opened up a new market for businesses, particularly when it comes to marketing and branding.
HBL was the title PSL partner for the last year, having bought the rights with Rs. 250 million for each year. While there are concerns about the long term sustainability of PSL’s current business model, and the latest season is speculated to have incurred heavy losses for all franchises and involved a drop in sponsorships, the tournament does not seem to display any signs of slowing down with additional franchises being added and plans to conduct more matches in Pakistan in future seasons. We’ve also seen brands like Careem and Uber using PSL as an interesting branding opportunity, with interactive led car displays by Uber that viewers could race against and Careem using witty promos as pictured (if you don’t get the reference, Akmal dropped a crucial catch that may have reversed the outcome of the match – also Islamabad is notorious for being the opposite of a city that never sleeps).
However, while the tournament has led to increased branding opportunities, it has also created space for a number of innovative startups. One of the leaders in this space is Cricingif, a startup that focuses on match coverage and ball-by-ball highlights. However, what’s really set Cricingif apart from other local competitors like Cricketgateway & Cricout is they go beyond live-streaming and providing commentary. Cricingif focuses on creating content that is unique and edgy and seeks to provide before and after match coverage in ways that engages fans beyond highlights and scoring. Examples of this include their sponsorship of Australian cricket journalist Dennis Freedman, whose PSL experience and journey they showcased through video blogging both during matches and everything he did in-between. The startup has also released meme reaction videos with the World 11 team and conducted several other unique campaigns. During PSL 2018, the platform boasted 9m+ users, 0.5b+ social impressions, 60m+ video views and 150k+ Facebook shares. According to the Cricingif team, these numbers grew five times thanks to PSL. Cricingif conservatively estimates their market size to be 30 million people in Pakistan and growing, of which they are currently touching about 9 million+. The team believes that the market for online coverage and cricket content will continue to grow due to an increasing number of fans who don’t have time to watch entire matches and would prefer to get highlights and scores on the go.
Another interesting startup player is eMumba’s Cricout, which focuses on live commentary and was the first social platform for cricket fans across Pakistan (it launched in 2013). While the platform was the first local offering of its kind and attracted a lot of interest initially, even raising seed investment, it failed in its ambitions to become a social platform. In an interview with the eMumba team, they identified the lack of focus on unique content as one of their barriers to growth (something Cricingif has managed to do really well in comparison). However, eMumba is now focused on a more B2B model and aims to build partnerships with corporates for offerings like a Fantasy PSL League.
Outside of cricket entertainment, KheloKricket is a startup focused on match coverage and statistics and player scorecards at the grassroots level (including all cricket played from under 13 to veterans). This has the potential to strengthen the pipeline for players for both PSL teams as well as the national team. While the startup currently has limited penetration outside Karachi, it already contributed to some players making it into PSL, thanks to their player stats and scorecards. Launched in October 2015, KheloKricket currently houses 50 teams on its platform that have played 3000 matches and has engagement with 15,000 players and 43,000+ people online. The platform has also been doing work to promote and develop women’s cricket at a grassroots level by arranging Ramzan night cricket and has organized seven women’s tournaments so far (Not to mention the founder is a badass woman sports journalist turned entrepreneur Hadeel Obaid). The startup generates revenue in three ways 1) monthly subscriptions – Rs. 1000 per month for getting a full range of services i.e. maintaining online scorecards, match coverages, content being created around the team etc. 2) partnerships with other event organizers – to provide a range of services with the pricing dependent on the level of engagement and 3) organizing their own tournaments garnering sponsorships. While KheloKricket still hasn’t broken even as a business, they have experienced a 7 to 10% growth in their numbers year-on-year. If all goes according to plan, they will have broken even and become profitable by the end of 2018 or the beginning of 2019. In addition, they plan on scaling and expanding more deeply into Punjab and KPK which are considered fertile grounds for grassroots cricket.
CricFlex is another exciting startup operating at the nexus of cricket and innovation. Incubated at NUST TIC and National Incubation Centre Islamabad, the startup has developed a wearable sleeve designed to help cricketers improve their bowling skills and performance. The sleeve has been patented in the United States, and uses sensors embedded in the device to monitor metrics such as arm flex and force and displays these stats on a smartphone or tablet in real time. The startup was featured on the popular online cricket portal ESPNcricinfo, which praised it for its simplicity and unobtrusiveness. They also plan to keep it reasonably priced, around $300 per sleeve, so that a cricketing club would easily be able to afford it.
Internationally, we’ve seen multimillion dollar businesses emerge within the sports industry, (for example, the fantasy football league). While still nascent in Pakistan, there has still been interesting activity in the space. What do we see happening and what needs to happen as we move forward?
- The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) must see the value of these startups and their contribution to the industry as a whole, whether it means helping to scout new-talent to improving player performance. One major issue that must be addressed is streamlining the process of attaining the rights to stream matches and make it less expensive to allow for more startups to be able to enter and potentially disrupt the cricket/sports entertainment space. Incentives from the government and official bodies would go a long way in encouraging startups and innovation.
- As with all startups, funding remains a challenge. For Cricout, the major obstacle was monetizing its product and moving away from an ad-based revenue model.
- The return of international cricket and tournaments like PSL has translated into more opportunities and players that startups can work with to create more engaging and interesting content. While Cricingif has become a leader in the space, there is always room for more players. According to the Cricingif team, there is still more work that needs to be done to create online experiences for fans that cater to a wider audience and not just to the diehard fans.
- Internet policies will have a significant role to play when it comes to more innovative products and startups. There needs to be more consideration given to how policies can support the process and not inhibit it.
Read on for more content on the intersection of PSL and startup innovations and some interesting stats/figures around PSL 2018 viewership. Also I would like to acknowledge the support, time and information shared with us by Qasim Zafar, Founder and CCO Cricingif; Hadeel Obaid, Co-Founder KheloKricket and Muhammad Talal Saleem, Senior Manager Products & Analytics eMumba. This issue couldn’t have been completed without their valuable insights. Have more to say on the topic? Or just share some interesting research/articles with us? Give us a shout!
Anusheh Naveed Ashraf
Head of Insights, Invest2Innovate
Image of Interest
Brainchild communications released an infographic on the viewership and analyzing some other trends around PSL 2018.