Entrepreneurial

Online sports gaming startup eyes Super Bowl boost

February 6, 2011

Nic Sulsky hopes this weekend’s anticipated record Super Bowl television audience helps boost traffic to his online sports gaming startup.

InGamer Sports, the Toronto, Canada-based company he co-founded in 2008, lets users choose a team of players from live games and awards points based on how they actually perform on the field.

Sulsky said it fuses the three dominant screens in our lives: television, computer and mobile.

“So we want to own the phone and we want to own the computer during the Super Bowl,” he said, adding InGamer has licensing deals with two prominent Canadian broadcasters and is looking to expand into the much larger U.S. market. “We have the only game that people can play during the Super Bowl in realtime live against everyone.”

During the Super Bowl users, who have signed up online, can select up to six players – from both the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers – and track them throughout the game. If a player is not doing well, the user can trade them for another player at the end of the quarter, so their choices aren’t locked like a traditional fantasy sports contest.

“When you’re talking about InGamer, you’re actually talking about who’s doing well in the game,” said Sulsky, CEO, who used “north of a million dollars” to build the company with partner Simon de Boer. “In fantasy you can’t make any changes, so why are you even bothering talking about it in the game?”

Sulsky contends fantasy sports as an industry has “plateaued” over the last few years, despite support from the 30 million people in North America who regularly participate in fantasy leagues and contests. Sulsky said InGamer is not targeting those fans so much as the 100 million “avid” sports fans that don’t play fantasy games.

He believes the interactive nature of InGamer’s technology, which incorporates social media elements such as instant messaging and rankings, makes it a far more compelling offering to users and potential clients than running a fantasy contest.

“At the end of the day we’re trying to change the whole paradigm about how people are selling live sports,” said Sulsky, who noted the average InGamer visitor spends a whopping 76 minutes on site and close to 40 percent of those who come to the site register to play the game. “We’re the only game that actually adds value to broadcasts, because it’s all about stickiness.”

So far InGamer only covers hockey, basketball and football and some NCAA sports, but plans to expand to include rugby, soccer and cricket. Sulsky said the Web-based platform was designed to be “sport agnostic” and added they can roll out a new sport within a week.

The company has signed licensing deals with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and the National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA) for its hockey product and with Rogers Communications for football, which it launched at the start of the NFL playoffs last month. Sulsky added the CBC paid “in the six figures” for the deal that expires this summer.

Sulsky said his pitch to prospective clients is: “You promote it; we’ll convert higher than anything on the Internet. Now you’re fusing the audience; you’re engaging them not just through television, not on the computer, not on the phone, not live, but everything.”

To try to gain some traction in the U.S., InGamer enlisted the help of sports agency titan IMG, who helped broker their TV deals and gets a percentage of the revenues.

Michael Dierks, vice president at IMG Media who lists Tiger Woods, Maria Sharapova and Jeff Gordon among his clientele, said broadcasters are looking for new ways to attract advertisers, who have seen TV become less effective with the advent of personal video recorders that let viewers bypass their ads. He added that InGamer’s technology lets broadcasters attract or retain sponsors by showing them that the eyeballs they lose during commercials or intermissions will transfer to this new social gaming platform.

“At the end of the day the value proposition is something very simple: this enhances a broadcast offering”

Photo credit: Green Bay Packers arrive to participate in media day for Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, February 1, 2011. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

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