FIFS Postpones GamePlan 2020 Amidst Coronavirus Scare

With the novel Coronavirus scare reaching Delhi, the Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS) has announced that GamePlan 2020, a fantasy sports conference, will be rescheduled. 

The conference was scheduled to be held on 5th March at Le Meridien, New Delhi.

FIFS has emailed all the attendees that due to the recent developments related Coronavirus, they are forced to reschedule GamePlan 2020. The decision to defer the event has been made keeping in mind the health and safety of all the delegates and stakeholders planning to attend the event. The email from FIFS to its attendees said, ‘it is important that we do not put them (delegates and stakeholders) at risk and further spread of the virus.’

The revised date of GamePlan2020 will be shared shortly, according to the organisers of the event.

As per a report in economics times, the ministry of health said, “One positive case of Covid-19 has been detected in New Delhi, and one has been detected in Telangana. Both the patients are stable and being closely monitored.”

GamePlan 2020 was to offer a platform to stakeholders across related  industries to strengthen and support the growth of Fantasy Sports. This year, GamePlan was expected to be attended by 250+ delegates including operators like Dream11, MyTeam11 and My11Circle. NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant was to be the keynote speaker and chief guest at the event, and India TV Editor-in-Chief Rajat Sharma was supposed to be the guest of honour.

It is unclear if GamePlan, when rescheduled, would have the same speakers and agenda.  

Legal & Regulatory

Rajasthan HC Reiterates that Dream11 is a Game of Skill

A division bench of the Rajasthan High Court in an order given last week, reiterated the earlier pronouncements of the Punjab & Haryana and Bombay High Courts that ruled fantasy sports to be games of skill and consequently falling outside the ambit of gambling/betting legislations.

The division bench comprising of Chief Justice Indrajit Mohanty and Justice Ashok Kumar Gaur after hearing arguments over several hearings and giving opportunity to the respondents to file replies and the petitioner to file a rejoinder, pronounced the order on 14th February, 2020 in the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by one Chandresh Sankla, a resident of Ajmer.

The petitioner in his PIL claimed that online fantasy sports website Dream11 was involved in betting activities and gambling activities and asked that the state government stop such activities, initiate criminal proceedings against the company and ensure that the crimes committed by Dream11 are not carried out anywhere across India.

Sankla in his petition impleaded the Home Secretary, Government of Rajasthan, State of Rajasthan as well as Dream11 founders Harsh Jain and Bhavit Sheth as respondents.

Justice Gaur, while speaking for the court in Chandresh Sankla v. State of Rajasthan & Others reproduced the relevant portion of the 2017 order of the Punjab & Haryana High Court Varun Gumber v. Union Territory of Chandigarh & Others wherein it was decided: “The respondent company’s website and success in Dream 11’s fantasy sports basically arises out of users exercise, superior knowledge, judgment and attention…. Equally so, before I conclude, I must express that gambling is not a trade and thus, is not protected by Article 19(1)(g) of Constitution of India and thus, the fantasy games of the respondent-company cannot said to be falling within the gambling activities as the same involves the substantial skills which is nothing but is a business activity” 

The Court also extracted the relevant portion of the Bombay High Court’s judgment in Gurdeep Singh Sachar v. Union of India & Others which reiterated the conclusion of fantasy sports involving substantial degree of skill: “Only if the result of the game/contest is determined merely by chance or accident, any money put on stake with consciousness of risk and hope to gain, would be ‘gambling’ or ‘betting’. There is no merit in the submission that the result of their fantasy game/contest shall be considered as merely by chance or accident notwithstanding involvement of substantial skill.”

The Rajasthan High Court in its judgment also noted that both Gumber’s and Sachar’s Special Leave Petitions (SLPs) in the Supreme Court where dismissed.

It further noted that the Supreme Court while recently dismissing Sachar’s SLP as well as subsequent clarification application had noted that the issue of whether gambling is or is not involved in the Dream11 matter cannot be revisited by the Bombay High Court while hearing the review petition filed by the union government and that only the GST issue can be re-heard by the Bombay High Court.

The court ultimately while ultimately dismissing the petition concluded that ‘the issue of treating the game “Dream 11” as having any element of betting/gambling is no more res integra in view of the pronouncements by the Punjab and Haryana High Court and Bombay High Court and further the SLPs have also been dismissed against the orders of these High Courts.’

Legal & Regulatory

One SLP against Dream11’s Bombay HC order dismissed, 2 more pending in SC

Three Special Leave Petitions (SLPs) have been filed in the Supreme Court against the April 2019 order of the Bombay High Court holding Dream11 to be a game of skill and approving the company’s manner of payment of Goods and Services Tax (GST).

Through its order, the division bench of the Bombay High Court comprising Justices Ranjit More and Bharati H. Dangre had noted that no case could be made out by the petitioner Gurdeep Singh Sachar, for GST evasion and that the company was paying 18% GST on the fees it retained from the players pool, which was the correct manner of paying GST.

The court also rejected Sachar’s contention that fantasy sports amounted to gambling and noted that the Punjab and Haryana High Court as well the Supreme Court in several cases have laid down the test for games of skill, and fantasy sports have been established to be a game involving substantial degree of skill.

Varun Gumber, a lawyer who had earlier filed a petition against Dream11 in the Punjab & Haryana High Court as well as appeal against that order in the Supreme Court, once again approached the Supreme Court in appeal against the Bombay High Court’s order in the Gurdeep Singh Sachar case.

Gumber’s latest petition has however been promptly dismissed by the Supreme Court through an order dated 4th October, 2019.

A division bench comprising of Justices Rohinton Nariman and V. Ramasubramanian through a one line order dismissed Gumber’s appeal against the Bombay High Court judgment.

Interestingly however, the Union of India and State of Maharashtra also filed special leave petitions against the Sachar judgment in November, 2019, challenging the Bombay High Court’s clean chit to Dream11 in the manner it pays its GST and the ruling that the fantasy sports format offered by the company amounts to a game of skill.

The petitions of the Maharashtra and central governments are likely to come up for hearing before the Supreme Court in the next few weeks. It remains to be seen whether the petitions will be admitted and heard in detail by the Supreme Court.


Vereeni announces investment in fantasy prediction app Nostragamus

Europe-based venture capital fund Vereeni Investments has made a seven-figure in prediction-based fantasy sports operator Nostragamus as it further expands its growing portfolio of gaming assets.

The deal will see Vereeni take a significant stake in Nostragamus in return for the seven-figure sum. Incorp Advisory, a Mumbai based investment bank, was the lead advisory and Assentio Legal, led by partners Rohan Cherian and Renu Gopalakrishnan, were the legal advisers for the transaction.

The total amount invested by Vereeni or the stake picked up by the fund were not revealed in the company’s press release.

Nostragamus operates a popular mobile application which has been downloaded more than 5 million times and adds over half a million new downloads every month.

The fantasy gaming app allows players to answer questions and predict results across a range of sports including cricket, football, basketball, tennis, badminton and kabaddi, with the chance to win real-money prizes.

“We have chosen to make a significant investment in Nostragamus because we are hugely impressed by its team and the speed at which it has scaled. India is an exciting market for the gaming industry, and Nostragamus’ innovative marketing and world-class product proposition places it at the head of the field,” Timothy John Heath, founder and CEO of Vereeni Investments said.

“This investment from Vereeni will not only help us accelerate our growth, but also give us access to an unparalleled network of international igaming expertise. We are thrilled to join the Vereeni network and look forward to further pushing forward the fantasy sports vertical over the coming months and years,” Yashashvi Takallapalli, CEO of Nostragamus said.

Vereeni’s 100 million Euro ‘Level Up’ fund has made investments in several other promising early-stage ventures in the fintech, online gaming, business intelligence and blockchain sectors.


IFSG releases survey on fantasy gaming’s impact on sport consumption

The Indian Federation of Sports Gaming (IFSG) released a new survey on how fantasy sports participants follow real life sporting activities much more actively as compared to non-fantasy gaming players.

The custom study conducted by Nielsen for IFSG, titled ‘Fantasy Sports: Measuring its impact on actual sports consumption’ interviewed 1169 respondents in major cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad. Out of the total sample size of 1169, 566 respondents were fantasy sports players and 603 respondents were non-fantasy Sports players.

It was found that 37% of fantasy sports players consume more than 6-8 hours of real-life sports content per week to stay abreast with knowledge on players and match conditions. The figure for non-fantasy sports players spending 6-8 hours consuming sports content is 8%.

Out of the 566 respondents from metro areas who are fantasy sports players it was revealed that 78% respondents follow the match live by tracking it through an online scoreboard or using online apps while 66% follow cricket players and team news online so that they understand which players are performing well.

The survey also revealed that almost 100% of the respondents follow cricket, while football is the second most tracked sport, with 40% fantasy sports players and 43% non-fantasy sports players tracking the sport.

The study also noted that almost 99% of fantasy sports players and 86% non-fantasy gaming participants are aware about Dream11, while the second most followed fantasy gaming brand is MyTeam11, which 45% fantasy and 34% non-fantasy players are aware about.

Commenting on the findings of the IFSG study, Anwar Shirpurwala, CEO of IFSG said, “India is a sports loving nation. Alongside cricket which remains our most watched sport, we are witnessing increased viewership of sports like Kabaddi and Hockey as well as the advent shorter format sports leagues like IPL, Indian Super League (ISL), Pro Kabaddi League (PKL).

The fantasy sports platforms are enabling casual fans to engage with the sports they love becoming core sports fans. The growth of the online fantasy sports gaming platforms is resulting in a growth in the viewership of various formats of sports. The findings validate the strong potential of Fantasy Sports in contributing to the growth of sports ecosystem of India.”


Dan Bilzerian associates with fantasy gaming platform Livepools

Prediction-based real money fantasy gaming website Livepools announced its association with Instagram celebrity and high stakes poker player Dan Bilzerian at an event in Mumbai last week.

Gaurav Assomull, the founder of Livepools announced that Bilzerian and his group had associated themselves with the fantasy gaming platform as investors, but refused to give further details on the investment size or equity that Bilzerian will be holding.

Launched in February 2018, Livepools, which is a skill-based prediction-based sports gaming website claims to have over one million registered users and a more than 400% year-on-year growth rate. The brand earlier had cricketer Yuvraj Singh as an ambassador.

Founded by entrepreneurs, Gaurav and Vickram Assomull, the company had earlier raised around Rs. 5 crores as angel funding from HNIs in Singapore and counts having Dino Morea as an investor. Assomull had earlier stated that the company was looking to raise around US$3-5 million in a Series A funding round.

As reported last week, Bilzerian had come down to India to launch his male grooming brand Alister and also attend the India Poker Championship (IPC) tournament at the Big Daddy casino in Goa. Bilzerian reportedly also played some high stakes poker games at the casino, on the sidelines of the IPC event.


Feature: Nostragamus CEO Yashashvi Takallapalli discusses growth in prediction-based fantasy gaming

Around two years ago, IIT Madras and IIM Calcutta graduate Yashashvi Takallapalli along with his three other friends decided to start Nostragamus, a new and untested version of fantasy sports, that was different from draft-based fantasy.

In less than three years, Takallapalli and his team have turned Nostragamus into the biggest prediction gaming app in the country, with over 5 million registered users and a loyal user base.

In this exclusive interview, Takallapalli shares details about Nostragamus and its plans as well as the scope for growth in the competitive fantasy sports industry in India.

Full interview:

Q. You initially started an online sports news portal Sportscafe and later launched a unique fantasy game, Nostragamus. Can you tell us, why you decided to start such as game and also tell us more about Nostragamus and how it is different from other fantasy game formats?

Yashashvi Takallapalli (YT): Gambit Sports (the parent company of Nostragamus) has been the culmination of our love for Sports and our flair for providing something different and spectacular to the Indian Sports audience.

I started Sportscafe with a duty to provide engaging content, all centered around Indian Sports.  The idea for Nostragamus, on the other hand, was born when we decided to offer not just content but an experience to the Indian Sports Fan – a comprehensive Sports experience complete with content, knowledge, thrill, money, adventure and journey/progress, all in the form of a game.

Nostragamus is unique because it fundamentally plays to the sensibilities of the Indian sports audience. One thing that is common to all levels of sports followers, right from the casual watcher to the hardcore fan, is that they have their opinions on sport. We are tapping into those opinions with a simplified format. Keep in mind, that opinions are just not about which players will perform better, but also about who wins, who progresses to the next round, who makes a century, which Dhoni will turn up – the one that finishes matches with helicopter shots, or the one that taps away for singles. That’s the fun of the game.

Q. Could you share more details on the game’s features and offerings? Also, can you tell us about the response you have received so far and some metrics such as registered users, revenues and active users?

YT: Like I said before, Nostragamus offers both sports predictions and draft (the traditional fantasy sport model) in multiple languages. Even in Sports Predictions, the users have historical statistics to make informed decisions, there are options which eliminate randomness, thereby making it all exciting.

The response, to summarize has been phenomenal. We started off being a nobody, and now we are here, we have an overall user base of over 5 million and are now amongst the fastest growing apps offering fantasy products, adding around 1 million users every month.

Our active user base is also well above industry metrics, we have a very sticky, loyal base.

Q. There are orders of the Punjab & Haryana and Bombay High Courts in the context of daily fantasy sports being a game of skill and completely legal. However, Nostragamus offers a format that is different from the conventional daily fantasy sports formats. Do you believe Nostragamus is a game of skill as well, and if so why?

YT: Completely. Firstly, the format, which we call as predictions base fantasy, has been analysed by leading law firms in India who have studied the ruling, our game format, and concluded that we are also a game of skill given the points mentioned in the judgement. We have gone a step further: American courts had outlined clear, mathematical rules that qualify a game as a game of skill. We had our game evaluated by statisticians, who then concurred that our user statistical data abide by those rules as well.

Also, we are now offering the conventional draft fantasy format on NostraGamus too!

Q. The fantasy sports space is extremely competitive with lot of operators vying for space and market share. How does Nostragamus plan to engage with users and gain traction with others in this competitive sector?

YT: I think it is a space with so much potential for growth. Today, they are 60 million fantasy sports users, we expect that to rise to 200 million+ in the next five years. But that growth will be stunted if fantasy sports games do not retain users well. Our objective is to deliver a game that is exciting for all kinds of sports fans. And trust me, there are many different types. We constantly ask ourselves 2 questions:

1) can we entice our players to play even when there’s no sporting action

2) can we entice the avg cricket player to enjoy football, or vice versa

The company that answers these 2 questions will be the premier fantasy sports company worldwide.

Q. Finally, can you share some plans on your strategy for the future and how you plan to sustain in the coming days?

YT: We are expanding rapidly, not just with users but also with our employees and think tank. Our team has a bunch of talented, driven folks who make possibilities reality.

My vision is to introduce real-money fantasy gaming as a sustained gaming option to every type of sports fan in the country.

While I can’t reveal the exact contours of the strategy, I can say that understanding the addressable market and their needs, providing for them through a bouquet of in-game offerings is the key to making this a reality. We are, at heart, a tech & product gaming company, and we will make it impossible for a player to stop playing the game.


Dream11 acquires official partner rights of BCCI

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) announced that Sporta Technologies Pvt. Ltd. (Dream11), LafargeHolcim (ACC Cement and Ambuja Cement) and Hyundai Motor India Ltd. have acquired the official partners’ rights for its international and domestic matches for the period 1st September 2019 to 31st March 2023.

The rights were acquired following the conclusion of the Expression of Interest process.

“The consolidated winning bids were at a price of Rs 222.74 crore to be paid for the 2019-23 home season. The consolidated winning bid was Rs 2.59 crore, which is at 72 % incremental value in comparison to the previous per match value of Rs 1.5 crore,” the BCCI said in a statement.

It was earlier reported that online payments and e-commerce behemoth Paytm and Dream11 were in the fray for the title sponsorship of BCCI domestic and international matches.

However, Paytm ultimately acquired the title sponsorship rights for the period 2019-23 at a price of Rs. 326.80 crores (Rs. 3.8 crores per match).

Dream11 is already the exclusive fantasy gaming partner for IPL, ICC, ISL, Big Bash and other marquee domestic and international sporting events.

Earlier this month it was reported that South African technology conglomerate Naspers may acquire a stake worth $100 million in Dream11 at a valuation of $2.5 billion.

In April 2019, the Dream11 board changed its company name from Dream11 Fantasy Private Limited to Sporta Technologies Private Limited, in a bid to venture into other sporting activities and events. The change in name has been approved by the Registrar of Companies (ROC).


Nazara officially announces Sportskeeda acquisition, delays IPO

Online gaming company Nazara Technologies Limited has officially announced that it has acquired a 67% stake in Absolute Sports Private Limited, the company that operates online sports media portal Sportskeeda.

Nazara has reportedly invested Rs. 44 crores for the stake in the sports content portal, valuing it at about Rs. 65 crore.

It was reported last month, that Nazara was on the verge of closing investments in Sportskeeda, real money quiz app Qunami and fantasy gaming portal Halaplay.

Apart from these, Nazara in the past has made investments over US$30 million in various startups such as HalaPlay, Nodwin, Next Wave Multimedia, Hash Cube, Mastermind Sports, Moonglabs Technologies, Bakbuck, CrimzonCode, InstaSportz and NZWorld. 

Confirming the acquisition, Nazara Managing Director Nitish Mittersain commented, “We at Nazara are building platforms for fan engagement across all aspects of sports entertainment, and we believe that this move will serve a triple play offering to the 100-million strong network through content, competition, and community across all emerging markets.” 

Mittersain added that Sportskeeda will try to focus on premium subscription content, going forward, apart from driving revenues through sponsorships and advertisements. He also stated that the company will focus on real money gaming as it has tremendous potential in India.

Commenting on the development, Sportskeeda CEO Porush Jain said, “Nazara’s acquisition and investment into Sportskeeda is an important milestone in our journey. From our modest beginning as a multisport blog in 2009, we have become a one-of-a-kind sports content platform. We have our eyes set on becoming the world’s largest multi-sport platform by leveraging Nazara’s geographical reach in the sports-crazy Middle East and Africa markets.”

Mittersain also told Mint that its plans to get the company listed had not fructified for the past two years due to weak market conditions and added that they had therefore decided to focus on growing the business at present, with the company planning to make a renewed attempt to go for an Initial Public Offering (IPO) early next year.


Naspers to invest $100 million in Dream11 at a whopping $2.5 billion valuation

South African tech behemoth Naspers is looking to invest $100 million in Dream11 at a $2.5 billion valuation according to a report in Mint.

According to the report, the transaction is expected to be a secondary one with Naspers looking to partially buy shares of existing investors Kalaari Capital, Think Investments and Multiples Alternate Asset Management.

“Dream11 does not need to raise a large round, but has significant inbound interest from investors. When these companies are growing fast, they prefer having a diversified set of investors and such secondary rounds give the founder the valuations they want and give early investors exit at good multiples,” said an anonymous investor tracking the company told Mint.

Around $2 billion worth of total transactions were conducted on Dream11 in the last quarter which translated into a $150 million in revenues for the company.

In April this year, Dream11 catapulted into the unicorn club with Steadview Capital investing $60 million in the company in a secondary market transaction, which valued the company at around $1-1.5 billion.

Dream11 is the official fantasy gaming partner of ICC, IPL, ISL, Pro Kabaddi league, Big Bash league and several other sporting tournaments. Earlier this year, the company got a favourable decision from the Bombay High Court which ruled its format to be a game of skill and approved the manner in which it pays GST.

South African media and internet group Naspers has invested in several Indian tech companies such as Swiggy, Meesho and Byju’s.

Interestingly, one of Naspers’ biggest investment is in Chinese online gaming giant Tencent, which is also one of the investors in Dream11.

According to Registrar of Companies filings made by Dream11 in April 2019, the company’s board has changed its Indian company from Dream11 Fantasy Private Limited to Sporta Technologies Private Limited.

As per the explanatory statement to the resolution, Dream11 is planning to foray into several other sports related businesses apart from fantasy gaming, which has necessitated the change in name.