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Dream Sports CEO Harsh Jain gives a peek at their NFT ambitions & diversification strategy

The entire sports world is now awakening to the NFT and blockchain opportunity for sports leagues, teams and players to monetize a virtual asset that "they never even knew they own", Jain said.

January 07, 2022 / 10:42 PM IST
Dream Sports CEO Harsh Jain

Dream Sports CEO Harsh Jain

Dream11 parent firm Dream Sports is eyeing a piece of the nascent Blockchain and NFT (non-fungible token) market, co-founder Harsh Jain said on January 7. NFTs are unique digital assets built on blockchain technology.

"Web3 is like a fancy word that's being thrown around right now but I think blockchain and tokenisation is here to stay forever. I think sports has a special place - NFT, moments, player cards, and the entire play-to-earn gaming side of things, where it changes the fundamental way that people consume sports and play games" Jain said during a fireside chat with Filter Capital's co-founder and managing partner Sumit Sinha at the 26th Wharton India Economic Forum.

Moneycontrol was the first to report on Dream11's NFT plans on November 18, 2021.

Jain said the entire sports world is now awakening to this opportunity for sports leagues, teams, and players to monetise a virtual asset that "they never even knew they own".

He cited examples of companies such as Dapper Labs (the company behind the popular NFT platform NBA Top Shot), Sorare (which lets users buy, sell, trade, and manage a virtual team through officially licensed NFT player cards), and Socios (creators of Fan Tokens that provide fans with voting rights to influence their favourite clubs and teams).

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Jain said that a lot of sports companies have done well, but not many sports teams or players do that well in comparison and hence there is a need to create more intellectual properties (IPs) and availability for these players and teams and leagues to monetise these assets.

"So many mid-tier but potential sports stars have struggles with funding, equipment, coaching, travel, and training, so the more rights we can create for them, and engage with the sports world to create wealth for them, it can only help," Jain said.

Moneycontrol had reported on December 24 that the emergence of blockchain-based and NFT-based gaming firms is expected to be one of the key trends in the sector in 2022.

"I think we might be in the very early stages of Blockchain and NFT-based gaming and it might be something that will become more predominant in the days to come," 99Games founder Rohith Bhat told Moneycontrol in an interview on January 6.

Bhat had said NFT gaming might become as big as the shift to freemium games 10 years ago. Freemium is now the mainstay of the mobile gaming space, with more than $100 billion in revenue worldwide.

"I think there's a big question whether the world is going to start adopting play-to-earn as a business model versus play-to-win, which is what we do today. But regardless of any buzzwords or fad, I think blockchain and tokenization is here to stay and we're going to see those implementations changing multiple industries on its head over the next couple of years" Jain said.

Origins of Dream Sports and diversification strategy

Founded in 2008 by Harsh Jain and Bhavit Sheth, Dream11's first version was a season-long free-to-play fantasy cricket format with an ad-driven business model.

"We launched with cricket, scores, commentary, news, blogs, forums, and chat, fantasy cricket and cricket gaming as well. Then we took four years to realize that you have to find one large focus area and nail it and do that really well instead of doing 10 things" Jain said.

After this, they scrapped everything besides fantasy cricket in 2012 and pivoted to the current format - daily fantasy sports.

Dream Sports is currently valued at $8 billion after raising a mammoth $840 million funding round in November last year. Interestingly, Jain noted that they had gotten about 150 rejections from investors over two years before raising their Series A funding in 2015.

Over the years, Dream11 has diversified under a new structure as Dream Sports that houses brands such as sports content and commerce platform FanCode, its corporate venture and M&A arm Dream Capital, sports experiences platform DreamSetGo, game publisher Dream Game Studios, and payment solutions provider DreamPay, apart from the flagship fantasy platform. It claims to have a user base of over 140 million users and employs close to 1,000 people.

"Life's now come full circle and we're able to invest in making that same vision which we started with come through with different brands across the portfolio instead of creating one super app" Jain said.

During the session, Jain said he is really passionate about customizing their sports products to a billion Indian sports fans beyond Cricket.

"I think we've come to the opinion that while we want to still focus on tier one cricket and that's what drives the business. The real value is in growing and developing the tier two and tier three cricket and investing in football, kabaddi, basketball, hockey, handball, volleyball, foraying into F1, tennis, golf, and badminton" Jain said.

"I think the idea is now that we have 140 million captive users, we get to understand their likes and dislikes, which sports do they follow, which teams do they follow, which games do they follow, which players do they like, and really personalizing sports products and services to a billion Indian sports fans," he said.

For its diversification strategy, Dream Sports wants to take a leaf out of the internet giant Google.

"We follow an approach which is like Google. Google launched a search, dominated that field, got cash flow positive, profitable, and then used that money and the user base to incubate or acquire different companies like, they acquired YouTube and Android, incubated Gmail, Google Maps, GCP (Google Cloud Platform) and created a much larger ecosystem known as Alphabet today. That's a similar journey that we are taking in sports and sports-related fields" Jain said.

In August last year, Dream Sports had earmarked $250 million to Dream Capital that has built up a portfolio of around 10 early-stage startups including Fittr, SoStronk, KheloMore, and Elevar. Dream Capital now plans to expand its sports, fan engagement, and fitness portfolio in India and across the world.

Jain also said that they have supported about 6,000 athletes across 30 states and union territories through its Dream Sports Foundation that invests in grassroots development including helping create grounds where people can play, infrastructure, and supporting these athletes. About 4,400 athletes are being supported right now, he said.

"We are looking to just give back to the sports ecosystem and our athletes have now won a couple of 100 medals for India," Jain said.
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first published: Jan 7, 2022 10:42 pm
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