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Fanisko: digital fan engagement, Gamification and Augmented Reality

Fanisko is a fan engagement platform that helps sports & entertainment brands increase mobile fan retention, digital engagement and revenue with Augmented Reality (AR) & Gamification.

Fanisko’s mission is to enable sports & entertainment brands to convert casual fans into digital diehards, retain existing fans through mixed reality experiences and create new revenue opportunities through digital sponsor activations.

We caught up with Venugopal Rajagopalan, Marketing and Business Development Consultant at Fanisko to hear and learn more about Fanisko, the future of fan engagement and sports technology.

Venugopal Rajagopalan side profile
Source: Supplied

Kinza Tahir: Share your story with us, your interest and likes outside of the sports world.

Venugopal Rajagopalan: I was born in a middle-class family back in New-Delhi, India. I grew up playing sports (predominantly cricket) and also pursued music as two of my really cherished hobbies. I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in computer science, did a Post Graduate Diploma in Management and started off working in the IT industry. All this while, I was still playing club cricket on weekends on a very serious level.

Midway through my career, I realised that sports was my passion and true calling and hence decided to take a leap of faith into the sports technology and analytics space. Once that took off, I dedicated myself to serving teams, coaches and athletes to use technology as an enabler for better decision making and enhancing performance!

Sports is not just recreation anymore but a hardcore profession where everyone is accountable and has an important role to play.

How did you start your journey in sports technology and business development?

I had always had an analytical and curious mindset when it came to watching and analysing sport. Having worked in the IT industry in roles like Marketing and Business Development, I had a bit of an understanding of how technology can be a great enabler for the sports industry as well. I used to be fascinated by the usage of wagon-wheels, pitch-maps, hawk-eye/ball tracking etc used in cricket. i did some research and figured out that there are performance analysts as well as companies who work in the Sportstech and analytics space WHOM help in using data and video to analyse performances.

It all started off when I worked with a start-up in this space and managed a big account for them in Kings XI Punjab in the IPL. Post that, I got a hang of how this industry functions and how big an opportunity it is to propagate the usage of tech in this business. I then got to work with two of the biggest brands in SportsTech, now Hudl, and Catapult Sports both based out of Australia, who were looking to set their foot in the Indian market. Working with these two companies was amazing and gave me and career a tremendous boost and some amazing learning and experiences along the way.

In between, I also took some time off from full-time work where I started working as a consultant and performance analyst with a cricket and football club. Working directly with a team and a coach was an experience of a lifetime. You literally make the stadium your workplace and there is so much to learn and experience in that journey.

This made me realise sports is not just recreation anymore but a hardcore profession where everyone is accountable and has an important role to play.

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What is Fanisko and how did it come into being?

Fanisko is a fan engagement & analytics company driving digital transformation for sports teams, leagues and brands through Augmented Reality (AR) and Gamification.

Fanisko offers a plug and play platform that helps sports organisations to engage the fans wherever they are and whatever they use (mobile, social, web), retain fans with personalized interactive digital experiences, and monetize fans through sponsor activation and commerce.

With digital fan engagement becoming a top priority for sports organisations, our platform is enabling them to connect digital fans and sponsor brands.

It was founded in 2014 initially as a B2C gaming company, however, along the way, we discovered a really big opportunity in the digital fan engagement space from a B2B perspective of working with sports organisations and brands worldwide.

Fanisko’s mission is to enable sports & entertainment brands to convert casual fans into digital diehards, retain existing fans through mixed reality experiences and create new revenue opportunities through digital sponsor activations.

When and why did you decide to join Fanisko?

I had made my move to Canada in 2018 with family and was looking out for some new opportunities to work in the sports-tech space. I had made a connection on Linkedin with their co-founders Sathish and Aravind and that’s where the conversation started.

They were at a stage where they were growing steadily and needed to expand their business development team and find new customers. With my techno-commercial background and experience, they definitely saw a fit in their scheme of things and hence got me on board for their Sales and Marketing needs.

For me, it was definitely a great challenge to undertake as I had worked on the performance analysis side of sport and this was a completely new domain and space.

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After seeing their solutions and services, I was definitely impressed and bought into the idea of digital fan engagement and thought that this is really the future of how sport will be consumed by the millennial fans. That’s where the journey started with Fanisko.

How do you use gamification and augmented reality in Fanisko?

Gamification is a broad term and can be perceived differently by various sets of people. Some people relate it to eSports or fantasy gaming. However, from a fan engagement perspective, it’s all about getting your team’s fans hooked to your team’s own digital platforms.

With digital fan engagement becoming a top priority for sports organizations, our platform is enabling them to connect digital fans and sponsor brands.

It can be in the form of polls, surveys, contextual predictions, casino-style digital gaming and other forms of engagement for the fans on a digital platform.

It’s a huge opportunity to innovate and also drive sponsorship revenues on a platform that gives them an ocean of opportunities instead of the usual logo slapping on the ground which is limited and has no call to action compared to the digital.

Augmented reality (AR) is a gamechanger in today’s day and age. The millennial fan is always distracted or does multiple things while watching a game or following his/her favourite team.

Augmented reality gives the fans an immersive experience that helps the team to engage with their fans and make a deeper connection. Sponsors and brands are no longer interested in just regular ground activation with sports organisations or with teams that are not at a certain digital maturity level.

AR gives the modern-day fan a reason to be hooked on to a team’s digital platform through interactive and immersive experiences. Through immersive experiences, it’s guaranteed to have a fan’s attention and that creates an opportunity to get sponsor branding reach.

Typical AR use cases and examples that we have are Face Filters, Mobile AR games for sports like soccer/American football/basketball, 360-degree portal tours etc.

The best part is, with a digital platform, teams can engage fans with gamification and AR even when there is no live game happening which gives them such a big advantage to use it as a platform for campaigns and attracting more eyeballs for their sponsors.

Tell me a little bit about the team behind Fanisko and their roles?

Fanisko’s founders have known each other for more than 20 years and were die-hard sports fans growing up as kids and dreamed about becoming professional athletes.

Kids can dream about playing in the pros, but the reality is most grow up to be fans. When you can’t grow up to be a professional athlete yourself, what do you do? You start a sports company instead and that’s what Fanisko’s founders did, quitting their promising careers for the sheer passion for sports to start Fanisko.

Sathish Chittibabu is the CoFounder & CEO of Fanisko. He manages the overall company strategy and direction and oversees technology and product engineering! Aravind Sampath is the CoFounder & CBO of Fanisko. He leads the Operations, Sales, Business Development and Marketing initiatives.

What are the challenges Fanisko has faced since its inception as a SportsTech company?

As with any typical technology start-up, we did have a few challenges and roadblocks in the initial few years. The biggest challenge was not many teams or leagues were willing to buy into the idea of digital fan engagement as many had perceived it to be way ahead of its time.

One can either call it lack of awareness or understanding of the concept or it could be that they just did not have the time, bandwidth or budgets in place to invest in digital fan engagement.

The problem was teams were not thinking futuristic and wanted immediate value or results overnight. However, what they fail to understand is that it is a process and one needs to work on it over a period of time to reap rewards in the future.

A perfect example is with Manchester United who is making a fortune now out of their digital fan engagement initiatives. But what others need to understand is that they had a futuristic vision and started taking steps in this direction and innovated much earlier than others.

With time, the awareness has increased and a lot of many teams have started taking baby-steps towards such innovations.

What are the key factors or drivers for the future that will propel Fanisko forward?

As with any technology company, we need to make sure that we are on our toes with regards to innovation in both solutions and services. The onus is not just upon our customers, but even on us to think outside the box and innovate.

We have already seen stages of growth and innovation as we started off with gaming and B2C, then moved to B2B with gamification and now with Augmented reality solutions both on the native app and social media.

Apart from this, we are also doing what no other fan engagement company has done before – we have actually helped our customers by getting them digital sponsors for monetising their fan engagement initiatives.

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The key driver or message that we give our customers is that we are not just a standard product or services company, we journey with you in the process and will hand-hold you to get the best out of what we offer. As our customer, if you win, we win as well!

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As the COVID-19 has progressed, how has Fanisko managed to retain its clients? What hardships has it faced due to the pandemic?

The pandemic has actually helped Fanisko in terms of getting a lot of traction and attention from customers and prospects who were not very keen on giving serious thought to digital fan engagement.

COVID-19 has given all teams a headache in terms of looking at fan-less stadiums for a considerable amount of time till the pandemic is over. This creates a level playing field for all teams and leagues across the world.

Which means that the only avenue left to explore is digital fan engagement to cater to the needs of sponsors as well as building a community of their fans on a virtual platform.

In the interest of educating the market, we decided to create a lot of awareness around this subject and started a webinar series from the month of May. It had speakers from the industry as well as from Fanisko and was more of a panel discussion around the current innovations as well as challenges in the sports industry.

The problem that many sports teams are facing today is that most of them find it hard to identify and understand who their real fans are. At Fanisko, we have a simple solution and approach to help teams identify, engage, retain and monetise their fans and in the end use the back-end analytics to provide measurable ROI to sponsors and stakeholders.

The whole idea was to educate the market and also get people to buy into the idea of digital innovation in the fan engagement space. This marketing initiative actually turned out to be a masterstroke as it attracted a lot of attention and got many people watching, commenting and asking relevant questions around this topic.

It actually resulted in a couple of customer wins as well with Jamaica Tallawahs team being a prominent one from the Caribbean Premier League. We have now done 4 webinars successfully and are getting ready for the 5th one and personally, I have enjoyed it thoroughly as a moderator as it has been a huge learning curve.

Why is fan engagement and interaction with an innovative spin crucial to a sports company?

The problem that many sports teams are facing today is that most of them find it hard to identify and understand who their real fans are.

With so many choices and modes of entertainment, the modern-day fan can easily be distracted and not have the loyalty of a fan from yesteryears or season ticket holders who used to turn up for every game.

Today, a fan may not even prefer to watch a live game at the stadium or watch it uninterrupted on television due to various reasons. This is why it cannot be a one-size-fits-all kind of a solution for the fans of sports teams.

Hence at Fanisko, we have a simple solution and approach to help teams identify, engage, retain and monetise their fans and in the end-use the back-end analytics to provide measurable ROI to sponsors and stakeholders.

Do you think there is a lack of engagement in that space or rather more room to increase that engagement?

There is always room to increase the engagement with innovative solutions and with the right marketing. However, the key is to do it systematically and give time for every innovation or campaign to succeed or bear fruits.

Every team is different and fan behaviours and demographics are different. It’s unfair to compare or copy what another team does and expect it to work for your team.

What advice would you give to new SportsTech companies?

I feel Sportstech is an ever-emerging space and has really caught the imagination of fans, broadcasters, teams, coaches and players worldwide.

This trend will only grow in the years to come and we can look forward to some amazing innovations and inventions in this space. The advice I would like to give to new SportsTech companies is to identify a key pain point or opportunity in the industry and then create a solution around it.

Having the first-mover advantage in any industry or business is worth its weight in gold. Apart from this, if one is looking to get into an existing or already crowded space, look for key differentiating factors in your product/solution or the value that you bring to the table.

Create your own identity and strengths and work around it.


Follow Fanisko on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn or visit their website here.
Connect with Venugopal Rajagopalan on LinkedIn here.
For more Sports Tech and Entrepreneurship, follow Sportageous.
You can follow Kinza Tahir on Twitter here.

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