A year on from its rebrand from FTBpro to 90min, CEO and founder Asaf Peled speaks to sportindustry.biz about expanding into new fields and territories, and the secret to securing global investment…
Last time we spoke, you were in the process of switching from FTBpro to 90min, what has happened since then?
A lot! The company has continued to expand. Internationally, we have continued to cover new markets and expand our presence across all major continents. We are big enough and solid enough now in all the major markets in Europe, Latin America and Asia. The last time we met we had just started in Asia so now we can say that we have all the top markets, including local language coverage, local contributors and local league coverage - it’s all really scalable.
Over the last year we have also invested more into the B2B side across two different fronts. One is creating a partnership model with other publishers and media companies and second we started monetising. Now we have lot more advertisers and new advertising activity going on.
90min is an open publishing platform that invites other publishers to come and take our content. We have so many publishers like the Daily Mail, Independent, Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC - teams and news sites that come and take our content. We’ve really taken that to the next level and have become the industry standard to any publisher who wants to mix their content with high quality fan content in football. We provide all sorts of embed tools, API and feeds that make it easier for any publisher to take content without sitting with us.
We have also started to team up on bigger joint venture deals with media companies, and the most recent was ProSiebenSat.1 which was just announced last month. They’re a new investor, they’re one of the bigger media companies in Europe and together we are launching a co-brand into the German market.
We are currently advancing with a few other global media companies to joint venture with us. We’re not just a content or media company but also technology company, which allows us to take our platform and team up with traditional media companies around those things. I would say big partnerships with media companies are really central to our expansion strategy.
Secondly, we’re really working with brand advertisers. We have the initial components of a sales team and the model is focused on content marketing. We have the likes of Paramount, Nike and a bunch of other brands advertising with us, it isn’t just display advertising, it’s sophisticated sponsorship packages.
We have managed to raise additional funding, all in all around $39m. With that we feel a lot more comfortable to expand into other sports. In 2016 we plan to launch an American sports brand and open offices in New York. We’ll build the same platform but a separate brand name catering American sport users, we’re going to launch with NBA and NFL.
Video is also becoming more significant across our products, we launched our studio a few quarters ago so that’s another element in terms of content, that’s another area that wasn’t there before.
You mentioned the investment you’ve managed to accumulate, where exactly is that going to go?
Expansion. We are currently in ten countries across three continents, but we plan to further expand into the US - which is usually more expensive - then into China, India, Middle East then Russia, then possibly parts of Asia.
Secondly, we’d like to move into other sports, one is the football brand, two is the American sports brand and three, to expand into cricket - which is huge in Asia, India, England and other parts of the world. Also, we’d really like to invest in richer media content like video and multimedia.
What are your plans for expansion into the American market?
We’ve seen the growth and demand for soccer in the US build in the last few years. Thanks to the last World Cup, the women’s team winning the Women’s World Cup, the MLS growing with more European players and the Hispanic population consuming La Liga more and more, we have seen big growth on our platform in the US.
What we want to do first is enrich our soccer offering in the American market, so it’s a natural progression. Secondly, if you look at the sports arena digitally, it’s crowded, but predominantly it’s covered by older media companies with the likes of Fox, CBS, NBC and ESPN, so we believe there is a great opportunity for a new media platform in sport.
Expanding those geographical spreads means battling a variety of languages, cultures and time zones. In your first year as 90min, what have you found the biggest challenge?
I would say expanding globally for us was a challenge, although we did a lot of the groundwork as FTBpro over the last three years. We had already cracked how to expand new markets in one office, which is why we are so confident we didn’t need to open offices in most of them.
One of the biggest challenges was monetising, we have so many users and consumers that are used to the site being ad free. You want to make sure that you make money, but you don’t impact the user experience, there are some trade offs and it took a couple of quarters to find the right balance. Once you work with the right brands, relevant to sport then the experience is a lot more native and natural. That’s where we focus now and the users are a lot more receptive than they were the first couple of quarters.
$39m is an incredible amount of investment, what’s the secret?
I would say timing and personalisation. For investors we had to sell time and again very differently in other markets. For the most part, we have the right strategy and the right timing – finding the right marketplace with a lack of scalable competition. There is a very strong team in place and the company is doing well. Other than the first couple of rounds when we were a lot smaller, every subsequent round was based on KPI’s.
For the last three or four years the company has shown that quarter after quarter it meets its growth forecast and revenue expectations. Once you do that and investors see the transition in the market from old to new media and that there aren’t many new media players in sport, it’s becoming easier. The market is out there.