Fly-Foot Helps Arab Football Fans Attend Matches Without Lifting a Finger

by Maya Rahal, March 5, 2013

Football fans around the Arab region can now pick a game to attend, pack their bags, and hop on a plane without a second thought, thanks to Lebanese company Fly-Foot.

The company, which has been quietly building since 2011, offers monthly ready-made or customized travel packages that secure every details for Arab football fans, from flight to hotel, to transportation to and from the match and to local hotspots. 

It sounds fun, but when I first heard co-founder Rayan Ismail introduce his startup, I wondered, why would someone need a company like Fly-Foot to organize this kind of trip? How hard is it to book tickets and fly somewhere to see a match? Here's why.

Getting a large group to a game is difficult.

Before the economic crisis hit, Ismail worked in the banking sector. He returned to Lebanon to work as a Senior Business Analyst at Aramex Levant and Europe, but decided to focus on his passion in his free time."I am in love with football and, at the time, discovered that no one tapped into the online logistics angle," he says. 

He realized the scope of the problem when trying to organize a trip to go watch a game in Europe with friends: getting around town was difficult, and finding tickets for a large group was near impossible. 

Fly-Foot now works to fix that; fans can customize their trip, turning it into an adventure beyond the match itself. Clients are ferried to an from the airport in
 branded Fly-Foot taxis, and, thanks to partnerships with hotels in cities throughout Europe, they can book rooms directly on the site.

Partnerships with teams and stadiums, that the startup carefully built up over time, also mean that Fly-Foot now has access to 
an unlimited number of seats per game, so it can serve large groups of fans travelling together.

"We took advantage of the current economic crisis in Spain and made deals with agents who already took their own lot of tickets from the club. We offer to buy them all at once which is pretty suitable for the agent since he avoids any risk of not selling them all later on", explains Ismail.

Arab Hospitality in Europe 

Although the startup hasn't spent a penny on marketing so far, integration with travel agencies has also allowed the startup to sell to more customers. "The agencies actually approached us themselves, first in Lebanon and we built on it in other countries like Jordan", says Ismail.

It also takes care of every detail; in each country, a local Fly-Foot contact offers help with anything from personal assistance to game information, in Arabic. "This ensures that the client is not alone, especially in cities like Zurich, Milan, or Berlin where our Arabic clients don't usually speak the local language," he explains. "Some of our clients wanted to skydive Madrid, and we were able to make it happen for them", he adds.

Just don't call it a travel agency. "We're not a travel agent or event company; we are a company that specializes in football. Our aim is to talk to fans and make watching the big games really easy, fun, and affordable, so they can just go watch a game, spend a couple days and come back," Ismail emphasizes.

Bootstrapping the Model

To build the company from scratch, Ismail tapped into his personal contacts and childhood friends to partner with him, bringing on board five partners- one Jordanian, on Spanish, and the rest Lebanese.

"There was zero investment upfront; we only invested our efforts," says Ismail.

Rather, the team bootstrapped by advertising packages before actually buying them. "Step by step, as we earned a little profit, we bought other packages, and so on," he explains.

Over the past year, the platform has served just over 200 clients, most, unsurprisingly, from Lebanon, with a significant portion from Saudi Arabia as well. Now, the startup is seeking investment and looking to scale; a re-branding and the addition of an online payment service last week should help. 

Is it Really a Niche Market?

Whether you are a football fan or not, sitting in a stadium and feeling the rush of cheering with thousands of fans is something worth being experienced at least once in a lifetime. This takes the startup further than targeting just one niche market. If the team chooses to drive it towards building a football community and targeting tourists looking to visit the cities as well, they could sell to a global market, as long as the prices don't skyrocket. 

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Maya works as the managing editor at Wamda. You can reach her at maya[AT]wamda.com, find her on Twitter @RahalMaya or connect with her on LinkedIn or Google+.

 
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