Building a Social Network for Football Fans in the Arab World: Footballize

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Ten days ago, as Christian Ronaldo scored the winning goal for Real Madrid in  a match that served archrival Barcelona its first loss in 54 home games, new social network Footballize also chalked up a victory, watching numbers climb as viewers tapped into its freshly launched social network for football fans.

In one week, the bilingual English and Arabic site gained around 5,000 visitors and 3,500 Likes, as users flocked to the site to place predictions and make comments about the match's outcome, vying for top site rankings as well as eventual prizes from football greats. (In its second week at time of print, it's grown to 10,000 visitors, 40,000 pageviews, and almost 4,500 Likes.)

As a portal for football fans, Footballize is one part media site, offering summaries of the major stories from the world's latest matches, one part social network, where fans can add friends, write comments, and update their statuses, and one part prediction challenge.  Each week, users can predict the outcomes of upcoming games in the Italian Serie A (Italian), La Liga (Spanish), Premier League (English), and Champions leagues. A formula compares each fan's predictions to that week's results, returning an overall ranking among the Footballize community within each league. 

While the ranking slate is wiped clean weekly, predictions remain listed on a user's profile.  "Friends can like or comment on a fan's predictions, saying, 'This is possible,' or 'This is impossible,' or 'You are dreaming,'" says founder Sameh Awad. 

The site will integrate with Facebook soon, so that fans can share their predictions and rankings with their broader community, which seems critical for increasing overall userbase and the site's momentum.  

Awad, a Jordanian based in Kuwait, built the site as a side project while working at Cisco, hiring a team of three content creators in Amman who work part time to  produce the site's news highlights in English and Arabic. He hopes to built the site to the point where he can quit his job, move to Dubai, and work on the site full-time, in order to scale to reach European and U.S. markets. 

The completely free platform focuses on prediction alone in order to serve fans who refrain from betting. In this niche, Footballize will compete for fan bandwidth with Saudi and Egypt-focused platforms Shawweet, and Octboot, but Awad intends to offer a more holistic social experience with the news and connections available on Footballize, while offering interesting prizes rather than money alone. "Having prizes like a signed t-shirt from Messi or boots from Ronaldo will encourage more people to participate than money itself would," he asserts.

Thus far, the site's biggest uptake has turned out to be in Algeria. After placing Facebook ads in Arabic and English, Awad has discovered that most comments on the site are in French, thanks to its uptake in North Africa. He plans to include French as well as French league Ligue 1.

After using 99 designs to crowdsource the creation of the fresh, playful Footballize logo, which is certainly one of the brand's strengths, Awad's biggest challenge to date has been about balancing his team; having built a team with solid tech skills, he now hopes to bring on board a few more avid football fans. 

The site will launch fully in a month, right before the Euro 2012 Championship, and will be offering valuable prizes to those who make the best predictions over the season. Stay tuned for upcoming Android and iPhone apps.

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