Fantasy football kicking off in Tunisia

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Coaching Foot has proved that the American ‘fantasy football’ model has a thriving future in Tunisia.

The country’s first fantasy football website is attracting over 60,000 players who simulate sports managers to create imaginary teams.

Financially backed by Qatar-based Ooredoo and with technical support from Microsoft, the Tunisian startup is launching a double monetization model this year: sports data sales to companies from one end, and a freemium offer to users on the other end.

From US to Tunisia

In 2008, then 22-year-old Khaireddine Fredj had an idea to build the first fantasy football website in Tunisia. At the time, fantasy sport was centered around American football as well as basketball, rather than football (or soccer, as Americans call it).

The idea behind fantasy football, including the rules and guidelines, was developed in 1960s in a New York hotel room. With the democratization of the internet in the 2000s, fantasy football took off and expanded to new countries and new sports. By 2015, the US and Canada had 56.8 million fantasy sport players, each spending an average of $465 per year, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

But in Tunisia, the situation was different.

In 2008 the country only had 3,000 players playing fantasy sports on international websites, mostly around the Premiere League and the English football championship, Fredj said. In the US and Canada, there were 29.9 million in 2008.

Which players are you going to bet on? (Image via Coaching Foot)

A complex game

Fantasy football games are highly technical.

All the aspects of a championship are taken into account, from the number of goals, to the footballers’ transfers, to the nomination of the captain. Over 26 factors are considered when deciding which players to choose for their imaginary team.

The complex calculation of points requires extensive statistics and a platform that can process them.

Fredj, who at the time was working for a hotel, spent five years trying to find the right developer to build a solid infrastructure to collect the data for users to play.

It was only in 2013 that he launched the beta version of Coaching Foot that covered Tunisia’s professional championship League 1 and the 2014 World Cup.

This beta version was essential in allowing Fredj to test the platform, fix, tweak, and make improvements. One of the biggest additions to Coaching Foot was introducing sports correspondents to watch the games and send data in real-time.

Data for each game - goals, assists, yellow cards, etc - are collected online by four employees of Coaching Foot based in Sousse, Tunisia, and via a network of 16 journalists dispatched in the country’s stadiums. The journalists are responsible for entering data in real-time into a Coaching Foot software during the games.

The Sousse team then check the data by rewatching the game and getting the official report and game sheets from the Tunisian Football Federation (FTF).

By September 2015, Coaching Foot had 17,295 registered users, 9,125 of which were active players.

Growing with the help of corporations

During the beta testing period, Coaching Foot’s costs, development of the platform and HR were covered by Satoripop Tunisie, the Tunisian subsidiary of a French web agency.

After the official launch, the startup was selected to join Microsoft's BizSpark, a program offering selected startups free software, services, and Azure Cloud hosting for three years.

Coaching Foot also convinced mobile operator Ooredoo to fund the startup in exchange for exclusive advertisement on the website. 

The help from corporations enabled the football startup to cover its expenses, but wasn’t enough to make Coaching Foot profitable.

Double monetization

“We’re the only one to have statistics on all the [football] players and all the Tunisian championship teams for the last three seasons,” Fredj told to Wamda.

“So we’re using our database to generate revenues,” he said.

The decision to capitalize on Coaching Foot’s unique dataset resulted in a deal with Tunisian TV channel Attessia. They would use his statistics in their sports show in exchange for Coaching Foot advertisement during those shows.

Those stats would be very useful to Baghdad Bounedjah, one of the best scores in League 1. (Image via Sportissimo.tn)

In addition to monetizing the data, users of the website will also be a source of funding. In August, Coaching Foot plans to unroll a version of the website and an app with paying options.

The number of actions players can take (players’ transfers, choice of captain, etc) will be limited and users will have to buy tokens to unlock the website’s full services. Fredj believes that if as little as 10 percent of the audience use the paying model, the company will be profitable within a year.

Once their finances allow, Fredj says he hopes Coaching Foot will cover the local football championships in Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, and the GCC and become the main supplier of football data in Africa and amongst the best in the MENA region. His startup will be one of several in the fantasy sport scene including UAE's Arabian Gulf League Fantasy Football and Our League Fantasy Football.

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