Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

In 5 years, FanCode has built a user base of 100 million: Yannick Colaco

The co-founder of the digital sports streaming platform speaks about striking deals with key stakeholders like F1 and PGA, the opportunity of going deeper into other sports, and building a scalable product

Kathakali Chanda
Published: May 24, 2024 10:56:28 AM IST
Updated: May 24, 2024 11:19:02 AM IST

In 5 years, FanCode has built a user base of 100 million: Yannick ColacoYannick Colaco, CEO and co-founder, FanCode

In 2019, Yannick Colaco and Prasana Krishnan launched digital platform FanCode (under the Dream Sports umbrella that has Dream11 as its flagship company), to be a one-stop destination for sports fans like themselves. In five years, the sports streaming and merchandising platform has been able to break the clutter in the crowded and competitive market by recording over 100 million users. It has also inked streaming deals with key stakeholders like F1, the West Indies Cricket Board and the hockey and the rugby World Cups. In the latest episode of Sports UnLtd, Colaco charts FanCode’s journey over the past five years and shares its scaling-up strategy over the next five. Edited excerpts:

Q. Why did you set up FanCode in 2019? The market that you were going to operate in was already crowded and competitive. Why launch another platform?
When Prasana and I, along with Dream Sports, started FanCode, the idea came from this entire problem that we faced as sports fans. What we saw in the sports ecosystem was that, while sports fandom was growing in India, the coverage of sports events was getting extremely concentrated around these big premium properties, like the IPL, India cricket events, football World Cups etc. We started FanCode with the idea of solving this problem of access. There are tens of thousands of sports events across the world which sports fans in India want—not just in sports like football, badminton, basketball or rugby, but also in cricket. We thought the idea of setting up FanCode was essentially to address that problem, and use the power of digital to provide access of these events to this growing fanbase in India.

Q. Can you give me a sense of how the company has scaled up in these five years?
FanCode is a direct-to-consumer digital product. Right now, we operate only in India. We’ve been really thrilled with the kind of progress we’ve had in the last five years. We've already crossed 100 million users on our platform, we have more than 50 million downloads across iOS and Android mobile operating systems. In the last year or so, we're also expanding the reach of the FanCode product with distribution partners—we’ve partnered with Amazon Prime Video, Airtel Xtreme, Vodafone Idea, and a lot of others. When we started five years ago, the content that we showcased—let's call it the long tail of sports—had almost zero viewership because there was zero coverage. The fact that we've been able to aggregate more than 100 million users has been really fulfilling for me as a sports fan.

Q. Of the 100 million users, what's the number of paid users and what's your strategy to grow the paid user base?
Our platform primarily runs on the business model of charging consumers directly, and advertising. Most of our live content is now behind a paywall. What we've done to expand our user base is, one, gone deeper into the sport that we cover—last year we did about 15,000 live matches across 12 sports. Close to half of that was cricket, and we covered things like The Hundred, the Caribbean Premier League to women 's cricket, and even Harris Shield, Mumbai’s premier school tournament. And then we also did a whole lot of other sport—we did four of the five World Cups last year, including the rugby World Cup, the women’s football World Cup, the under-19 women’s cricket World Cup.

For us to expand, we realise the opportunity is to go deep in other sports—like we've done in cricket. From this year, we are building an entire portfolio of content in golf—we already have LIV Golf, Ladies European Tour, European PGA available on our platform. We are also growing extremely deep in the sport of football—we did the Afcon Cup earlier this year, we have a whole lot of partnerships with the Asian Football Confederation, including the Champions League, Champions Cup. We have the I-League domestic events, we have the Copa America coming up this year. We’re continuing to do this in other sports also, like rugby, hockey and most recently, we started expanding into motorsport with our partnership with F1. It’s been obvious in our strategy that as we are building user bases of sport fans, we're going deep into the content throughout the year and then building those relationships with those fans on our digital platform.

Q. How has expanding deep into other sports beyond cricket helped in customer acquisition?
One of the interesting things is that whereas fans following multiple sports is growing, we found that core fans of the sport are normally quite unique and siloed to the few sports that they follow. And this is not an Indian but a global phenomenon. So we've been very clear that as we diversify our product offering and expand our fan base, we have to keep tapping into new buckets of sports fans. Like, there’s a 60 million fanbase of motorsport in our country, and we're going deep into that with our F1 and DTM partnership. There is a single digit million following for golf, and we're going into that with all our golf partnerships. That's really how we're looking at each sport is that whereas the fans on our platform will continue to consume as we add more sports, each sport that we bring in and the depth that we bring in will continue to bring newer sets of audiences.

Q. How do you pick which sports properties to stream?

We have over 150 FanCoders over product, tech, design, operations, marketing etc. And the thing that binds everyone together is that we are all crazy sports fans. So everyone wants on FanCode the sport that they love, and everyone has an opportunity to present why their sport should be on FanCode. That's just the start. The second and the third most important piece around this is that we are extremely data driven in terms of our decision-making. We use analytics, and we do a lot of experimentation with singular events to see how it works, how many people are interested etc. We do a lot of outward facing analytics in terms of the market also to assess what the interest is in the sport. Most important, as any direct-to-consumer company does and should do, we talk to our customers.

Q. While cricket is a religion in India, you've opted out of streaming top-tier matches, like the IPL or the India-Australia series. The focus has been more on the next rung. Why so?
To tie this back to the first question where you asked me about the birth of FanCode, the problem we are solving is the problem of access of sports content outside of the premier events. These top-tier events are extremely well served—the IPL, for instance, has been on multiple channels and in multiple languages. And there's no value that we think we can add. The value that we are adding is to sports fans who want access to the hundreds of other events which are not getting adequate coverage in India.

Q. Would this come in the way of scaling up because cricket and a tournament like the IPL will give you numbers like no other?

I think there's an extremely large base of sports fans in this country, and the opportunity for us to scale up in terms of users/subscribers on our platform just in India in huge and what we’ve achieved is just the tip of the iceberg. Close to 90 percent of our users are under the age of 34. And we're seeing more and more young users who are now becoming avid sports fans and essentially looking for platforms like us. The opportunity in this space is significant. From a very broad perspective, this year, we expect to double our subscriber base from last year, we expect that our advertising revenues are going to go up 3x. There's a tremendous headroom for us to grow.

Q. What sort of growth has come from the non-metros? Has FanCode been able to penetrate beyond the metros?
Our target has always been to take the sport to the fan irrespective of where you are. The advantage of a digital platform is that you can address a consumer anywhere across India. We have always been focused on saying let's find the fan wherever they are and make it convenient for them to access FanCode and watch the sport that they love. We've never really tried to focus on Tier 2, Tier 3 or a certain segment. As it’s evolved, especially with younger audiences, we’ve seen that close to 70 percent of our subscriber base is actually outside of the Tier 1 markets, but that has got more to do with where the fans are rather than some strategy.

Q. Your second pillar of revenue is sports merchandising. When you started, sports merchandising was still finding its feet in India. How has that market shaped up now?
We started licensed merchandise about two to three years ago. Sports merchandise, as you rightly said, five years ago, was a small part and was not a very mainstream kind of business. But the desire for fans to wear much of the sports brands that they love was absolutely there. There were three gaps in the market which we tried to address. First was accessibility, second affordability, and third was wearability. We’ve been partnering with some IPL teams and the ICC and some global sports brands to address all the three. We provided accessibility by taking our platform across the country, we have also been building ranges of products at different price points to make it affordable, and we are bringing wearability wherein we aren’t only providing jerseys, but also fan merchs like cotton tees infusing an element of style and lifestyle so people can actually wear them on occasions other than matches.

Q. What are the targets that you have for FanCode in the next five years?
From what we set out to achieve, we’ve been really happy with the response that we’ve gotten from consumers. Our objective remains the same—we want to become the destination of choice for sports fans to watch the sport that you want and get access to merchandise that they love.

The one thing that we are looking at achieving within India is reaching a certain critical mass. We already have 100 million users, we want to keep that keep going at a significant double-digit rate over the next few years. But I also think that as we reach that critical mass in India, we will also start looking at opportunities of expanding outside India. We think the problem we are solving for India also exists in other markets and the product we are building here is easily scalable in other markets.