2015 has seen a number of new entrants vying to compete and innovate the European fantasy sports/football market.
Valery Bollier Co-Founder and CEO of Oulala (Oulala.com), believes his outfit has developed the most innovative and engaging fantasy sports game for European sports fans. Launching Oulala’s UK monetized platform, SBC gains further insight into this ambitious start-up’s plans.
SBC: Hi Valery , competitive fantasy sports is becoming a crowded market, what separates Oulala’s product from the competition?
Valery Bollier: Daily Fantasy is already a mature market in the United States but is still at a very early stage in Europe, as we are structurally a late adopter. Oulala is a Daily Fantasy Football (soccer) game based on European football – a sector in which the competition is, for now, very low.
Oulala is currently the only fantasy football game that is a genuine skill game. The whole point of fantasy is to prove to your friends that you know sports better than they do. Therefore, the results have to be as close to football reality as possible. If you have an encyclopaedic knowledge of football, you should reasonably expect to beat your friends who only have a social interest in the game. Therefore, if the result of the game is random, your friends might beat you regularly, which is unacceptable. If fantasy sports are not skill games then they lose their purpose and fun.
We worked for six months with a team of statisticians to build a mathematical matrix that makes the results of our game as close to reality as possible. We then tested our scoring system for more than a year to prove that Oulala is a real skill game. We are constantly looking for ways to improve it as this is the cornerstone of our game.
Our scoring system includes 70 football statistics, compared to around 10-16 for our competitors. Each criteria is weighted based on the player’s position (goalkeeper, defender, midfielder, and striker), to stick even more closely to the reality of a football match.
I can also add that Oulala is the only truly European game. Our clients can create teams with players from 80 football teams competing in England, France, Italy, and Spain. Thanks to our exclusive live substitution feature it is the only real second screen game.
We have also built a corporate culture of constant innovation to help us to stay at the cutting edge of the sector.
SBC: Before launching Oulala into the European market, what research did you undertake of the European fantasy sports market, and how do players habits and trends differ from traditional wagering products?
VB: It’s a very good question because launching a fantasy football game in Europe is a very different challenge to launching one in the United States. In Europe we have multiples languages, different levels of market maturity (each country is different), different currencies (Pounds and Euros, for example) and even more importantly, a cultural gap between the relationship of data and sports.
For example, when an American talks about LeBron James’ last basketball game, he will give his stats sheet. If any European talks about Lionel Messi’s last football match, he will probably say something like, “He played amazingly well”. In other words, Big Data is not (yet) part of our European sports culture.
This explains why we ran Oulala for two years in a free version before launching a monetized version. We had to adapt our game to the expectations of European customers, since simply duplicating the US model is not good enough.
Without getting too deeply into what we learnt about our customers, I can say that they currently don’t see money as the prime goal… Pride is! Fantasy is a very social game and people deeply want to win and show off. For a fan it’s a great kick to finally have a tool that enables him to prove the supremacy of his football managing vision.
We therefore see ourselves a bit like a carousel owner where people will buy a ticket – put money into a common pot – to have fun and compete with their friends from work, sports clubs, university and other places. If they grab the teddy bear at the end of the rope – meaning that they won their league – they will get a free ride.
SBC: Fantasy sports has hit global headlines due to the recent US operator data conflict scandals. What can European FS operators learn from these cases in order to help progress their product integrity?
VB: I’m afraid the current crisis in the USA was inevitable. As soon as a game is monetized a legal authority is needed. It’s simply in the best interests of the whole ecosystem – it is good for the clients, of course, but also for the operators because the clients’ interests are secure so they play more.
The main problem is that because our industry is so young, legislators have not had the time to adapt to the market reality. For example, Oulala has a pool betting licence in the UK even though we are not a sports betting activity. European actors need to work hand in hand with the European legislators to quickly build a tailor-made frame for fantasy sports. We, Oulala, have been closely working with the Maltese Authority for a couple of months and we hope that Malta will soon be the first European country to offer a specific licence for skill games.
SBC: Still a relatively young market, should the competitive fantasy sports market be closely attached to gambling and sports betting industries?
VB: At Oulala we think that daily fantasy sports should be called “moneytainment” and not “iGaming” simply because the mechanism is very different. We are offering a platform where adults can challenge other adults on their sports knowledge, with money involved to stimulate the interest. Fantasy games are real skill games and not a luck game disguised as a skill game.
However, we know that the fantasy wave will hit the sports betting industry very strongly. We are basing our analysis on the radical influence that big data will have on sports betting.
In the short term, the development of big data seems to be beneficial for sports betting as clients’ demand for more statistics is growing quickly, since they rightly think that it increases their odds of making money.
However, there is no doubt that clients will eventually realise that big data is instead helping bookmakers to optimise the offered odds. Simply put, if big data allows bookmakers to predict the outcomes of sports events, clients will start losing interest.
Big data is revolutionising the iGaming industry and this is just the beginning. One can therefore predict that, in the long run, sports betting clients will massively become DFS players. To reduce this risk, it makes sense for sports betting operators to start offering the DFS experience to their clients as early as possible, in order to anticipate this potential shift.
This is the reason why next month we will commercialise a white label solution of our game. The iGaming operators need to rapidly have access to this new market since, as always, when a new product arrives –such as poker 15 years ago – the first movers are often the winners. Fantasy sport is the next big thing arriving in the European market. With Oulala, any operators willing to benefit from this new opportunity will have access to a plug-and-play solution within the next three weeks.
SBC: You have launched in the UK, in terms of fantasy sports what attracted you to this market?
VB: There are so many reasons! England invented football, the Premier League is by far the most competitive league and English fans are amazingly passionate. Plus, more than six million people already play on fantasy sports in their free version. It is therefore the most mature market in Europe. In some other markets we will need to educate and evangelise customers, which always takes time and high investments.
SBC: Looking forward to 2016, what are the your key goals for Oulala’s products and operations?
VB: This season will be very stimulating for us. We have a significant marketing budget to build our customer database. We will tease them, share lots of fun stuff with them, push an impressive amount of “big data” analysis – via infographics that we publish on our social media and on media partner sites.
We have already signed some promising partnerships in the football, telecom and iGaming industries and we hope that many others will follow soon.
At the end of the football season, we will then raise a series B of around £7M to expand our game worldwide. When you talk about football teams, the epicentre of the world is Europe, so Oulala can virtually attract many potential partners from around the world. For example, we already have a contract with Orange in Africa.
Valery Bollier – CEO & Co-Founder – Oulala