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Football app start-up Ballr on the hunt for Hong Kong investors, as China set to be its key market

Operator of advertising-backed, free-to-play mobile game to raise up to US$20 million in new financing from private investors in the city

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 July, 2017, 4:30pm
UPDATED : Monday, 03 July, 2017, 7:13am

High-flying mobile gaming start-up Ballr is looking to raise up to US$20 million in new funding this year from Hong Kong investors, as its advertising-backed interactive football app taps into an ever-expanding fanbase across Asia-Pacific.

Still only about two months into its initial roll-out, Ballr will be covering most major leagues from this season onward, said its founder and chief executive Sam Jones, on a stopover in Hong Kong during an Asian tour to promote the company's live interactive gaming application.

Starring in Ballr's promotion were five former Manchester United stars – Paul Scholes, Gary and Phil Neville, Nicky Butt and Ryan Giggs, all part of the club’s famous “Class of 92” all-conquering side.

“I’m trying to get 100 million users in two-and-a-half years, but my wife thinks I’m mad,” Jones told South China Morning Post. “So check this out: about three billion people worldwide watch the Premier League, a billion of those watch in Asia and 350 million in [mainland] China.”

“So we only need to convert a small percentage of that global number through broadcast promotions, club partnerships and the support of players who are helping us accelerate growth in this global football community,” said Jones.

Ballr, whose smartphone game is available on both Apple’s iOS and Android mobile platforms, forged a strategic partnership last week with PCCW-owned Now TV, the largest pay-television operator in Hong Kong and its latest broadcast partner in Asia.

“Pay-TV companies like us because we put ads in mobile, in play and we give them a share of the revenue,” Jones said.

The free Ballr football app delivers a rapid micro-gaming platform that users can engage with on their smartphones, as they watch live football matches.

Users are given 18 players to pick during a live match. Points are gained or lost by Ballr users based on the performance of their selected players in the match.

Ballr’s goal to reach more users is expected to be accomplished through its focus on Asia-Pacific, which research firm Newzoo estimates has 1.1 billion computer desktop, mobile and console gamers.

The mainland, the world’s largest smartphone market, boasts a vast potential number of casual gamers Ballr can target from the nation’s 1.3 billion total mobile subscribers as of May 31.

“We are in Hong Kong for a reason and that’s because China is the most important market for us,” Jones said. “The mainland is interesting because the Premier League is shown across multiple broadcast providers. So we need to get a media partner there.”

He said Ballr plans to raise new private financing in Hong Kong to support the firm's expansion.

The start-up’s early investors include Hong Kong Esports, BlackPine Private Equity Partners managing director Lawrence Chu and certain members of Stanley Ho Hung-sun’s family in Macau.

“Tencent would be the perfect partner, but my gut feeling is it’s too early for us to work with them,” Jones said.

Shenzhen-based Tencent Holdings, which operates giant social media platforms WeChat and Mobile QQ, is the world’s largest video games company by revenue.

With the popularity of live events streamed online, gaming has entered the realm of broadcasters which now apply their advertising business model, according to Newzoo.

Jones said Ballr will soon add interactive mobile games of live cricket and basketball matches to further broaden its user base in the region.

Hong Kong-based Ballr has offices in Singapore, Sydney, Melbourne, Mumbai and Delhi. Its technology team is based in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province.