Vikram Rajkumar

Job title Sports Tech Partnerships and Development

Employer Fanprime

Technology continues to be a gamechanger in – and for – sport. Here, Vikram Rajkumar, Fanprime, explains how his company helps organisations build a direct-to-fan relationship, and drive their commercial value.

Tell us a little bit about Fanprime, and what you do…

So, Fanprime are part of a sports tech company that helps organisations gamify engagement with their fans, and to recognise their fans in the world, not just for their transaction loyalty, but their emotional loyalty as well.

My actual job is Director of International Sales, and I have two functions. The first is understanding and assessing new markets beyond France and the French-speaking countries; to understand the ecosystem; is this a product that would interest the market and, if so, are they on the right path in their digital transformation journey to be able to adopt our services and be successful?

The second half is then actually going out there and talking to rights holders and bringing in new business.

Tell us a little bit about how you got there.

I started my career with an undergraduate degree in economics. Whilst I was doing my degree, I started volunteering at a local football club in Delhi. I was everything from ball boy to kit man! At that point, Indian football, or sport in general in India, wasn’t very organised. It was still volunteer based and funded with philanthropy, and had no real business model. This was back in 2007.

It was chaos, but there was also a lot of opportunity. That’s where my journey into sport started. I was working a lot in grassroots football largely in India, increasing participation, working in sport for development, which I enjoyed. In 2009, I came to England, to the University of Gloucestershire, to do a Master’s in Sports Development. I stayed in England for two years, working for an organisation called Catalyst, a sports analytics and consulting firm. 

We built a lot of economic models and prediction models. When I joined, they were working with Reading FC when they won the Championship under Steve Coppell. Those were the times when analysis/analysts were still outsourced. Now, of course, there are armies of analysts inside the clubs. Of course, there was a problem with that; it was tough to scale. If you’re in one Premier League club’s dressing room, they then want you in the other dressing room as well. So, the main concern was how do we make analytics more consumable, user friendly and fan friendly, and then we sold it to a broadcaster in Singapore, and to Fox, and places like that for places to be able to use in their broadcast.

I then got an opportunity in India to help set up a second division football club called Fateh Hyderabad. They wanted me to help increase participation and raise investment. I moved on from there to become the head of partnerships with an Indian Super League club in a new top division, with all the lights, with retired semi-professional players.

There were lots of English managers in that time weren’t there…

Steve Coppell, Owen Coyle, John Gregory, Aidy Bothroyd… they were all there. Owen Coyle and John Gregory both won a championship, so yes, a lot of British managers went there and were successful. Coppell was quite successful, even though he didn’t win a trophy. 

For the last three and a half years before I came to England, I was working for World1 Sports, one of the biggest marketing agencies in India. They were commissioned to do a community outreach in the Super League club. The owner was looking to raise some investment, expand the business, and it was an interesting challenge – so I joined them. Within 14 months we raised a lot of investment. I worked mainly in technology partnerships, which started my journey into digital.

The relationship between digital technology and sport seems to have accelerated? The same thing happened to you during the pandemic?

Yes. There’s always money for the next striker that wins you the league, but there’s never money for a CRM system, or analytics system. But when the pandemic hit, a part of our company’s growth plan was to get into technology. We were working in a region that wasn’t very mature in terms of sport but which was adopting new technologies, so we decided to delve further into that.

India can be a complicated for European clubs. We actually helped Borussia Dortmund with part of their market entry into India, which was largely successful. But we’ve seen Manchester United come three times, closed and gone away. Arsenal have come twice, Chelsea have come, Liverpool have come. Everyone thinks India is just the next China because it has a billion people. But the similarity ends there. And the ways of working and per capita income, everything is different. But they try to adopt these same models and they fail.

It’s the same thing for tech. If you want to come and sell it, you need to understand it. We thought, instead of creating our own proprietary tech, why don’t we partner with people doing great work around the world and help them enter the Asian market? 

We’ve worked with brands such as Wave Entertainment, Player Maker, and that’s how I got introduced to Fanprime. I met the guys at Fanprime during the pandemic in an online digital tech conference and we just connected.

How can technology improve the fan experience?

We would talk about how sports clubs only know their customers. They don’t know their fans. As an example… I’m an Arsenal fan, and when I was in India, even though I was watching every game, I was looking at the highlights. They didn’t know who I was until I came to London and got my red membership. Now they know who I am, and I get twenty emails a week. So, the idea was – 95% of your fans are never going to spend a pound on you, but they spend a lot of time and effort on you and now there’s such competition for attention. How do you start recognising fans for the time, the effort, the emotion they’re putting into you, and not just for their wallets?

And then, from a rightsholder perspective, if you don’t have data on your fans, it’s very hard to monetize them, which is what we saw in the Barcelona example where they claimed they had 300 million fans and Spotify was like – ‘no, we only recognise the fans that you actually have data on’.

So, we helped them with their India and Asian market strategy and when they raised their bridging ground, the business we brought them accounted for about 18% of their revenues.



Fanprime website