Irish virtual sports giant’s new startup bets big on rugby in bid for US market share

A fantasy sports exchange founded by Irish betting veteran Paddy Power is bringing NFT-enabled live trading to rugby fans in a bid to expand globally.

American Sports Exchange (ASX Sports), just signed a deal with New Zealand digital media company RugbyPass to use its data to allow fans to participate in ASX’s virtual stock market for rugby games.

ASX Sports launched in May 2021 and took its exchange live on the Apple and Android app stores earlier this month. The exchange lets users buy and sell virtual shares in esports and fantasy players, reflecting their prices in real time based on player performance and fan demand. The virtual rugby games are set to begin on ASX’s exchange in early 2022 ahead of the Six Nations Rugby Championship, Power told TechCrunch in an interview.

RugbyPass reaches an audience of over 10 million viewers, the company said. For ASX Sports, which is explicitly targeting expansion in the United States market, rugby seems like an unexpected pick given its popularity in Europe, Australia and Asia. 

But the company, which just moved its headquarters to Miami from Dublin, is betting on rugby’s growing traction in the U.S, which has 8.8 million active rugby fans, per sports analytics firm Gemba.

“NFTs are such an exciting buzzword, and the U.S. is kind of where it’s at. It’s the home of next-generation fantasy, which is effectively what we are. That’s why we’re Miami-based now, and that’s kind of opening plenty of opportunities for us,” Power said.

While users of the ASX exchange will be able to buy and hold shares in specific players, the sports teams themselves and their sponsors will be the owners of the NFTs. The intricacies of partnership deals for virtual team ownership on ASX will be negotiated on a case-by-case basis by the teams, Power said. 

Power previously worked in marketing for his father David Power’s company, Paddy Power Betfair, which rebranded as Flutter Entertainment in 2019 and bought a majority stake in FanDuel, the largest player in U.S. sports betting. ASX wants to position itself to partner with leagues like the NFL and NBA, as more U.S. states, particularly large markets like New York, look to legalize sports betting. 

ASX is raising capital rapidly so it can compete for coveted partnerships against incumbents like Disney, Caesars and Fox Sports as the regulatory landscape opens up. It crowdfunded 2.5 million euros ahead of its May launch, using the proceeds to hire a team of about 30 developers. 

The company plans to raise a Series A round early next year and is currently in talks with tier one sports franchises and leagues in the U.S., according to Power. 

ASX hosted its first public game last week, a virtual version of the English Premier League’s Liverpool-versus-Arsenal match.

“We got thousands of players — we were delighted with that — and we had really good engagement as well as people trading during play,” Power said.