Football (or soccer, as it’s commonly called in the U.S.) is the most popular and watched sport globally, with over 5 billion fans according to its apex governing body, FIFA.
While the World Cup, the pinnacle event of football and arguably the world’s most popular sporting event, shows the popularity of the sport in full color, it’s the yearly leagues in different countries across Europe, South America, Asia and Africa that put the diehard nature of football fans on display.
FIFA says Latin America, the Middle East and Africa represent the largest fan bases across the world. With fans becoming increasingly interested in virtual versions of their favorite sports, startups from these regions are satisfying their cravings by providing fantasy sports platforms.
Today’s news comes out from the Middle East and Africa, where Eksab, an Egyptian platform that says it’s making football more exciting and interactive for every fan in both regions through gaming and online community-building, raised $3 million in seed funding.
The round, led by 4DX Ventures, saw participation from Darwazah Capital, Golden Palm Investments, P1 Ventures, and some angel investors from sports and entertainment professions, the company said.
Eksab stated that it intends to use this investment to scale its user base across MENA and Africa. Some of the funds will also go into product development, hiring talent in engineering and product teams, and executing partnerships with football clubs.
Founder and CEO Aly Mahmoud started Eksab in 2018. “Eksab’s mission is to make football more exciting for every football fan in the Middle East and Africa,” he said to TechCrunch in an interview.
Eksab launched with a prediction game where users create fantasy lineups and participate in free or premium competitions. There’s a leaderboard to show how well they perform; winners get cash and other prizes.
More recently, Eksab started churning out content for users to get news and updates about their favorite players and teams, using that information to better inform their fantasy decisions.
In the long run, Eksab hopes to build a fully integrated platform that, according to its statement, will see it become the go-to platform for football play-to-earn gaming, content, stats, NFTs, digital collectibles and merchandise.
Eksab takes a percentage of all the fees paid on the platform, especially on premium contests and merchandise.
Mahmoud, who worked at a startup incubator in Canada while he got the idea for Eksab, said he built the platform with inspiration from incumbents such as Dream 11, DraftKings and FanDuel as well as newer startups infusing web3 into the world of fantasy sports like Sorare. Others such as Draftea are showing what’s possible in other regions outside U.S. and Europe.
“During my time there as well, I got exposed to the rise of DraftKings and FanDuel. My friends were playing these two games and while I didn’t know much about Canadian sports, specifically hockey, I found that playing these games was the easiest way for me to kind of get to know the sports and kind of develop that sense of camaraderie with my friends,” he said.
“I enjoyed the games and realized, ‘Why is no one doing this for the hundreds of millions of football fans in the Middle East and Africa?’ So we did some research and realized there was a massive market gap for this kind of game [fantasy football] in the Middle East and Africa,” he said.
Eksab currently has over 700,000 users in Egypt on its platform who participate in daily, weekly and monthly fantasy and predictions contests. Its user base makes over a million “picks” each month, and since the launch of its premium competitions in 2021, its paying user base has increased an average of 60% month on month, the company said.
In a bid to further invest in its technology, Eksab said it is planning some integration with blockchain platforms to enable football fans to capitalize on web3’s supposed speed and transparency.
“As a football fan, what would you want to do online? Buy jerseys, play with favorite team’s players on your fantasy lineup, get news and stats on favorite players,” said the founder.
“We want to build this in such a way that fans can get all these from one place and in a play-to-earn manner so every interaction you would make on our platform will earn you rewards, which in turn you can use to enter more contests.”
According to the founder, Eksab is the only licensed fantasy football platform in Egypt; in essence, it faces little or no competition in the country or MENA. In addition to acquiring licenses to operate in three new markets mid this year, Mahmoud told TechCrunch that his company is on the verge of signing a partnership with one of the biggest football clubs in the Middle East and Africa.
And as the World Cup approaches later this November, and for the first time in the Middle East (Qatar), Eksab sees itself uniquely positioned to dominate the growing football gaming market in both regions.
“We started with football because that’s the main sport that people care about. Given that the World Cup is also around the corner, we’re going to be spending a lot on partnerships with specific football players to grow our platform and our user base,” the CEO said.
“But once we feel like we’re confident that we’ve nailed football and we’re doing the best job that we can there, then we’re going to start unlocking other sports as it makes sense on a per market basis.”