Both the internet and sports has been billed as the great connector of peoples and cultures, but so far they haven’t worked too well together. Sure, people talk the game on Twitter, engage their friends over Facebook, and refresh a message board page over and over, but nothing until Helsinki-based Sofanatics close to that feeling of being in a sports bar and being able to talk trash to that guy three barstools down and cheer for your team with fellow fans. NBA fans got a taste of this during the NBA finals with a Facebook app integration of Sofanatics on the NBA’s Facebook page.
We’ve covered Sofanatics a few times in the past, but at the simplest level they’ve created a web service that splits the screen into a chat feed for the two teams playing. By picking sides, you get more context when chatting about the game, but as a user you can really tap the mood of what each side is feeling. The service is fun, especially when you’re watching a game by yourself at home. A goal scored in hockey or football is a momentous occasion — each side explodes in noes and yeses, confetti shoots on one side, and the other side is drowned in virtual rain.
The service does more than just chat. Logging in you’re asked to make a prediction of what the score’s outcome will be, and during the game Sofanatics keeps track of the score and period. Users can also take a fan picture of you and your friends dressed up, and can draw pictures or billboards to post on the screen for everyone to see.
Sports needed its own social channel, and Sofanatics hits the mark where users’ cheers and boos visible and worth sharing. The company has seen a decent amount of traction with Europeans watching the World Hockey Championships, as well as the various European Football leagues. But in the recent weeks the service has exploded due to a recent partnership with the NBA.
With the partnership, Sofanatics provided a co-branded Facebook app. The NBA has 13.7 million likes on their Facebook page, and during the finals they were promoted nicely to those users. While a good amount of the users watching european football were actually from America, the NBA partnership was Sofanatics’ first real push into the U.S. market. But fans seemed to have really taken to Sofanatics during the NBA finals; conversions were up to 45%, and time on site for users logged in was above 32 minutes. User numbers could not be shared with ArcticStartup.
Toni Laturi, co-founder of Sofanatics, tells us that the user reaction of the Sofanatics Facebook app has been great, and their contacts at the NBA loved service. Users gave feedback like, “This is better than twitter,” and “wow! This is way cool. i love the chat thing specially made for finals…”.
Sofanatics has their core platform in place, and is now expanding in logical directions. They’ve hinted at an iOS and Android app coming out soon, which should open up Sofanatics to an even bigger market than those who have their laptop open while watching the big game. They currently have an iPad demo as well, but are unwilling to share any timelines on when any apps will be released — saying that they want to get the products perfect before they’re released in the app store.
One of the big developments advertisers and technologists are predicting is the growth of the “second screen” applications, where Sofanatics will be able to advertise eyeballs when people have their eyes off the game.
Laturi says that partnering with sports organizations is a natural step for the company, although there is potential for partnerships with both media and brands. In Finland, Sofanatics is partnering with Sanoma, and earlier did Ice Hockey with Sonera. On top of that, they are also partnering with the Swiss Broadcasting Company. For branding they give the example of Sonera’s sponsored “The Big Hand” foam hand virtual good that users can wave during games.
To monetize Sofanatics, Laturi tells me they’re playing around with virtual goods because they’re easy to create, but have a lot of directions they can take the platform. Right now they’re also bringing in revenue through partnerships and advertising, but Laturi says that one clear direction they see is to add sports betting into the platform. Pay-per-view video from affiliates is also another direction they’re looking into.
The NBA finals are over now, but the Eurocup games are heating up on Sofanatics as the games are getting better. The company also has plans to hit the big team sports in the Olympics, such as football and baseball, so keep this Finnish company in mind if you’re looking to connect with fellow fans.