Japan’s Ookami, offering social network app for sports fans, secures series A round

Image credit: ookami

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Ookami, the Japanese startup developing the “Player!” sports entertainment app, announced on Friday that the company raised an undisclosed amount from IMJ Investment Partners (IMJ-IP), Gree Ventures, The Asahi Shimbun, and a number of confidential individual investors in a Series A round. For Ookami, this follows an undisclosed amount raised in a seed round from Gree Ventures last May, making this Gree Venture’s second investment in the company.

Prior to the seed round, Ookami held angel rounds in June of 2014 and March of 2015, in which they raised a total of 30 million yen (around $260K US) from athlete Dai Tamesue, Uzabase, Uzabase CEO Yusuke Umeda, Tomohito Ebine (founder of OPT Holdings), and Toshiaki Komatsu (Co-founder of Photocreate), but according to information from the stakeholders the total amount raised this time in the Series A round is expected to be on a scale of several hundred million yen (or several million US dollars).

Ookami was founded in April of 2014. In April 2015 they released the mobile app “Player!” for iOS, and pivoted from a sports news distribution platform to the one that reports sports games live, with a social network function that allows users to share their reactions in real-time with other users watching the progress and results of the same game. In December 2015 it was labeled the “App Store Best of 2015”, and in 2016 it won the “Good Design Award.”

Ookami revealed plans to strengthen the news distribution functions of Player! In addition to revamping the news functions, they will partner with a major data stadium for the broadcasting of sports scores, and information regarding both J-league football and B-league basketball games in Japan will be offered in real time. Additionally, their information can be further enriched through their partnership with the Asahi Shimbun, a company that participates in some 180 sports events in Japan yearly.

The Asahi Shumbun, participants in this round, released the following comments in excerpt.

We believe that through multiplying various sports businesses and contents with Ookami’s Player!, a new way of enjoying sports, and communicating about sports, separate from a newspaper, becomes possible; so we entered into the partnership.

GREE Ventures, who participated in the latest investment round along with IMJ-IP, appears to make a pure money injection. The following is an excerpt from comments by IMJ-IP.

With the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, the field of sports is expected to experience great growth in Japan. As a part of this, we recognize the fact that Player! is a new medium that makes live sports content possible and offers the optimal smart-phone customer experience, and judge that their management team is one of high executive power, so we have made the decision to support them.

Image credit: ookami

Although Ookami created the above figure (and therefore it is not necessarily an objective interpretation), the digital distribution of sports content is definitely bustling, even with profitable and not so profitable players.

To illustrate other digital sports startups in Japan, there is Spotomo and Spotomo GC, which offer online lesson services, with investors like Docomo Ventures, DeNA (TSE: 2432), Sirius Partners, and ABC Dream Ventures. Link Sports, which runs the amateur sports score and competition management service TeamHub, raised about 60 million yen (around $523K US) in financing from Venture United and debt from the Japan Policy Finance Corporation.

In Japan, DAZN (pronounced dazon) and Softbank’s Suponavi Live are advancing, challenging each other over Internet and mobile distribution, leading to a rise in broadcasting fees. However, they alone cannot consume all the video distribution, and it seems there is a development in which they discount and resell (sublicense) the broadcasting rights to other satellite broadcasters and cable television broadcasting companies. Overseas, Twitter contributes $10 million US to  streamcast NFL games worldwide, and Amazon is moving to acquire broadcasting rights for sports.

For Ookami, Player! is not a distributor of sports video content, but instead focuses on score information related to games as well as SNS, thereby leaving them unaffected by these big players. Instead, through the benefit of sublicensing, etc., in the future it will be possible to deliver videos by revenue sharing with the broadcasting rights holder.

Ookami CEO Taiyo Ogata says:

I think it is possible to create a flexible operation if you can watch and listen to programs on a game-by-game basis (not on a per-channel basis), or if the price is changed when you watch from the second half.

60% of Player!’s users are under 35, a demographic that existing sports broadcasters are not reaching. In terms of being able to distribute video to this demographic, I think that it will be possible for major platformers to merge with Ookami.

Ogata also revealed that they are preparing several other user experiences only possible through Player! I look forward to a number of big announcements this year which can be expected in connection to this.

Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda