Oulala – Where fantasy sports and big data collide

On the face of it, French-based company Oulala is a nothing more than daily fantasy sports provider. But, in reality, it is much more than that.

Oulala – Where fantasy sports and big data collide

On the face of it, French-based company Oulala is a nothing more than daily fantasy sports provider. Specialising solely in European soccer, the company provides a white-labelled game to rights holders and content providers around the world who want to integrate it into their websites. But, in reality, it is much more than that.

Through its intricate and incredibly developed understanding of big data, and its ability to interpret this into insight, it is delivering value to rights holders far beyond a mere gaming platform, and in return is helping those very rights holders’ commercial activities.

Here, chief executive and founder Valery Bollier talks to SportsPro about Oulala’s big data daily fantasy sports offering.

SP: First of all, tell me about Oulala?

VB: I was previously working in the igaming sector, and I realised that all of our young customers were frustrated by the experience that all the igaming companies were offering them because it was the first generation raised with video games, people who had played PlayStation and Nintendo.

So here were people that had reached an age where they wanted to continue to play games, but they wanted to do it for money as well. But when they came to the igaming world they suddenly found themselves back in the 80s, they were playing games that were played by their grandparents.

So I realised that we needed to make a bridge between those two industries, the igaming sector and the video gaming sector. I then realised that the people from the igaming sector wouldn’t make the first step, because they have a very optimised business model, so they don’t experiment.

Similarly, the video gaming industry wouldn’t monetise because they are always under so much scrutiny already, with violence in their games, that they would never make this worse.

I met a French guy from the United States who had just seen this new market developing called Daily Fantasy Football (DFS). He strongly believed this would be something huge in Europe for soccer, and we realised we were walking the same direction. With DFS we could bridge this ocean between igaming and video gaming, and I and he, Benjamin Carlotti, decided to launch Oulala three years ago.

How did you set Oulala up as different to pre-existing fantasy sports games?

We studied the market really intricately. We tried to understand why people were playing. We found that to be successful, fans wanted the game to be as close as possible to reality. In order to do so you need to have a scoring system that allows mirror real football.

We hired a team of statisticians, and we looked at five years of history of European soccer and basically locked them in a room for six months. We told them come out when they could guarantee a game that was accurate to reality.

What they came up with, after six months, is unique. It takes 70 statistics into account, as well as different weightings for different players; a defender who scores gets more than a striker that scores, for example. The only thing that customers need to know is that our scoring system is so efficient that they don’t ever need to read the system. Too many people dominate fantasy sports just because they work out the scoring system. With our game you have to study football, rather than study the scoring system. With other games, it’s not fans that are winning, it’s the geeks.

How detailed are these algorithms behind the scoring system?

Well, here is a funny example. This was filmed, so I have the proof. Two Novembers ago I was talking at a ‘big data’ conference in London and I was discussing the scoring system. I told the crowd that according to our data, the best midfielder in Europe at the moment was a young Algerian at a struggling Premier League side, named Riyadh Mahrez. I told them that he would be worth a lot of money soon and everyone laughed, but he went on to win everything.

This is what big data can show you.

How are you using this data?

It’s funny really. We had quite a lot of possible investors when we were starting up, and we were pitching Oulala to them. They kept saying to us “there is another business model to this that you’ve missed, you can sell this data to clubs.” It wasn’t that we had missed this, we knew about it, but we saw it as far more profitable to sell white labelled fantasy sports than to try and sell data. These clubs are already working with stats so it is going to be long and difficult to sell this to them.

You partnered with Leicester City last season, how did that work?

Up to now, the digital strategies of football clubs in Europe are not very efficient. They all want to improve it but none of them know how to do it. American sports teams know how to do it, the NBA in particular being very impressive.

So you have everyone wanting to engage digitally better, but no one knowing how to do it. One of the first things they need to do is to get better content, and that is where we come in.

If they use our game then they have something that brings people every week to their site, but it goes further than that. It’s all very well sending out emails to your database that say come to our website, come to buy this shirt, come to look at this sponsor’s adverts, but consumers are more intellectual that that now. You have to offer them more, and that is where we came in.  We can offer their fan database the game, which means that they are regularly coming to the clubs site, but we can also use the big data we collect to give them great content on insights into player performance.

We offer them the opportunity to stop using transparent adverts to bring people to their site, but instead send them some cool infographics about real football insight, that is generated from our use of big data.

When the club sends this insight out, the fan is more inclined to come to the website and then once they are in they will engage more with products. It is a more organic customer acquisition. I think advertising really is dead.

How are you seeing big data used throughout the sports industry?

In Europe it is kind of a revolution. In the United States big data has always been in sport. If you talk about a basketball player then you immediately talk about his stats, and every number that makes up his performance. This is the same in the National Football League (NFL) as well, with yards and sacks etc. 

But in Europe it is a revolution. It is why fantasy sports have taken off so much because everyone is starting to get involved in the stats and the numbers around the sport. Now we talk about yards covered as well as just goals, interceptions made as well as just tackles.

Even the media is looking at big data and trying to understand exactly what it can mean for performance. Football in Europe is using more and more data so people are getting used to digesting this big data in your sport.

Bollier was speaking to SportsPro's Tom Lloyd.