One of the first investments of the J&T Ventures II Fund is a sport-gaming project named Live Penalty, its first concept as such having come into existence between Prague and Los Angeles by means of uniting several experienced Czech teams from the area of games, application development and production. Its founder, Pavel Kacerle, describes why he can do without significant investments in marketing, and how he managed to get the attention of top football players and clubs.
When did you realize that something like Live Penalty was missing in the world?
I’ve worked as a visual effects artist for companies like Marvel or Lucasfilm for several years. During my last project, I started looking around, searching for the options of working for Disney as a part of their legendary marketing team. To convince them, I decided to build a small team, headed by the leading Czech motion graphic designer Lukáš Veverka and a student of robotics at ČVUT Matěj Suchý, to draw attention to one of their current projects in an original way (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2). Following some other successful projects and concepts, which found their way to millions of devices, we decided to leave the world of movies and focus on the connection of the digital and real football world. This time, however, it was more than just an interactive campaign, it was a mobile game. Last summer, we founded the Live Penalty Company together with the Czech technology firm STRV and the first. FRAME production company.
How could the Live Penalty principle be best described – is it a new type of game monetization, sports gamification, or rather a new marketing platform?
Sports gamification is probably the closest to what we’re trying to achieve. Football clubs greatly desire to adapt to the digital world, and they’ve started to invest in e-sports. They realize that games like FIFA or PES really don’t have much in common with real football. Digital players are not directly connected to what’s going on at the stadiums. We are the connection between these two worlds. We activate their most expensive club assets, that is the live professional players, the field, and the brand itself.
What exactly does it look like from the point of view of the users?
Players from all over the world may challenge top football goalies for a match - they remotely control a special robot we developed. In the first stage, it is a so-called elimination game, where the players compete in where the shot will go. In the end, there’s just one player left, who goes to shoot a penalty kick against a live goalie on the other side. It works perfectly - is there a fan who doesn’t want to kick a penalty against someone like the legendary Manuel Neuer from their living room? Moreover, a live reporter is usually a part of the game, and during the last rounds, the atmosphere tends to get rather heated. As we’re currently testing our game with some leading Czech goalies, we have already experienced some players being so nervous that they failed to score in that last penalty kick, or on the contrary, they gave no chance to our hero at the goal posts, which naturally influenced not only their mood, but also the mood of all the followers... these are the powerful sports and emotional moments we’re aiming at.
So, is the game on already?
We launched a test operation in March; the application is in Apple Store and Google Play. Our plan is to first focus on the Czech Republic and Slovakia. We agreed on the participation of Czech goalies like Filip Nguyen, Ondřej Kočí or Přemysl Kovář. However, the game is spreading to other countries on its own. We have lots of players in Bulgaria, and even some influencers are contacting us. We’re surprised at where new people are cropping up, without our promotion in the given locality.
Have you made arrangements with foreign clubs, too?
We’re in contact with the German Bundesliga; we want to focus on the German market intensively in the second half of this year. Some of the important clubs we’re in contact with include, for example, Bayern Munich or Wolfburg. We have agreed to start negotiating as soon as we finish the successful testing of the concept with a Czech club.
One advantage we have is that we don’t have to place much emphasis on marketing, as it comes with the personalities of the football players and the clubs themselves. In exchange, we are creating a new monetization channel for them, which wasn’t possible in the past.
What stage are you in now?
We passed through a German accelerator called leAD, founded by the descendants of Adi Dassler, the founder of Adidas. It is an intensive three-month programme in Berlin, which is concluded by an investment Demo Day. The large German server Sport1 is also participating, currently holding 4 % of our firm, just like leAD. Jakub Jankto, a football representative, joined us recently, as well as J&T Ventures. We are at the seed stage now, but the next investment round will begin soon.
How did you get together with J&T Ventures?
It was kind of lengthy, as is usual in life. I did an interview for Forbes, thanks to which I got in contact with the Vodafone vice-president. He contacted me with the marketing manager, who recommended J&T Ventures, or eventually Martin Kešner and the Idea of the Year. They knew about us, and they were apparently interested, so, we started to negotiate the entry.
Are you going to focus on other sports, besides football?
We have lots of concepts, we even started with ice hockey originally. Back then, we were in discussions with the San Jose Sharks in California. However, we quickly realized to the contrary, that we should start with the world’s largest sport, which is football. Moreover, a penalty kick is incredibly communicative; the entire world understands the actual concept of the penalty kick. South America, Asia, Africa - these are the main places we want to connect to European football. However, we have prepared baseball and other sports, too, as long as our interconnection between athletes and the digital world continues to work.
How will Live Penalty make money?
We have our own game currency to pay for the participation at different events. We also offer special functions, such as controlling the speed of the shot, or the ball rotation, or eventually adding beauty to your game elements through a club logo. The currency, however, can be acquired not only with money, but also thanks to positive results in the game or by watching ads. We are also working on preparing special VIP events, during which you can play against your favourite sportsmen in small groups. Apart from the basic currency, we are also considering brand activations.