Aussie-Born PlayUp Brings its Social Game to U.S. Sports Fans

As the gridiron gladiators of the National Football League continue their march toward the Super Bowl, PlayUp USA in New York has put its mobile social network in the hands of sports fans in the United States. Parent company PlayUp in Australia developed the free iPhone and iPad app for sports fans with the help of $50 million raised in the first quarter of the year, and released it in the States and around the world on Oct. 20. Jonathan Press, CEO of PlayUp USA, says the company raised that funding round—its third—from a collection of undisclosed private investors around the world and is eager to build its ranks of users with U.S. sports fans.

PlayUp is a social app that fosters connections between sports fans who are interested in the same teams and games. Those fans can text message each other directly, as well as create chat rooms to discuss a game or particular subject. Users can search for live games, see upcoming events, or browse by sports type to find other users who share their passions for certain teams. The app also shows current scores and stats, such as players’ positions on the field. Press says the U.S. development team of 12 is creating mobile sports games that users will be able to play within the app. “People talk about sports 24-7 and have devices in their hands 24-7,” he says. “We’re looking for ways to marry the two.”

PlayUp also offers data from live games around the world that is updated by Stats Inc., he says, to give users a chance to react in real time to the games. PlayUp is building on the already robust amount of sports chatter activity in the social sphere, Press says. “When the World Cup is going on, you have more than 7,000 tweets per second,” he says.

The app offers game stats from the NFL, Major League Baseball, college football, the National Hockey League, professional soccer, and Australian Rules Football. When the National Basketball Association gets back on the court, those stats will also be part of PlayUp’s offerings, he says.

PlayUp was founded four years ago in Australia by Luke Bunbury and George Tomeski to cover such pro sports as association football—that’s soccer to us Yanks—and cricket. Originally PlayUp only offered mobile text-based pay-to-play games for users in Britain and India, but no social networking functions. Press says PlayUp raised $18 million in its second funding round in 2008 and $5 million in its first round. So far the company is backed by private investors who include athletes and former politicos, Press says, but not venture capital firms.

Press says the company set up its U.S. headquarters in May of 2010 in New York because the city is an epicenter for media and sports. “We are a technology company but we don’t need to be in the heart of the [San Francisco] bay,” he says. Press also says by locating PlayUp’s U.S. branch in New York, the company believes it can attract talent from the west coast. “Our head of product [Dennis Lee], who has a background in building Farmville and other games, is moving here to join us,” he says. PlayUp has a staff of 80 around the world.

Sharing sports scores in real time is nothing new, Press says, with media outlets such as ESPN offering fans updates online. But he believes PlayUp differentiates itself by covering some 20,000 live sports events around the world.

Press is no stranger to sports, having worked in the industry for more than 20 years, including a stint as vice president of marketing partnerships with the NBA. He says PlayUp plans to add more features to the app going forward, including sports trivia contests and other games developed by the U.S. staff.

Users can also play games that vary depending on their location. “In India we have a game called SixUp that’s based around cricket play where you are predicting elements that are happening in the course of the play,” Press says. “It is a pay-to-play game with a cash reward.” A similar pay-to-play online game is available in Britain, but that business model, for now, not been brought stateside. “There is a route to paid gaming in the U.S. It wasn’t necessarily something we were going to focus on,” Press says. The company, he says, plans to generate revenue in the U.S. in the future through premium features such as rooms with controlled access, advertising, pay-to-play and free games, sponsorships, and promotions.

The company also plans to open up its API for third parties. “The ultimate goal is to build a platform for any developer out there to have a network to launch sports specific online games,” Press says.

Currently PlayUp is text driven with multimedia such as photos and video sharing to come in future updates, Press says. The company is also developing Android, Windows Phone 7, and desktop versions of the platform. Press says PlayUp wants these updates in place in time for the Super Bowl next February.

Press says as the company grows it will seek out partnerships with teams, athletes, and leagues to enhance its content and make the app more engaging for sports fans. “Imagine if you had an NBA player in a private room sharing what is going on around the lockout or a particular game,” he says.

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