PrePlay Pushes Games for Sports Predictions to TV’s “Second Screen”

Sports will always be a huge draw for entertainment dollars, so it is no surprise that a bevy of software and platform developers want their share of this market. Many large media companies and independents crank out apps for fantasy sports leagues. PrePlay, a two-year-old startup based in New York, has adopted a different strategy to make money in this competitive sector: by creating apps for something called predictive gaming.

PrePlay’s mobile apps run on smartphones and tablets in tandem with live sports such as professional football and hockey. The apps let users try to predict the outcomes of upcoming plays and action, moments before they take place. Rival players on PrePlay can be drawn from the users’ contacts, Facebook friends, and other users they discover through the app. Users can chat, challenge each other to make predictions on specific games, and compare results. In addition to guessing the overall outcome, users can make guesses about who will score next in the midst of the game. Fans earn points for correctly guessing how the next score or play unfolds, which may translate into prizes from sponsors of the app.

On Wednesday, PrePlay announced it raised $3.1 million in a Series A funding round from Gary Vaynerchuk; Matt Higgins, the CEO of RSE Ventures; and other angel investors. Andrew Daines, the CEO of PrePlay, says he founded the company after observing the way sports fans kept using their mobile devices even while watching live events. “We noticed a shift in the way people interact with cell phones,” he says. “It is becoming very much the second screen and a companion to television.” Apple’s iPad is often referred to as the second screen for TV when it comes to shopping or Web browsing.

PrePlay plans to use its new funding, he says, to hire more staff and develop new apps to work in synch with other sports—such as baseball—as well as certain non-sports TV shows. The company’s first app lets iPhone users make predictions, which they share with each other, on football games (though the app is not licensed by the NFL). In April, PrePlay released an iPhone and iPad app, licensed by the NHL, that lets fans make predictions about the action on the ice. The apps have attracted sponsors like Molson Canadian and Subway. Ads from Chrysler and are also inserted into the apps.

PrePlay is not the first startup to try and tackle this sector. KlickSports in Los Angeles offered interactive online and mobile games synched with live college and professional sports, but the company folded in 2010. Pikum, a British startup that was backed by First Round Capital and Virgin, offered a platform for social betting on the outcome of sporting events but folded in 2009.

Daines believes PrePlay’s platform can grow where others have withered by leveraging the so-called second screen on mobile devices. As more users of tablets and smartphones actively use these gadgets while watching television, broadcasters and marketers are looking for ways to recapture their attention. That can include pushing additional content, perks, or special offers related to the television shows on to mobile devices.

And PrePlay wants to use this phenomenon to serve more than sports lovers. Daines says his company is exploring the development of apps that could be tied to non-sports content such as awards shows and contest-based reality programs. Fans of the Academy Awards, for example, might use such an app during the live broadcast of the awards. “We could turn that into a game where you would predict the winners,” he says.

Daines came up with the idea for PrePlay while earning his bachelor’s degree in philosophy at Cornell University. He says the company’s staff of 14 is split between New York and Paris. Daines says he hopes his company will generate enough cash by the second quarter of 2013 to fuel growth without the need for additional funding.

Android versions of PrePlay’s apps are also being considered, but Daines does not have definitive plans for their potential development. The company is also exploring the addition of location-based features to the apps, such as check-ins at sports venues. “That opens up possibilities à la Foursquare, where you get deals based on where you are,” Daines says.

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