Hussain Naqi reflects on his journey from the Jacksonville Jaguars to becoming the Founder and CEO of Inside The Pocket, where he explains how his new company acts as a gateway to “virtually unlimited” Free To Play content.
SBC Americas: You’ve made the leap from an NFL executive to F2P gaming. How does your experience with the Jacksonville Jaguars help you in the gambling industry?
Well, taking a step back, as SVP of fan engagement at the Jacksonville Jaguars, both brand building and international expansion fell under my remit. And from a wider purview, I was always first and foremost a fan, who wanted to create an experience and products that truly resonate with fans.
We share exactly the same goal at Inside The Pocket (ITP), wanting to do likewise with our own products by making them as engaging and appealing to a multiplicity of audiences and cultures. As you can imagine, when I was in the NFL, you’re constantly pitched all manner of supposed fan engagement tools from suppliers who don’t always identify the problem they’re trying to solve.
With Inside The Pocket, we know exactly what our goals are: entertainment, engagement and the collection of data. It’s a holistic approach to F2P. I learned very early on that you can’t serve heterogeneous audiences the same content and expect it to resonate with everyone. You need to have different content for different people. We apply that as the fundamental premise of Inside The Pocket through our single integration.
SBC Americas: Tell me about Inside the Pocket. How are you innovating in the free-to-play space and who are some of your major clients/what are your biggest F2P games and content deals in the market right now?
Well, we’ve just launched our WonderWins game in the for this season’s IPL as the exclusive daily fantasy partner of ESPNCricinfo. Clearly, this represents a huge agreement for us. After all, ESPNcricinfo is the world’s largest source of cricketing information and ESPN’s dedicated cricket site and app. It constitutes the go-to digital destination for international news, live scores, statistics and analysis for fans the world over. So, for our game to score a milestone by representing the first time ESPN has integrated a DFS game into their app, it’s truly groundbreaking. It’s an honor and a responsibility we take very seriously.
Further, through this landmark deal, WonderWins will also retain ownership of the player data, which is fed back into its Inside the Pocket player account management system. Consequently, the right to market to tens of millions of users will drive significant marketing and enterprise value as our wider DFS and hyper-casual game-offerings evolve over the months and years ahead. WonderWins is already live on Android, iOS, and as a web-based platform.
Long story short, by becoming the exclusive Daily Fantasy-provider for ESPNcricinfo, WonderWins accordingly opens up an addressable audience of over 85 million active monthly users (AMUs) which it will be able to leverage in conversation with ESPNcricinfo’s highly-engaged social media cohorts (Facebook: 8m+ fans; Twitter: 6m+ followers; YouTube: 1m+ users; Instagram: 1.5m+ followers). Regardless of any overlapping social spheres, there’s a lot of compelling data to be gathered and harvested there!
As for other key content deals, just to name but a few, I could mention the multi-award-winning likes of Low6, Incentive Games, Thunderbite, PunditLeague and BOA Gaming. Our partners are in safe and heavily-resourced hands. We have massive momentum across the industry from data providers, to sportsbooks, to platforms and to operators. We are absolutely thrilled with our pipeline.
SBC Americas: The Indian opportunity is theoretically hugely exciting, but what gives you an edge over any rivals in the competitive DFS space?
Our platform is perfectly placed to leverage this opportunity because we can diversify content, take advantage of customer data and serve it to brands and operators as the shifting sands of the market landscape coalesce and eventually pave the way for real money prospects. The ITP platform’s aggregation layer allows us to support a variety of content in a paid app. Whether that’s Rummy, Poker, Chess or any fantasy sport, we can become a fully diversified content offering without relying on others for our ecosystem to flourish.
We have a distinct product offering with our Second Innings feature and we are aligned with the world’s preeminent cricket news site. In a market where trust is a huge factor in consumer decision-making, we are already seeing the ESPN deal pay dividends for us.
SBC Americas: Briefly, what’s the outlook for online gambling in India? What can the market learn from established and growing geographies e.g. the US or the UK?
It’s federal, fragmented, and like all ultimately responsible markets, these things take time. But we’re not talking about tectonic plates. India is, however, a very different culture to most mature markets so I’m not sure there are any obvious learnings to be had.
Of course, responsible gaming should be front-of-mind, especially when treading the ethical tightrope, while DFS being viewed as a game of skill at the national-court level should in time see the space blossom.
SBC Americas: So in your opinion, what makes a good free-to-play game?
Well, without wishing to sound trite, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all game. But essentially that’s the point of Inside The Pocket: the leading free-to-play (F2P) aggregation platform which has all the best games, localized for every global region.
Of course, F2P should be more sophisticated for a more seasoned bettor, more straightforward or educational for the less savvy or novice user. So, it’s less about creating the ideal game, more about granting the client and their customers the requisite flexibility – for example, a six-predictor, a simulated sportsbook or a squares game.
Inside The Pocket has those and many more besides and we’re totally agnostic to the content we have corralled. If you pinned me down to a keyword, though, I’d say resonance. Content has to resonate. That’s why we are so excited to help our clients and the developer community resonate with their products.
SBC Americas: Can you unpack that agnosticism a bit more, is it a philosophy for the company?
Well, while philosophy may be a generous term, the premise of our open-aggregation platform is that everyone’s welcome, thanks to our unique take on democratizing gaming to ensure operators and their players enjoy access to the broadest and best-curated mix of games available. In short, Inside The Pocket is one platform acting as a gateway to virtually unlimited content.
SBC Americas: Is free-to-play something more than a real money acquisition channel?
That’s a client-dependent question which speaks to their specific aims. We have games that are acquisitions-focused, of course, while retention is another major challenge with its own special suite of games for our partners, be they operators, clubs or media companies.
Ultimately, though, we view F2P specialization as all about the customer journey, what our clients want, and the behaviors they’re looking to promote: buy a ticket, go on a trip, subscribe to a magazine, make a deposit, with the ultimate action of conversion.
SBC Americas: You have a wealth of experience in various professional sports leagues. Which are the most equipped, in your opinion, to ride the wave of sports betting and why?
Are you implying I can’t keep a job?! Those sporting organizations who have a practical view of where the market’s going will win the day. That includes one crucial coupling: how to position betting alongside broadcast.
The NFL has as edge here in that its product was built around the broadcast and its commercial breaks, making it easier to supplement the broadcaster experience.
You need to get it right from a tonality perspective, which ideally entails seamless and accessible, without being too in-your-face. It’s about speaking to your own fans, understanding what makes them tick, and then leveraging that organic connection responsibly.
To the lay-fan, sports betting and gaming is a supplemental, an interesting proposition by which you can become more deeply involved. So, the league’s challenge is to recruit people on the periphery, acquiring new fans (converting and retaining them too), staying fan-first in their strategy, and ultimately ascending to a leadership position.
The NFL does an excellent job in this regard, although it’s a very limited season in terms of its narrow duration. Whereas the PGA Tour, which is comparatively never-ending and four days a week, is very well positioned in its schedule and evolving betting content-broadcast synergies. Just look at the recent deal they’ve done with Low6, another of ITP’s platform content partners.
The PGA Tour’s Head of Gaming even expounded on F2P as a game-changer for the organization: “The last 18 months that we’ve been in the real-money gaming side, we never had this free-to-play option. No we’re excited about what that’s going to mean for not only the engagement of our current fan, but as we continue to think about how you educate casual fans on options as it relates to the gamification of the PGA Tour and golf in general. It’s not your traditional ‘set it and forget it’ type free-to-play game. It’s going to be educational around how odds move throughout a telecast, throughout a round, throughout a day.” F2P is clearly a key component of their gameplan.
SBC Americas: Do the built-in audiences of different sports/leagues require different efforts to get them involved in sports betting or free to play games?
Almost certainly. Just look geographically, and you’ll see how the requirements and environments can differ: lighter-touch games, faster F2P, smartphone penetration in the respective territories – just take some more remote areas of the African area, which present a totally different paradigm, appetite and challenge for sports betting and F2P.
SBC Americas: What makes ITP different? How would you respond to anyone saying aren’t you a little late to the F2P game, isn’t the market saturated these days?
I’d counter that no-one’s arriving late to the party, it’s barely got into full swing! It’s important to remember that F2P is far from a static space. You have to keep innovating. So, ITP and its partners are already bringing that required innovation on numerous fronts. F2P will be unrecognizable as an acquisition tool in the next three to five years, mark my words.
As discussed, open aggregation is a core aspect for ITP and a key delineator for us. We’ve identified a problem and we can solve for it with ITP’s single integration, getting data across the network, mitigating risk for our partners, and allowing them to scale and flex. We’re not preferencing anyone, nor are we competing with other developers.
Instead, we can help broaden their reach into new exciting markets. We have no problems on the gambling licenses, and instantly remove the protected pain of building your own F2P platform with no regulated product on it, which is expensive and time-consuming.
Aside from that, the technical expertise of specialist game developers whose skills can create the customized and localized games that fans love and roll them out rapidly in the F2P / freemium / pay-to-play space is another point of difference. Then there’s player management – from front-end APIs to CRM connectivity, KYC and secure wallets, seamless and rapid integration. It’s ITP’s strong suit for user-focused delivery. While our multilevel data dashboards provide the full picture on player activity, thanks to aggregated cross-network player data (e.g. from individual customer journeys to in-play data, and other shared insights on player segments).
The bigger we get, the sharper and more specific the analysis we will provide. And with Harte Hanks, the world’s foremost consumer-data provider, on board as another important ITP partner, these unique consumer data insights will be robust enough to allow us to hyper-segment audience communication.