Le Tremplin, the Paris-based sports and technology accelerator programme, has given a platform to a range of innovations designed to enhance sport and the experience of sport.
But until this year it had never selected a new sport for inclusion in its showcase event at the Hotel de Ville in Paris.
That changed when Henrik Jessen, game designer and CEO of FXBALL, recently took to the stage to explain his ambition for a brand-new sport which combines spectacular athletic action with a level of digital connectivity designed to build communities of players and fans and keep them engaged.
FXBALL is unique by combining the skills of football, freestyling, sepak takraw, beach soccer, volleyball and paddle tennis under one roof. In this case the roof is called ‘the Pentadrome’, an arena equipped with targets and rebounding floors that guarantee non-stop acrobatic moves such as scissors kicks and dives.
Henrik Jessen says that, as a sports fan, he has always looked for opportunities to create better experiences for players and spectators alike. “When I started looking into football-related sports, I figured there must be a way to mix it all up and add the things I loved from other sports and games.
“I dreamed about an arena, a futuristic colosseum, where players and spectators experience intense competitions with acrobatic action and very long rallies.
“And I wondered how I could use today’s digital technologies for broadcasting formats by giving the audience the power to decide and enable the ‘fate’ of players – just like gladiators. A pursuit that sits at the intersection between reality sports and esports.
“It is really a hybrid. On a tournament level, fans are encouraged to use their smartphones to really get involved. They can “put players on fire” or “swop” them and vote for their MSP – most spectacular player – which creates a competition within a competition and encourages players to push themselves to the limits.
“In today’s live-mobile-online-TV hybrid world, sports fans are consuming media in completely new ways. It’s no longer enough to simply broadcast, they need to be part of an interactive show.
Henrik Jessen insists though that: “Gamifcation and other add-on technologies are important for us to remain an innovative brand, to prove and enjoy our freedom to be able to adapt quickly to trends and therefore realise a broader commercial potential. But more importantly, even without any of these tech gadgets and interactivity, FXBALL delivers immense fun. We know now this sport will work anywhere you enter a Pentadrome, with or without electrification or a mobile phone.
“For more than a year now, we videoed all the sessions in our Pentalab, analysed the game situations, rules and the players’ behaviour. We have been constantly improving the features, angles balls and the size of the Pentadrome until we were convinced that we had it right. Thanks to the input of a few players, we added some fantastic innovative street rules to the game that we did not have on the radar before,” he says.
“We realised it was and still is important to build and be inspired by grassroots momentum because that will help us develop and refine the sport and its future development as an esport and a sport in its own right.
“When we tested our main target group – proficient male and female footballers (aged 13-35), freestylers (22-45) and sepak takraw players who play on a regular basis at least twice a week – the results were very encouraging.
“Almost all of the footballers we showed a video of FXBALL and the Pentadrome to, said they definitely wanted to play.
“And 80 per cent of the players we invited to play for the first time, wanted to come back to improve their skills and become a better FXBALLer. Some of them even said playing was somehow addictive.
“Another fact was that 67 per cent of the players said they even would swap a paid-for five-a-side session in a soccer hall, with a game in the Pentadrome for the same price.
“Our survey also revealed that players loved the feeling of being in the Pentadrome and the sense of team spirit that it engendered. There is little physical contact between players, which minimises the risk of injury – landing on the specially-adapted floor is painless. The large numbers of interactions with the ball helps players to constantly improve their technical skills. Girls enjoy playing the sport because the physical performance gap is minimised.
“We will be launching our European kick off campaign in 2020 with an FX BALL Academy based in the suburbs of Paris that will deliver a daily platform for players to have fun and prove their skills, and for us to produce content on a daily basis and reach out for new talent.
“We are also reaching out for opportunities linked to Euro 2020 where cities and sponsors are looking for innovative solutions to activate their fan zones and produce fantastic visuals for their social media channels. We have a very strong concept for the activation campaign linked to a Skill Hero Challenge that we will also kick off in 2020.
“Our expansion model then foresees South and North America activations as well as entering the Asian market. We are also planning FXBALL championships, national and continental promotional tours and showcase events linked to other sports and esports events. We will develop computer games and an augmented reality version of FXBALL.
“We are a 21st century sports business which is able to control and monetise a wide range of commercial assets and, in doing so, create business opportunities for all those who partner with us,” explains Henrik Jessen.
At a time when many traditional sports are looking for ways of revising their core offering to create shorter, sharper versions with greater connectivity to attract younger audiences, FXBALL appears to have significant, built-in advantages that make it a compelling proposition for investors and business partners alike.
Devised to operate in the sweet spot where live sports, OTT and traditional TV meet social media and esports, FXBALL will build from the roots up through the engagement of players and by making facilities available in communities.
Urban Pentadromes for inner city areas will breathe new life into dilapidated facilities including skate parks and other urban sport facilities.
Another grassroots opportunity comes in the form of the mobile version of the Pentadrome, which allows owners and operators of existing facilities such as sports and indoor soccer centres, to add something different to their offering, generating fresh revenues in their own right and providing a point of differentiation against competitors.
The future of FXBALL is bright. Currently we are looking for strategic partners to help us to accelerate the growth of the business.