Be it smart stadiums, sports data analytics, or digital signage, the use of advanced technologies in sports has skyrocketed in the recent past with the aim to both improve fans’ viewing experiences and engagement, as well as to improve athletes’ performance. In fact, according to a 2022 report by Grand View Research, the global sports technology market size is estimated to reach US$55.14 billion by 2030. Seizing the opportunity present in this space is Mohammad Ali Abbaspour, the entrepreneur behind Qatar-based Sponix Tech, which develops software-based technologies using artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and computer vision to drive fan engagement and monetization opportunities for sports rights owners, broadcasters, and brands.
As a football and technology enthusiast (who was also a professional football player once upon a time), Abbaspour, who had previously developed a sports tech startup in 2013, says that he had always kept a close watch on trends correlating the two sectors.”Watching innovations in producing new content for football made me move forward [with Sponix Tech] ,” says Abbaspour. “Based on my past experience in tech companies and my big passion for football, I decided to introduce something new to the market.”
Abbaspour thus launched Sponix Tech with its first solution in 2019, the SPov Immersive Replay, which allows fans to view a match through the eyes of the players on the pitch. Broadcasters are then able to utilize this first-person footage of the match for instant replays, as well as social media marketing to boost fan engagement and boost partnership revenue streams. In the years since it launched, the SPov Immersive Replay has become the company’s most renowned offering, but it was first implemented during the 2020 UAE Pro League held in Dubai, which Abbaspour points out, was quite a feat. “This was big news in the industry, since, for the first time in a football game, a company was able to provide the point of view of players without having any hardware or camera installation in the stadium.”
Mohammad Ali Abbaspour, founder and CEO, Sponix Tech
As the company gained momentum in the market, Sponix Tech was selected in 2020 to become a part of the Qatar SportsTech, an accelerator program founded by Qatar Development Bank. This offered a boost to the company’s growth, particularly towards entering international markets such as Europe, and working with more broadcasters, rightsholders, leagues, and clubs, and Sponix Tech soon became the recipient of several industry awards as well.
Looking back, Abbaspour says that a key factor in fueling his company’s growth was its decision to not rely solely on its first tech solution, but to develop another product as it ventured into the European market. This new offering was called the SPboard Virtual Advertisement, which helps clubs and leagues to increase their revenue by creating personalized virtual ads powered by AI and machine learning. “With this technology, we can produce different signals for different regions, with different sponsors, at the same time,” explains Abbaspour. “It means each billboard could be sold several times for a targeted market instead of one time. We help the clubs, leagues, and TV channels sell more digital sponsorships through our technology.”
Sponix Tech wins at the Qatar finals of the Entrepreneur’s World Cup
With a B2B business model, the startup’s clients include clubs, leagues, sports federations, broadcasters, as well as brand sponsors as it creates a new marketplace to display their messaging. With different clients and partners in the sports industry, Abbaspour notes that his company is currently working with top rights-holders such as the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), Mediapro, Associations of Tennis Professionals (ATP), and the UAE Pro League. In the broadcasting sector, the startup works with beIN Sports, Sky Sports, RMC Sports and Al Kass, among others. “We are growing fast and expanding to new markets,” Abbaspour says. “These days, we are receiving many new approaches from different sports on different continents.”
Sponix Tech’s offerings are also getting the startup noticed- while it was initially funded by Qatar Development Bank and a couple of angel investors, in August 2022, the startup received an undisclosed investment from UK-based Aser Ventures, the co-owner of Leeds United Football Club. With the investment, Aser Ventures has also acquired a strategic stake in the startup, and Abbaspour explains that they plan to use the new funds to improve current technology, develop new products, as well as boost marketing and promotion efforts, and improve the startup’s infrastructure and operations. Meanwhile, the startup has also been selected as one of the three national winners to represent Qatar at the Entrepreneurship World Cup 2022, a global startup pitch competition featuring entrepreneurs from over 200 countries.
Sponix Tech’s SPov Immersive Replay at the beIN Sports
Of course, building a sports tech company in Qatar has its ups and downs. According to Abbaspour, with Qatar hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the country has developed better infrastructure for startups in the sports sector. “More importantly, the culture of accepting startups and supporting them during their growth has been established in Qatar and MENA region,” he says. “Startups can feel that they are able to work perfectly on their ideas and grow to the next stage with the infrastructure and support from the Qatar ecosystem.”
Plus, with the country having an influx of renowned sporting events such as the upcoming 2030 Asian Games, the Qatar Grand Prix, the Qatar TotalEnergies Open, and others, there are a lot of opportunities up for the taking for companies like Sponix Tech. However, Abbaspour points out the local sports industry is not as mature as in the US and Europe. “Our technologies like immersive replays and virtual advertisements are so attractive for European and US clients, but we have some difficulties introducing our technologies to the sports market of Qatar,” says Abbaspour. “But with the support of Qatar sports and technology organizations, we are moving forward in the national and international markets.”
Sponix Tech’s SPov Immersive Replay at the UEFA
As for Sponix Tech’s future plans, Abbaspour says that his team is currently in touch with top-tier rights-holders like the UEFA and FIFA, adding, “We are planning to grow the number of matches that we cover during a month.” In the next months, the team are working on top competitions like Premier League and the much-awaited 2022 FIFA World Cup, with the startup’s SPov technology set to be used by select broadcasters of the tournament.
And it’s not just football- Abbaspour says that he and his team are gearing up for Sponix Tech’s offerings to to be used in other sports like basketball, handball, padel, and others. In terms of the long term, Abbaspour hopes to start partnerships with other global entities in the industry (“like the NBA”), as well as plans to enable a collaboration between local sponsors and the 48 participating countries during the 2026 FIFA World Cup. “There is no end in the technology world; we have to adapt ourselves based on the new trend in the sports tech industry,” he says. “Since our technologies are all developed from scratch, our innovative teams at Sponix are thinking of future products based on the development of cloud systems, artificial intelligence, and machine learning knowledge.”
‘TREP TALK: Tips for entrepreneurs from Mohammad Ali Abbaspour, founder and CEO, Sponix
1. Determine your product market fit “Be sure of the market requirements, since there can be a difference between your ideas and what really matters for the market/clients.
2. It’s a marathon, not a sprint “Entrepreneurs have to work hard and be focused on their product and strategy. The market does not usually attract to their ideas and products in a couple of weeks or months; it can sometimes take more than a year t to see the first results and get feedback from the market.”
3. Stay on top of trends “One of the missing parts that I observed several times among entrepreneurs is that they don’t know what the latest technical and commercial trends in their sector are. But it is so critical to know the latest situation in terms of their clients’ needs as well as their competitors’ progress and next moves.”