SHANGHAI - The first mobile application that enables free real-time messaging during live sports events and allows sport fans to create private chat rooms to banter as the action unfolds will be available for Chinese phone users in January.
The multi-task application PlayUp was launched in 2007 by two Australian entrepreneurs who were keen to create a new social interactive network for live sport among fans all over the world.
"We see a multibillion-dollar opportunity with the mobile phone as the platform to converge live scores, social networking and social gaming," said George Tomeski, the co-founder of PlayUp.
Headquartered in Australia with international offices in the United States, India, the United Kingdom, China, Japan and Brazil, PlayUp raised $50m from investors based on a $200 million valuation last year.
So far it has generated millions of downloads and game playing across the world. There are about 19,000 live games available for sports in the application annually, involving teams from the Yankees to Manchester United and sports from Indian cricket to China`s soccer Super League.
"We believe that we can redefine the economic model for sports by driving the revenue from viewers through mobile phones," said Tomeski.
The Portio Research Group forecast in January that the worldwide messaging market would be worth more than $200 billion in 2011 and reach $334 billion by 2015.
A category of social games is also included in the application available during live games and any other time the user wants to play. A free messaging service is also accessible in the software.
"We could offer customers much richer and better experiences through our application in having more fun when they watch sports with friends or sending messages talking about sports free of charge," said Luke Bunbury, chief executive officer and co-founder of PlayUp.
In 2010 PlayUp games were distributed throughout more than 20 countries across the UK and Europe, India and the sub-continent, Asia and Africa with expectations that PlayUp will grow to 30,000 live games on the platform by December.
`With China`s smartphone adoption rate ranking among the world`s top five, and with a rapid expansion of smartphone users in the cities, the Chinese market for more Westernized mobile applications seems to have a lot of potential," said Bunbury.
Statistics released by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) show that the number of Chinese mobile phone users hit 952.31 million by the end of September, 102.46 million of whom were third-generation (3G) mobile network users.
PlayUp will enter the Chinese market formally in a couple of months with a Chinese version. The English version is already available for downloads at the App Store for expatriates.
"We are in talks with local service providers and networking platforms to find a local partner to enable us to provide a bigger range of sports activities and more customized experience for local users," said Sun Lei, the chief representative of PlayUp in China.
Sun added that basketball and soccer remain the top two sports in the China market. Table tennis and badminton are traditional sports in the country, while snooker and tennis are growing a fan base because of the appearance of Chinese players.
However, experts said localization is much needed before a Western-originated mobile application hits a big success.
"Being localized is the most essential step this kind of mobile application should possess because Chinese users might not be interested in the same sort of software that Western people enjoy," said Sun Peilin, an analyst at Beijing-based research firm Analysys International.
He added that entertainment applications like PlayUp have suddenly cropped up in China over the past year due to the increasing number of smartphone users.