Yahoo Sports’ Kavan Sabnani on Building Fantasy for All
From the moment you meet him, it's obvious Kavan Sabnani is a sports superfan. The Senior Product Manager at Yahoo Sports is on the ball with everything in that arena, from the playoff subplots to the cultural buzz across the media. We've been playing his exciting new game, Yahoo Fantasy Slate, and reached out to hear directly from the mind behind it.
Yahoo Fantasy Slate—tell me about it.
It's a new game within the Yahoo Sports app that allows you to vote and compete on a collection of prop bets (these are speculations on a wide range of topics, from the color of Gatorade dumped on the coach to a particular player's performance). The goal is to make accurate picks on all the different questions, and you play against the public. If you are at the top of the leaderboard, then you'll split the prize money with whoever else wins.
There's also original video content from a new series called Props with comedians Andrew Santino and Sarah Tiana that lives inside and outside the game. We plug in the debates from that show with the associated questions. An example of one was whether or not Matthew McConaughey would be shown on TV at the USC/Texas game. In the video, they debated it, and in the game, you saw the question and the two hosts' perspectives.
How did you come up with the idea?
It all started with this insight that fantasy sports are hard. It's a pretty steep barrier to entry, especially for a casual fan. When I set out to build this, my principal mission was to make it easy to enjoy gamified sports and culture.
In typical fantasy sports, you're gamifying the watching experience in a way that you can share with your friends and get some bragging rights if you do well. People like to predict what's going to happen and confirm if they were right or wrong. We wanted to capture that here.
Last week's bets were quite fun and creative. How do you develop them?
We think about what the top storylines are this week in the wider world of sports, from gameplay to Matthew McConaughey sightings, and pick what we feel are the top 10. From there, we consider what the conversation will be like among fans with their friends, and then we gamify it.
A recent storyline was quarterback Carson Wentz's return to the Eagles from injury. Previously, a big part of his game was his athleticism. We thought fans were going to be wondering, "Is he going to change his playing style?" So for the prop bet, we came up with rushing yards as the measurable part. We asked, "Who's going to have more rushing yards in the Eagles/Colts game, Andrew Luck or Carson Wentz?"
How did you take it from just an idea to a public product?
Yahoo Fantasy Slate has a great origin story. I had the idea around December of last year, then one of my teammates asked me, "Why don't you send out a Google Form with some props to the team as a simple experiment for this weekend's games?" I created one in January and sent it to my team, which is around ten people, and all of them participated. They were very excited to see their records advance and were closely watching the competition. The next week, I sent it to a larger group and saw a similar level of engagement.
People wanted to know exactly where they stood, which picks were correct, etc., so I made all the information public. I formatted it nicely and updated it as events unfolded. During the Super Bowl, I did the same thing on a larger scale across the broader Yahoo Sports team (spanning seven or eight departments). People were going nuts about the predictions during the game.
After that, it gained steam. I explained the concept and the early success to leaders on the editorial, engineering, and design teams. We created a very lightweight version of the product and it sold itself from there.
How can we get started?
Download the Yahoo Sports app, and in the bottom bar there's a new button labeled "Play." Tap there and you're able to enter the experience.
We run one main contest per week that opens every Wednesday at noon that spans the following weekend's most compelling sporting events, and a second contest around more clustered events like NFL Sunday games. Right now, it's US only and you have to be 18 or over to win.