When it comes to annual sporting occasions, the Super Bowl is just about as big as it gets.

This year’s matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers – won in overtime by the Chiefs – was watched by an average of 123.4 million people in the US alone, making it the most watched broadcast in the States since the 1969 Moon landing.

Tens of millions more watched in other countries around the world, with only the Champions League final attracting more eyeballs.

That figure dwarfs the 61,000 in the stadium – and Gareth Langley has his eye on both audiences.

Langley is the CEO of crowd gaming specialist Piing, a startup which featured on our recent GM 125 Rising Stars of Business list – compiled in conjunction with GM Business Growth Hub – as well as our MediaTech 50 ranking this year.

Stockport-based Piing is already working with some of the biggest names in sport, having engaged crowds around the world including Formula 1, EuroLeague basketball, the Women’s World Cup and Major League Baseball with its interactive games.

“Three or four years ago, the Super Bowl was a pipe dream,” he told me at the launch event for the 125 Rising Stars of Business list – where he spoke on a panel – last Friday. 

“We didn’t really believe it ourselves when we said it! But now we absolutely believe that this is what we’re going to do.

“We have many roads leading towards the NFL and Super Bowl: it’s just a matter of time – and hard work!”

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In early April, Piing announced that it had strengthened its foothold in the US with a season-long partnership with MLS soccer franchise Charlotte FC. Fans at the Bank of America Stadium in North Carolina are taking aim with the firm’s white-labelled Piing Pen-Kick game during half-time at home fixtures.

The Charlotte FC agreement, in association with Sports and Entertainment agency MKTG, Builds on Piing’s presence in the US, and follows successful mass gaming trials with the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

CharlotteFC Piing

Langley says the quality and quantity of inbound leads is growing month by month, which shows the team of just four that they are on the right track. However, rewinding to 2020, he explains how its planned launch at a high-profile Premier League match was left in tatters by COVID-19.

Initially planned as an exclusively in-person product, they were forced to embrace a hybrid – and ultimately more scalable – model.

“The game was cancelled on the Friday!” he recounts. “We got together while we were still able to and said ‘right, we believe that mass-participation is the future of fan engagement and brand activation – we’re going to build a brand new platform that allows us to build massively scaled products that go to 50,000-100,000 people at a time, where we can deploy as many instances as we like’. 

“Our first product was a mass participation game show which broke the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest online quiz. We’ve now broken that record twice! 

“It’s also engaged crowds everywhere from the F1 in Silverstone to Euroleague Basketball matches in Germany and Spain, and the O2 Blueroom at The O2 arena.”

Piing games can be played by anyone with a smartphone. Fans scan the QR code on the big screens inside the venue – or at home – to join the game without downloading an app.

All its games can be rebranded for clients, partners and sponsors, creating opportunities for data collection and stadium-sized fan engagement associated with their brand.

“Being ex-agency, we understand that there needs to be a customisation level in what we do,” he says.

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Langley admitted it had a challenge raising early stage investment.

“Back when we were starting and in the middle of lockdown, we were like: ‘We really need funding.’ We just kept on going, doing anything and everything we could to exist for longer. If you can live another day, another week, another month, you never know what sales are around the corner. 

“In hindsight, we weren’t ready for investment when we were looking for it. Now we are ready: we know who our customers are, we’re raising our profile and we’re getting a large number of inbound inquiries.”

He continues: “At the beginning, we thought all of our clients were going to be rights holders, in part because part of our inception story is from an opportunity working with a major Premier League club. 

“Everyone loved what we were doing, but they all wanted someone else to pay for it. So we had to flip that business around quite quickly and worked out who it was that we needed to be talking to. 

“Whilst we still do a lot of work with clubs, teams and federations, most of our clients are either the sponsors and partners of a team or tournament, or the agencies that work for them.”

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As a small team, Piing currently has a number of bottlenecks. It aims to solve those bottlenecks to accelerate growth and sales.

“Ultimately our goal is to be synonymous for mass participation in sports and live events. We currently have three core products that can all be reskinned for our clients – but the wider goal is to have a wider suite of games engines,” says Langley.

“Our game show platform is one of our most versatile products as it can engage crowds inside the stadium, fans at home around the world, and fans around the globe vs fans inside the stadium. So if you’re a Premier League club, an NBA or NFL team, you will have international fans who will never get the chance to visit their team’s stadium or arena, but via Piing you can take part in an activation that is happening in your stadium, on the other side of the planet, right now. 

“This is magical for fans, and an amazing commercial opportunity for international sponsors and partners.

“Look at the Indian Premier League: you get 200m people streaming matches now. 1% conversion of that is two million people!”

On the startup’s inclusion on the GM 125 Rising Stars of Business list, he says: “A list is only as good as the people who are on it – so what is wonderful is to see that whole breadth and range of companies on there from The Hut Group and Matillion to startups that are doing fantastic things. 

“It’s amazing to be featured among such great company.”

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