Alibaba’s desire to dominate e-commerce in South Asia has pushed the firm to lean on one of the region’s biggest obsessions: cricket.

Last week, Daraz, the online shopping app owned by Alibaba, hosted an in-app livestream of the 2022 Asia Cup cricket match between India and Pakistan — one of the fiercest sports rivalries — that garnered nearly 21 million total views.

“The match drew in 2.5 million simultaneous views to the Daraz app, something that we did not expect,” Muhammad Ammar Hassan, chief marketing officer at Daraz Pakistan, told me. “Cricket surprises us every time.”

Unlike streaming platforms such as Disney+ Hotstar or Netflix, Daraz’s aim with sports content isn’t building a video subscription business. The stream remains free for users, and acts as a funnel for customer acquisition. 

Muhammad Ammar Hassan, CMO, Daraz Pakistan

Since the start of the tournament on August 27, monthly active users on Daraz grew by 2 million, reaching a total of 12 million in Pakistan. But the ultimate success of the campaign will be determined by how many of these users Daraz is able to retain and monetize.

Daraz’s experiments with in-app livestreaming began with the ICC T20 World Cup in October 2021. The move was a roaring success: The app’s monthly users in Pakistan, languishing at 6 million in October, soared to 15 million in November. Just as the company anticipated, this figure dropped to 11 million once the tournament ended in 2021. Yet, the jump from 6 to 11 million was significant.

Most of the new users didn’t start shopping immediately, said Hassan, but a big chunk eventually converted during the popular Singles’ Day shopping event, Double 11. During the livestream, Daraz promotes shopping coupons and vouchers that nudge users to buy products. Hassan refused to share the exact user conversion rate, but said the hope is to convert at least 50% of users who tuned in for the matches, to shop on Daraz in the next year.

Since then, Daraz has acquired exclusive rights to stream Pakistan Super League (PSL) on its app for two years. Daraz is now also the official sponsor of the Bangladesh cricket team. The company, in August, acquired rights for the digital streaming of the most-watched sporting event in the world, the English Premier League, in Pakistan. “So rather than just a 14-day or a 20-day event like cricket, it is a whole season of viewing that will make the audience stick to the app,” Hassan said. 

Daraz is currently monetizing the livestream by allowing brands to advertise during matches. Yet, profitability is elusive: “For the Asia Cup 2022, we broke even, but we are not profitable [yet],” Hassan said.