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Over the last few decades, the Indian sports sector has gone through a massive transition by evolving from predominantly cricket to becoming a multi-sport nation. Several sports such as Football, Badminton, Kabaddi, Basketball are changing the Indian sports industry’s face and have gained tremendous interest among the masses.

Moreover, the availability of media and coverage of several national and international tournaments over digital platforms has also increased because of the massive demand and curiosity among different sportspeople. Fans are now even more enthusiastic about getting involved with their favorite sports (1).

Apart from these, let’s not forget about the ever-changing nature of sports consumerism, which is impacted by the emergence of esports, fantasy sports, and virtual reality technology.

India has a significant and long history considering its contribution to the sports’ global landscape. The Indian government has also made several initiatives to increase niche sports within the country, such as the Indian Premier League, Cricket, Hockey India League, Pro Kabaddi League, and the Indian Super League, Football.

It has ultimately created opportunities for businesses to realize their profit in the sports industry. It is now the time for individuals to seek out opportunities in the sports industry actively. Moreover, it would also ensure that our nation’s sporting space contributes significantly and enhances the global sports landscape (2).

Sports Viewership

The sports viewership on tv has gained the most in the past four years with about 90% of growth compared to other genres, according to the BARC, Broadcast Audience Research Council India (3) in its 2019 yearly report. It is mostly dominated by cricketing events like IPL and the world cup.

According to the 2019 report, the International Cricket Council’s cricket world cup match between India and Pakistan was the most-watched game between 2016 to 2019, amassing more than 29 billion viewing minutes. It was one of the five events in 2019 that had hoarded maximum eyes on tv screens.

The report stated that cricket has its top position within sports, with live cricket clocking 58% of viewing minutes of sports broadcast. Beyond cricket, the most-watched sports on the tv screens are wrestling, kabaddi, and Football. Together, they corner 85% of viewing minutes.

The report also shed light that more than 70% of rural India watches the Kabaddi tournament, and at least 52% of urban India gets entertainment via wrestling matches. Similarly, Football gets more than half of its viewership from Assam, Kerala, Sikkim, and West Bengal.

The Indian Premier League, India’s biggest domestic cricketing event, has only got more prominent in 2019 since its commencement in 2008.

The report reads that in 2019, 424 million viewers, which is more than 51% of the total tv viewing population, watched live IPL matches. It also added that an additional 9% audience watched the tournament in restaurants, pubs, and other OOH locations.

The marquee event in 2019, the ICC cricket world cup, had also pulled more than 509 million viewers at home and out-of-home as ten nations battled for supremacy. At least 2 million advertising seconds featuring 192 brands played out during the tournament’s broadcast.

Notably, the sports event was only viewed the most until India was in the tournament. As soon as India was out of the race in the semi-finals, there was a drastic drop in the viewership.

Even though there has been a growth in the viewership over the past four years, the sports genre is last in rank with a mere 1% total advertising volume. Genres like GEC, news, and movies continue to account for more than three-fourth of total ad volumes, stated the report (4).

Similarly, ESP Properties, GroupM India’s entertainment and sports division, stated in its report that the overall sports sponsorship industry grew by 17% to 9,000 crore INR and, for the first time, the on-ground sports sponsorship increased by 25% to 2,000 crore INR (5).

KPMG and FIFS Report

KPMG, in collaboration with the FIFS, Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports, presented a study on the business of fantasy sports. It offers key insights into India’s fantasy sports space, its economic impact, and the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on Indian OFS, Online Fantasy Sports, and the way forward for the industry (6).

The report highlights that the Indian OFS industry has come a long way from its initial stage in 2016. There were less than ten operators in the fantasy sports platform in 2016, and by the end of 2019, there are more than 140 operators.

Read Also: The Boom of Online Fantasy Sports in India

Moreover, sports fans have a high degree of adoption, with the user base growing to 90 million in 2019 from 2 million in 2016. The growth in digital infrastructure with high penetration of internet and smartphone, increase in digital transactions with UPI and payment wallets, the surging popularity of sports leagues, operator investment in technology, focus on gameplay, and reaffirmation of the legality of the fantasy sports format in the country are some of the growth drivers for the industry.

Notably, the OFS market pocketed more than 6,000 crores INR CEA, Contest Entry Amount in the fiscal year 2019, and over doubled to 16,500 crore INR in the financial year 2020. It noted the growth rate of 167% between the FY19-20.

Revenue growth

KPMG surveyed 763 respondents in 10 cities across India. Of these, 253 were OFS users, those who have played OFS in the past year, and the rest were non-OFS users.

  • Overall, 65% of the respondents indicated that sports were among the top three genres they watch on OTT platforms and tv
  • About 90% of OFS users showed that Sports was among the top three genres they watch on OTT platforms and tv, 49% for non-OFS users.
  • The 32% of total respondents showed that they engage with more than one sport on the OFS platforms, incentivizing operators to expand their offerings.
  • More than 65% of these respondents showed a direct surge in the time they spent watching, reading, and analyzing sports once they started playing fantasy sports online.

The increased popularity and growth of the OFS platforms is likely to convert the overall growth of the OFS ecosystem, including analytics, content, and digital transaction (7).

The Rising Demand For Live Sports Streaming to Expand Content Offering

There are several reports suggestings that Indians fans are willing to pay more for streaming live sports. However, they want these services to offer better access to sports teams and leagues they are interested in.

It makes a huge opportunity for content providers to stream live sports as long as they offer more personalization, enhanced viewing options, and a different advertising experience more suited to a streaming environment.

Fans are also willing to pay more to streaming services if they offer coverage of sports league and team that interests them. Since fans feel that having a premium subscription would give them access to all teams they want to watch, it indicates a market with plenty of growth opportunities.

sports preference
“There is a massive opportunity for content providers to reshape the entire landscape of live sports by providing more choice and deeper coverage of specific teams. There is the potential to build global audiences around niche sports and leagues that don’t presently get enough airtime. Still, to do so, they must employ the latest and most flexible technology resources.”

– Ariff Sidi, General Manager, Verizon Media (8).

At the same time, it is worth highlighting that fans would also cancel their subscriptions if they don’t see value in the offerings. However, if one can get the content right, fans are willing to pay more and see it as an option available for them that gives the most monetary value.

There are also reports suggesting that fans are also seeking more control over their live sports streaming experience. It includes replay controls such as slow-motion, the ability to switch between camera angles, time-shifting, and the ability to skip advertisements.

Even though the industry is talking a lot about streaming services giving the tv-like experience, sports fans look for a different experience that could give them total control.

It is also worth highlighting that streaming services are more capable of innovating since they have the luxury of using advanced technology that can cater to every user’s needs from day one. Live sports streaming services can also emulate the best aspects of conventional television while bringing immersive and unique experiences to fans.

There is also the need to tailor content and business models to suit individual viewers. It is the right time for service providers to fully utilize their online streaming flexibility to personalize every aspect of the experience, from the content to the monetizing methods (9).

Esports is Breaking the Niche Barrier

Even though esports is still nascent in India, it is booming. The graphics, technology, and the number of players and genres have witnessed tremendous growth in the past few years. Previously, games were restricted to PCs. Today, serious gaming can happen not only on consoles but also on mobile phones.

Games such as PUBG and Call of Duty have taken the market worldwide by storm, and India has played a key part in the growth. Currently, Indian gamers are renowned and have won several esports competitions across the globe. Many studios are also looking at the Indian market more seriously with investments and more.

Games such as FIFA, Dota, COD, and PUBG have allowed numerous Indian players to make a name for themselves worldwide, and the country is no longer lagging behind the rest.

India has turned into an extremely important market for gamers and gaming studios. Before the ban, PUBG Mobile had explosive growth in the country, and the awareness among individuals has gone up significantly already.

Esports have already broken the niche barrier to mass with more than 350% watch-time on OTT platforms such as Hotstar and tv channels like MTV airing 4 hours of esports content every week. There have also been surges in participation numbers in the past several months, surpassing all year expectations (10).

The Next Big Thing

Before the pandemic, fantasy sports were dominating the Indian mobile gaming platform. However, as the coronavirus hit the surface and started spreading, all sporting events were either canceled and postponed.

It had led fantasy sports to face a diminishing curve. The period also forced many fantasy sports platforms to start introducing new strategies to retain their existing audience on the platform. Simultaneously, some became active on the community tab; others expanded new skill games on the platform. Several market players also introduced webinars with some of the most fan-favorite sporting stars (11).

It gave a decent ride to the gaming and esports industry, including fantasy esports. While fantasy esports may sound new to many in the country, the market has existed globally for quite some time and is among the crucial parts of the esports market.

Like fantasy sports, fantasy esports is also considered as a game of skill and not gambling since users create their fantasy teams and enter with cash in one of their several contests.

Esports and other interactive skill gaming have hit the mainstream of Indian entertainment and has now aligned with the traditional sports concept (12).

India – A Global Hotspot for Esports

According to a Google-KPMG report (13), India’s online gaming industry is expected to grow to 1 billion USD by 2021, pocketing a 20% growth rate with the online gamers community reaching 310 million.

Several factors are contributing to the impressive growth. These include the rise of the Indian game developer ecosystem, the emergence of new technologies such as AI, computer vision, and digital payments, to name a few.

The report also added that an average Indian online gamer engages with gaming for social interaction and stress relief and prefers action, puzzle, and adventure games.

Several entrepreneurs are now making the best of the opportunities by entering into the robust and fast-growing esports space and have sculpted nice expertise and experiences for their enthusiastic and energetic users (14).

India’s gaming market has also invited and attracted sizable foreign investments and fostered multiple homegrown initiatives recently.

The country is offering a favorable ecosystem with conducive macro-economic conditions and other factors for the growth of esports at large. With a recognized talent base of more than 250 Indian game development organizations that projects meeting the growing demand for game and game development via a host of subsidies and incentives, India has turned into an ideal destination for gaming entities and has attracted foreign funds (15).

It is heartening to witness how the esports ecosystem is developing and taking shape in India via infrastructural, strategic planning, and regulatory development.

The interactive esports ecosystem of dedicated customers, innovators, and enthusiastic developers working together has the potential to make India a global hub for esports.

Such a surge would generate numerous monetization opportunities as the demand for innovative games, content creators, and associated sports services like marketing and technological support would increase.

There are expectations that the esports ecosystem and related industries like game publishers, streaming platforms, graphic card producers, chipmakers, and others would witness tremendous growth (16).

We are also expecting an increase in collaborations between the esports and entertainment industry as media companies would also look to capitalize on the increasing viewership in esports.

The current COVID-19 pandemic may even lead to a more permanent role for esports in several individuals’ lives as it continues to build more structure and incentives for participation. Brands and media firms have noticed this highly engaged consumer and audience.

Esports looks like an exciting industry across India and the globe. More capital is invested, and youth from India, Japan, the US, and other countries continue to support and embrace it.

Take Away: Business Opportunities

With the sharp rise of esports and niche sports, the Indian sports industry’s opportunities are no longer limited to selling equipment, training, and merch for emerging sports. The more interesting fact is that these sports represent a shift in viewership preferences.

Fans are looking for improved ways to interact with their favorite leagues and teams. Independent producers can monetize on media companies’ requirements from original content that is not tied to pro leagues’ huge rights deals.

The future of sports programming, especially for niche sports that can offer their content in new ways, is ripe with opportunities.

Even though the surging success of streaming has been old news, sports viewership had been slow to move from the cable.

According to a 2020 study (17), 56% of fans who stream sports would pay more for online streaming than traditional TV. It jumps to 70% to 78% for those known as ‘intense’ sports fans in households with children.

streaming generation

There is also a rising interest in online post-production sports content. In 20218, YouTube searches for sports highlight video climbed 90% year-on-year (18). Total time spent watching YouTube sports interviews has also surged by 60%, and watching time for ‘funny’ sports videos rose by 50% during the same period.

Niche sporting bodies have recently started to emerge on the bandwagon by exclusively live-streaming their leagues. Other niche sports would also quickly follow suit. As viewership grows, companies will offer fans more options, such as tiered subscription services with different levels of access and mobile-centric streaming apps.

There are also opportunities for tech and media companies to assist everyone from platform development to filming logistics.

As new sports enter the space, the number of events and entire genres left from media coverage would also grow.

It extends streaming platforms an opportunity to offer fans one-stop access to a wide range of sports. Presently, the focus is on fans who want coverage of both local teams playing established sports and events from niche sports, a highly underserved market in sports coverage.

Entrepreneurs can enter the emerging area as the demand continues to rise and even specialize in it, incorporating improved viewer interaction and offering coverage in overlooked areas.

Since sports and streaming can also be considered social activities, entrepreneurs who leverage sports streaming’s social side would win big. Platforms could include live community chats and even exclusive online access to stars.

As technology would allow networks to augment the viewer experience, better ways to monetize would also be on the radar. It can include personalized on-screen banners and even holograms.

There are also numerous opportunities for niche sporting bodies to develop their curated content portals, such as the NFL Game Pass (19).

The International Table Tennis Federation has already taken the idea. It worked with media companies to launch itTV (20) after over half a billion viewers watched table tennis at the 2016 Olympics.

Content diversification such as branching out into short-term video would also be key for niche sport to gain media traction. It is the right time for tech and media firms to specialize in diverse content production to target sporting bodies and teams.