Is India a good playground for sports entrepreneurs?

In the summer of 2008, Indian cricket’s dreamchild, IPL took to the stadiums. In 2019, it figured in the list of top 20 sporting leagues in the world based on brand value. The media rights value of the league jumped from Rs.236 crore in 2008 to Rs.4087 crore in 2019.

IPL was truly the beginning of an era for the sports industry in India. A decade later, there are 10-15 professional sports leagues in India, ranging from kabaddi to even volleyball. The difference isn’t just visible in terms of leagues. The overall Indian sports industry grew at a massive rate of 15% last year.

Sports is probably going to be one of the last industries to get back on its feet in the current lockdown. However, the Indian sports industry in particular could continue to grow even further when that happens.

Pre- game analysis

It has often been said that the Indian sports industry has potential to become a $10 billion industry in the next 5 to 7 years. The reasons are many.

Dream11, a fantasy sports platform, has already made it to the unicorn club. SportsTech is getting bigger and bigger. Giants like HCL and Infosys have already worked with big-ticket international clients like Manchester United, French Open, and Australian Open for various projects like website development and real-time performance insights. There are 360 operational SportsTech startups in India, and some of them are going all the way with Artificial Intelligence-powered game analysis. Viewers have shifted from demanding just pre and post match discussions to high-quality in-game analysis, broadcasters want AI to study fan behaviour, and players need tech to analyse their strategies. Opportunities for our sports techies are endless.

In 2018, eSports were introduced as an exhibition sport in the Asian Games, and Indian Tirth Mehta grabbed the bronze medal. India’s eSports industry is ranked 17th in the world. The Jio-internet age in India has only given more of a push to online gaming. eSports are set to become bigger than ever.

In 2016, sports infrastructure was awarded ‘industry status’ by the government. Industry status translates to more investment, subsidies, and innovation. In the same year, the government launched the ambitious Khelo India plan with an outlay of Rs.1756 for three years, out of which infrastructure was given Rs.435 crore. Khelo India is a much-needed grassroots strengthening program which has initiated top-class school games, university games, and youth games competitions in the past two years.

There has been a clear growth of interest in other sports. In 2018, the Pro Kabaddi League was watched by more Indians than the FIFA World Cup was. Even the inaugural Pro Volleyball League last year had a viewership of 21 million. More leagues means more collateral avenues for adding to the GDP. Industries like hospitality, tourism, merchandise also profit from them.

The Indian sports and fitness goods market reached a value of US$ 3,621 million in 2017. It is expected to reach US$ 6,054 million by 2024. More than 50% of the sports equipment produced in India is exported to brands like Wilson and Lotto. The Make In India campaign has also provided tax and location-based incentives to this industry.

Playing Post- Lockdown

Sports as we know might undergo major changes after this year. There are serious talks about continuing games without audiences and strict social distancing + testing protocols for players. The PGA Tour has already announced closed tournaments in June. Until a few weeks ago, Germany was considering restarting football league matches with empty stadiums.

Coupled with the rise of viewership on OTT platforms and the continuous evolution of SportsTech, this is bound to redefine the way we watch sports. We are talking a shift from buying stadium tickets and praying for a good view to streaming with exclusive stats, analysis, and interviews becoming the norm. Even before actual games begin, viewership of reruns is steadily increasing, which is also an opportunity to innovate more with analytical content.

Another huge effect of the post lockdown period is going to be grassroots development. With cross-border travel not possible anytime soon, sports federations are already eyeing a boost to national, state, and district-level tournaments. Local events will not just keep our top-level international players going, but also change the face of local events with their presence. This spells more opportunities for investment in infrastructure, and the path towards industry status for the sports sector getting shorter.

What lies ahead

Once sports is accorded ‘industry status’, borrowing from banks and NDFCs will become much cheaper, professionalism will come into place, foreign investment will be fostered, and tax concessions will give a further boost.

As Abhinav Bindra had pointed out, a change in the mindset towards health could provide a huge boost to sports and fitness. This, along with increased attention to home events, can inspire much-needed upgrades in infrastructure.

With the rise of online gaming platforms, here lies a promising opportunity to invest in eSports. You don’t require on-ground infrastructure or to depend much on the government. It is also a good time to invest in sports analysis and feed the content demand on OTT platforms. If SportsTech companies are incentivised to turn homewards and help domestic leagues with management, analysis, and fan engagement, they can revolutionize coaching, competition, and viewing experiences et all.

With the two major driving forces of technology and grassroots development, interesting times lie ahead for the business of sports in India.


Snehal is Columnist at GGI.

She is a writer, poet, music aficionado, Oxford comma proponent, and a lot of other things. She also writes on personal finance for 'Qrius Creative Labs'. She has worked as a copywriter, content writer, scriptwriter, creative strategist, and direction assistant at multiple organisations in the past. 

Snehal is a graduate from the  Bachelor in Mass Media, Advertising from St.Xavier's College, Bombay.

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