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A Sporting Revolution in India – Tracking the Growth of Fantasy Sports

Fantasy sports drive deep digital sports engagement. Cricket, with leagues like IPL, is already a rage in India. With the advent of fantasy sports, non-cricket sports will now get the opportunity to grow in popularity and drive engagement for their teams. Among all the emerging sports, kabaddi has gained significant traction over the past couple of years. As these sports associate with fantasy league platforms, it will not only attract large sponsors but also assist in creating deep engagement with the audience. Kabaddi grew manifold in 2016 with two editions of the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) and the men’s World Cup. The league’s viewership has grown by 51% in the last four seasons, and the game can now boast of a dedicated audience. The opening day of season 5 of the tournament registered a cumulative reach of over 50 million, registering a jump of over 59% compared to the inaugural day of season 4 of the tournament.

As fan behaviour and trends evolve, fantasy sports have grown manifold, giving fans added reasons to find compelling team engagement across sports. Fantasy sports are popular online games played by enthusiasts in football, hockey, cricket, kabaddi, basketball, and many other team sports. It offers enthusiasts an opportunity to experience ownership of their own virtual teams, by selecting real athletes from major tournaments and competing with other virtual team owners (participants) online. In this mobile and web-based games, the gamers assemble a virtual team of athletes based on the real-life athletes’ current performances, analyses and statistical data. Each virtual team owner is awarded points, based on the selected athletes’ real-time performance during a live match. At the end of a tournament, the points are tabulated on a leaderboard and the virtual team owners with the most number of points are declared winners, based on their virtual team’s ranking, and are eligible to win a wide array of gifts or cash prizes. A user should be above 18 years of age to be eligible to play. With age just being a number, fun silvers above the age of 55 years can also explore fantasy sports and stay true to their passion for sports.

Fantasy sports originated in the United States, where it was introduced post World War II. Fantasy golf was the first variant to be introduced in the 1950s. Fantasy football and baseball appeared around the 1960s, but it was not until the 1980s that the game became more commercial and gained recognition and traction. Currently every major league and international league has its own fantasy sport across the Americas and Europe, with some of the biggest names in the sporting industry such as the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, English Premier League (EPL – English Major Football league), La Liga (Spanish Major Football league), Series A (Italian Major Football League), Bundesliga (German Major Football League), NBA, NHL, NFL, Pro GPA, Tour De France, Formula 1 and GP Pro. In the US and Canada alone, it was estimated to be worth more than $7 billion a year in 2017. The fantasy sports industry’s size in terms of revenue is $7.22 billion.

Fantasy sports has become one of the most sought after activities for sports lovers in India. This rising sector in technology is emerging as the next wave in the Indian sporting evolution. And a large part of the interest can be attributed to the rise of league-based sports and of course, the growth of online viewership combined with increased smartphone penetration. While cricket dominates the sports market in India, the country is poised to embrace and engage with other sports a lot more. Following in the footsteps of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), several sports federations and private organisations have contributed to the development of league-based tournaments, capitalising on the IPL model. During 2013-15, eight major league-based sports tournaments were launched; these include Indian Super League (ISL), Pro Kabaddi League (PKL), Premier Badminton League (PBL), Hockey India League (HIL) and International Tennis Premier League (ITPL).

The current size of the Indian fantasy sports market is growing in double digits, helped by increasing Internet usage and aspirations. The number of Internet users in India is expected to cross 500 million in 2018, with as many as 400 million users accessing the internet through their mobile phones. A recent report by AC Neilson, as commissioned by the Indian Federation of Sports Gaming (IFSG) across 12 cities in India (scoring big with sports gaming), showcases the transformation of a passive sports viewer to an active fan. India currently has more than 20 million fantasy sports users across 60 platforms and is expected to grow to 100 million users by 2020. The report highlights that 89 percent of users play fantasy sports at least once a month. The industry has seen an increase of 200 percent from 2017. The number of Indian fantasy sports users saw a ten-fold jump in 2 years, thereby proving to be a growth success. While US and Canada are at 59 million users, India has grown leaps and bounds from 2 million users in 2016 to 20 million in 2018. India has already crossed UK’s registered EPL fantasy sports’ subscriber base in number. The industry in India initially faced a storm, questioning its legality and controversies, but now the industry has stabilised and is shaping positively, with well thought out guidelines and regulations. According to AC Neilson, 2 out of 3 cricket fans in India are aware of fantasy sports. In addition, North India has 69 percent users, followed by the West with 67 percent, the East with 66 percent and then the South with 64 percent. Further, 93 percent of users prefer mobile devices to access fantasy sports. It has also been noted that fantasy sports is witnessing a growing number in female participation with as many as 40% female users in the ICC World Cup.

As the industry grows, with technologically-superior platforms that promise seamless experiences, users are poised to benefit with such competitive advantages. Further, users now have the opportunity to be a part of a multitude of sports on a single platform, with cash prizes for the winners. Hence the industry will witness an accelerated growth, thereby marking India’s superiority with its sports evolution. The power combination of online and offline sports, with the backing of skill and judgement, makes fantasy sports the game changer for the sports industry. With such remarkable growth, the fantasy sports industry is slated to become a billion dollar industry in the next 5 years.


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Printable version | May 26, 2020 5:22:20 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/brandhub/a-sporting-revolution-in-india-tracking-the-growth-of-fantasy-sports/article24026469.ece

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