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Sports economy in India is looking beyond cricket

Updated: Jul 26, 2020

The Indian sports sector is on an upward trajectory breaking new records year-on-year. Cricket, of course, remains the leading sport in a country of around 1.3 billion population. But, interest in other sports is thankfully growing too and will get a further stimulus as the athletes representing India make an impact on the global stage. The foremost criterion for a sport to become commercially viable and successful is that it should have a large fan base, which depends on the degree to which the sport inspires, can ignite the passion and glory associated with it. Especially, in the context of India’s competitiveness, performance and success in the sport compared to other nations. For a sport that meets the criteria of a large fan base and reaches a wider audience, corporate support and sponsorship will flow because they would like to cash in on the followers of the sport to build their brand value and also to make the sport itself more commercial.

Photo by Vishal Bhatnagar/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Over the years, the success and popularity of the Indian Premier League (IPL) success have not only enriched the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), but also created lucrative career opportunities for professional cricketers at all levels of the game including outside of the IPL format. Corporates have found the medium of IPL and other formats of Indian Cricket as a viable platform for building their brand values. Both individual corporate firms and celebrities have become IPL’s “partner franchises” with the BCCI in order to profit from the game. The so-called “IPL-model” was further replicated to other sports and the years 2013 and 2014 saw the emergence of potentially successful leagues, including Premier Badminton League (PBL) in Badminton, Indian Super League (ISL) in Football, Hockey India League (HIL) for Hockey, Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) in Kabaddi, Champion Tennis League (CTL) and International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) in Tennis. All these leagues are generally owned by respective national level federations (bodies) and are promoted by sponsors and franchise partners from around the corporate world and well‐known celebrities.

Television broadcasting companies sensed that the competition to attract viewers may be very difficult, but the one thing that unites the country, no matter which ethnic group they belong to or which dialect they speak, is sports. Television networks have not only boosted viewership by broadcasting league matches, but also have increased the air time of each sporting event. Rising viewership directly affects many markets, including sports advertising, sponsorship, and CSR, spend amongst others. The two leading broadcasters, Star India and Sony Pictures Networks India (SPN), contributed immensely to the growth of the leagues. Both broadcasters televise particular sporting events numerous times, on multiple channels and in multiple language feeds. With the support of strong dedicated networks, the business of professional sports leagues has expanded, and heroes have “risen” from amongst the players.

“The Star Sports Network is a home to a number of leading domestic and International sports with seventeen channels broadcasting premier sporting events.”

The rise of multiple leagues created a competition among the broadcasters who are trying to diversify and expand their portfolio by adding new TV channels as well as exploring opportunities on the digital platform. According to a report, the overall growth of sports sponsorship in India jumped 17% in 2019, taking the value of the market past the Rs 9,000 crore mark for the first time. The increasing viewership base across different regions of the country, spanning all age groups in equal measure, has attracted large corporate firms to increase their spending on advertising and sponsorship to build their brands. Overall, the kitty of sports monetization has been rising significantly in recent years. Corporates have realized that their relationship with sports must be serious and business like.

“According to a BARC’s report, Pro Kabaddi League raked in a record 1.2 billion impressions, Premier Badminton League (PBL) also reached 200 million TV units in its 2018-19 season, while the 2019-20 season of the Indian Super League also got off to an impressive start with a record 34 million viewers tuning in to the opening match between ATK and Kerala.”

“Lakshmi Mittal the steel baron and the fifth richest man in the world, put aside $10m of his personal wealth in 2005 to set up Mittal Champions Trust (MCT), an organization to promote sporting talent and encourage potential Olympians after he was disappointed by India's lone medal at the Athens Olympic Games. Three years later, Abhinav Bindra , the shooter, won India's first individual gold in Beijing.

The growth of sports industry in India has been supported by numerous key factors such as the deep penetration of cheap internet facilities further resulting in a surge of digital engagement, the emergence of fantasy sports apart from the introduction of newer leagues. All of these factors and many more ensure that sports in India have a bright future.

Our country is yet a long way off from being a ‘sporting nation.’ From a socio-political point of view, it is no less significant for excellence in sport boosts the pride of a nation, not just of winning athletes or teams, but the entire citizenry. This is the transition that we are seeing in India today. The sector has hardly been seen as a priority for decades since Independence, and this has been reflected in the ways the Indian athletes performed at the international level. It was not just about apprehension at the government’s part alone that made India poor at sport. At the societal level too, we were unprepared to learn, unwilling to accept the struggle that lead to excellence. The mindset is now happily changing. And while the government has taken steps to promote a more aggressive policy for sport, it is ultimately we, the citizens of India, will decide whether India will become a sporting nation or not.


About the Author

The post is written by MVL Sravan Kumar. Sravan is a graduate from IIM Visakhapatnam and a big fan of M S Dhoni. Loves to watch and play cricket. Keeps a tab on Indian Politics.

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