Sports is a leveller. It changes fates and it chooses winners. It rewards hard work and chance alike. It creates role models and reflects a microcosm of society. Over the past few years, the face of sports in India has been evolving across the ecosystem. A number of different sports are now being played in the league format - including Wrestling, Kabaddi, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), Badminton, Tennis, Hockey and Football - and it has changed the way we as a nation consume sports.

Success is where preparation and opportunity meet

- Bobby Unser

In 2014, sports accounted for approximately 1% of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 2016, the government accorded ‘industry’ status to sports infrastructure, which opened up a support system for private investment, as well as better access to aid for sports stadia and training/research in the field of sport. Thus, many believe that the league format is an Indian sports industry game changer for a country in the midst of an economic revamp and there are many factors which have contributed to this success. “The franchise-based league model is one that is working in India and has helped bring about the perfect matrix of sports and entertainment. Brands are able to capitalise on these properties through various associations of sponsorship, endorsement, on-ground activation and branding; which today has been able to deliver a higher ROI compared to traditional mediums of advertising,” explains Supratik Sen, CEO, Unilazer Sports. In a country with a large population base there is room to have at least four to five evolved sports alongside cricket and a few million viewership base. This is scalable and it's also an employment opportunity with a huge ancillary sports industry that can be worth more as the nation moves along.

We have always been a country which lives and breathes cricket and the introduction of the ICL, which was further adapted by IPL, gave a new dimension to the shorter, exciting, star-struck league-based format. “In the long run, sports leagues will offer masses an alternative form of engagement and entertainment; making way for a healthier mass,” points out Supratik. It is great for the overall broad base of the economic last mile and it contributes greatly in skill development and job creation. As a nation, most will feel that this is a great way to integrate and mobilise a country. What's really needed is a sport not being chosen just based on valuation and vanity.

TV Time
Television is making sports universal

- George Vecsey

For decades, India has been a one-sport nation. Before 1983, it was hockey that had captured our imagination. But when Kapil Dev lifted the trophy at the 1983 Cricket World Cup, we fell in love with the sport. While test matches and ODIs enjoyed great popularity, cricket entered a whole new ball game with IPL, believes Rajesh Kaul, President, Distribution and Sports Business, Sony Pictures Networks India. “The concept of having a franchise-based tournament, played between teams hailing from different Indian cities, received tremendous response. The game gets prime-time slots therefore garnering maximum viewership. And, it was with IPL that cricket fans first got to see Bollywood celebrities, Industrialists, and Business tycoons coming together to make teams. In many ways, IPL has opened the gates for franchise-based home-grown leagues in other sports and thus more Indian sports are becoming part of prime-time television.”

IPL has been successful in making cricket a family affair. It has also led to an increase in female viewership, recounts Rajesh. “This change, coupled with the rise of female sports personalities such as Sania Mirza, Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu, has led to new viewership patterns. Their wins at international sporting events have made them household names. Today, Indian sports fans are continuously on the lookout for fresher avenues to stay updated with global sporting events and personalities. To address this growing demand, broadcasters are bringing in newer categories of content to build a multi-sports viewing culture in the country.”

In the organization of any major sporting event, long-term thinking is key

- Richard Attias

The FICCI-KPMG Indian Media & Entertainment Industry Report 2017 shows that the Live Events (LE) industry experienced a healthy growth of 20–25% in 2016. With the advent of sports leagues, sports tournaments’ contribution to the live event industry revenue is estimated at 11–13%. “The events and experiential industry has thus seen a positive impact with the introduction of league formats,” deems Daryl Sheldon, Director, Seventy Seven Entertainment Pvt. Ltd. “Event companies have been engaged in planning and executing various events associated with these formats like player auction events, opening and closing ceremonies, on ground management, celebrity engagement, brand experiences both in a stadium and outdoor, success parties, and a lot more.” A plethora of event agencies is creating specialised sporting verticals owing to the volume of business leagues have to offer. The near future foretells upcoming leagues, which will be curated or co-owned by event agencies as their own Intellectual Property (IP)!

Statistics have proven that league formats will work. Innovation and continuous engagement of the consumer are must for longevity of any of these IP’s. A couple of big factors contribute to a league event’s success, believes Daryl. “Firstly, the shorter duration of games is the key and makes it far more fun and entertaining to watch. Secondly, it has the glam quotient; it’s not just the sport, but the celebrities, the entertainment, the hype, and controversies that make it more engaging. Thirdly, the monetary angle is one of the biggest pull factors; players have never seen so much money in the regular format of the actual sport. Fourthly, these formats will have to keep reinventing themselves in order to sustain the consumer as well as the sponsors.” There are in fact quite a few new leagues in the pipeline with practically every sport trying the format and some trying and exciting times ahead.

Sports needs to be experienced live

- Anonymous

League games are fast paced, high on energy, and an experience in itself. They have changed the LIVE experience of sports and its physical consumption in a stadium. Fans throng stadia to watch league matches and their in-stadium experience is a crucial reason for any repeat visit. It plays a very important part at any sport event the world over and it is no different in India, states Craig Afonso, In-Stadia Experience Consultant. “Right from opening ceremonies that are filled with glitz and glamour to disc jockeys that belt out contemporary hits that enhance the game experience, to big screen interactions, dance cams, quizzes, trivia, to cool merchandise giveaways, free Wi-Fi, and more, we leverage the little and big things to engage fans and make the experience quite amazing for a spectator. It is all the more noteworthy now, as India is shifting from a single-sport nation to a multi-sport one.” Watching a league match at a stadium gives an audience pure entertainment with exciting nail-biting finishes and the opportunity to watch your favourite players from various sports, not just from India but from across the globe. The experience is electrifying, as leagues have created a buzz that is unbelievable.  

Every significant event that takes place in our lives is set to some kind of music

- Peabo Bryson

One of the most important factors in the whole league format is its far-flung reach in the inclusion of newer talent and an ever-increasing job pool. While a bunch of new sports persons have emerged and are frequently talked about, along with the popularity of the sports which were not that mainstream earlier such as Kabaddi, Soccer, Badminton, and even Boxing, leagues have certainly managed to touch the music industry because of the performance aspect of live matches, reasons Dj Roane Acey, one of the most popular league disc jockeys. “Various musicians, performers, and disc jockeys frequently play at stadia in order to entertain the audience, thus popularising music and performances while adding to overall exposure and selling point. It has also opened up greater financial opportunities and exposure for us folks from the music and entertainment industry.” The work of a musician, DJ, etc. at league matches adds to the thrill quotient, takes the excitement level a notch higher, and introduces spectators to great musical and entertainment talent they normally wouldn’t have access to.



Gold medals aren't really made of gold. They're made of sweat, determination, and a hard-to-find alloy called guts
- Dan Gable

There is no doubt that sports leagues are here to stay and there are multiple reasons for the success of this model. For one, the league format has created a 360-degree approach to connect with audiences and has left no leaf unturned to engage people at various touch points from the actual in-stadium experience, to broadcast engagement through TV, web, and radio, and even new age technology that has helped brands connect with global audiences by introducing engagement platforms via virtual reality, augmented reality experiences, contests and more; to derive maximum returns.

Secondly, glamourous, crisp, and attractive packaging with an Indian connect is attracting more viewers. According to BARC, the number of sports channels in India has gone up from 17 in 2015 to 25 today. Data shows that rural TV viewers helped boost viewership of several sports leagues. This has led to a social change by building an interest in various sports among the country’s younger generation, which has been accompanied by a shift in the mindset of Indian parents who now view sports as a viable career option.

Thirdly, investment is always an outcome of what's succeeding. With sports leagues, India seems to be poised on one such tryst. The league format firmly puts India on the global map and with its numerous angles of association; it has seen a lot of strategic FDI.

Fourthly, the format not only provides a platform to showcase local talent, but also allows them to play alongside international players. India has one of the largest youth population in the world and international sports leagues have started taking cognizance of the country’s potential, both market- and talent-wise.


About the Author
Ayesha Dominica 
A fiercely independent freelance writer, she has been published regularly since age 13, including 6 years at the Express Group. When she isn’t putting pen to paper, she is an artist manager and a curator.

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