For the longest time, cricket was the only sport India obsessed over. The last decade witnessed the rise of a multi-sports culture in India with the launch of several homegrown sports leagues not just for cricket but also football, kabaddi, badminton, wrestling and so on. This growth in sports is being welcomed wholeheartedly by Indian sports fans.
Advancements in technology, easy access to the internet and the rise of the smartphones are fueling the growth in sports in India, beyond cricket.
Notable fandom is emerging around sports such as football, kabaddi, basketball, volleyball etc wherein the fans are regularly watching, reading, competing, conversing and playing the sport.
One such fan engagement on sports-technology platform has emerged in the last few years, that is changing the way sports are consumed by fans, is ‘Fantasy Sports’.
Fantasy Sports and its journey so far in India
Fantasy Sports is a research-based online sports engagement platform where sports fans can actively participate in sports they love by creating their own virtual teams made up of real-life players from both the teams.
These virtual teams garner points based on the actual statistical performance of players during the real-life match and winners are determined accordingly. Participating in fantasy sports allows fans to showcase their sports knowledge and experience sports like a team owner. Sports fans can now enjoy fantasy sports across multiple sports, such as - cricket, football, kabaddi, basketball, hockey and volleyball.
Fantasy Sports have been played worldwide for 60+ years, yet it was an alien concept for the Indian sports market. Super Selector was fantasy cricket that was run by ESPN Star Sports in 2001. Contests ranged from a month to the duration of an entire series. But it could not take off as it was way ahead of its time. With high penetration of internet and smartphones, Indian sports fans were ready to adopt fantasy sports online. Dream11 launched the first online fantasy sports platform in a freemium model in 2012.
India had less than 30 Fantasy Sports operators in 2017, and this number grew to 140 in 2019, making India one of the biggest Fantasy Sports markets in the world. Currently, over 8 crore fans play on fantasy sports platforms. This number is expected to grow to 10 crores by the end of 2020. It is estimated that >30 crore Indian sports fans will watch sports online by 2020, at least 33% of them will play fantasy sports.
Increasing Sports Partnerships
With universalization of sporting leagues and fantasy sports, we are witnessing an escalation in active partnerships between sports leagues, sports associations and fantasy sports platforms in India. Sports leagues are increasingly using Fantasy Sports as their primary tool of fan engagement.
Fantasy sports platforms like Dream11 has partnered with BCCI, IPL, ICC, PKL, ISL, NBA and 10 other sports leagues, MyTeam11 has partnered PVL, PSL, BPL, for India tour of Windies and so on. These associations have led fantasy sports platforms to sign/collaborate with various athletes as well.
For instance, in 2019 Dream11 signed up with 17 cricketers viz. Rohit Sharma, Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Faf du Plessis, Quinton de Kock, Kagiso Rabada, to name a few. Similarly, other fantasy sports like SuperTeam, Fanmojo, Halaplay also collaborated with multiple players like- SuperTeam – KL Rahul; Fanmojo- Prithvi Shaw; MyTeam11- Virender Sehwag; Funtasy11- Murali Karthik; Apne11- Kapil Dev; Fantain- Suresh Raina; CricPlay- Gautam Gambhir; My11Circle- Sourav Ganguly and so on.
Fantasy sports increases sports consumption
Fantasy Sports and real-life sports share a symbiotic relationship. Several studies have found that fantasy sports help in increasing sports consumption. Fantasy sports users tend to watch more sports content and explore newer sports as well. The more the users watch sports, the more they want to play fantasy sport and engage deeper. The more they play fantasy; the more sports they watch.
A recent study shows that 37% of fantasy sports players consume more than 6-8 hours of real-life sports content per week to stay updated with knowledge on players and match conditions (Source: Fantasy Sports - Measuring its impact on actual sports consumption, FIFS and Neilsen). The study also finds that 62% of respondents who participated in the study watch different types of leagues, even when their team/country is not playing.
Future of Fantasy Sports
In India, there are over 800 million sports viewers, and of those, about 300 million are viewing sports online. Out of which, over 100 million are expected to be playing on fantasy sports platforms. There are over 200 apps on Google Playstore, 1 million+ YouTube videos and over 10 books around fantasy sports and the strategy to create draft teams, which is the testament to the growing popularity of fantasy sports making it highly engaging. As a country, we are heading towards a holistic sports experience, which currently is accelerated by fantasy sports.John Loffhagen is the Chairman at Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports which was earlier known as IFSG - Indian Federation of Sports Gaming