The fantasy sports industry has seen rapid growth in India over the last few years.
Major players in the industry have overcome the legal issue of fantasy gaming in India. When the functioning of Dream 11 was challenged legally, Rajasthan, Punjab & Haryana and Bombay High Courts ruled that playing such games involved considerable skill and thus, exempted them from the provisions of the Public Gambling Act, 1867.
India's betting laws haven't realy evolved and there haven't been any regulations or guidelines when the internet era kicked off and brought along with it quite a few online games of skill that offered financial rewards to users. As a result, in 2017, the Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS) was formed. The FIFS is India’s first and only fantasy Sports self-regulatory body which was established to protect consumer interest.
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Fantasy sports, the money-spinner?
The FIFS published the contents of a KPMG report on Thursday, which gave us an insight into the immense growth of the fantasy sports business in India. According to the report, the gross revenues of the online fantasy sports platforms in India stood at $320 million+ for the FY20 (financial year) as compared to INR 920+ crore in FY19. Over a period of 12 months, the figures have been tripled. And interestingly, close to 50 per cent of the transactions on OFS platforms in 2019 was from Tier 2 and Tier 3 Indian cities.
Talking about the growth of the fantasy sports industry in India in his speech at a FIFS conference on Thursday, Amitabh Kant, CEO, NITI Aayog (The NITI Aayog is a policy think tank of the Government of India), said, “I have very keenly followed the growth of Indian fantasy sports industry as a supporter of technology and good governance. I am a long term believer that India must become a global champion of the fantasy sports industry."
Can Indian football benefit?
While cricket remains the biggest contributor to fantasy sports platforms, football has played its part. According to a KPMG survey, 77 per cent of fantasy sports users are engaged in contests on cricket and football stands at 47 per cent.
Over 65 per cent of the respondents of the survey indicated that there is a direct increase in the time spent in analysing, watching and reading about the sport once they started participating in fantasy sports online. But this includes European football, which dominates India's community of football lovers. Can it help bring more people into Indian football?
With the arrival of Indian Super League (ISL) in 2014, the awareness and marketing aspects of Indian football have improved leaps and bounds. More people are aware of Indian clubs and footballers and the fantasy sports platforms have also been coming up with contests for players to play the games based on Indian football, mainly the ISL.
The FIFS has generally argued that the number of people tuning into real-life sport has also increased with the help of fantasy sports. Players need to be aware of what is happening in matches to enjoy a good run in the games they take part in and earn rewards and this can help football in the country.
To really make a difference, the quality of football also needs to improve, as pointed out by La Liga India managing director Jose Antonio Cachaza during a FIFS webinar on Thursday. In his response to a question about whether the number of people playing football in India has improved, he observed, "You have to consider football at three levels, grassroots, club level and the national team. India is moving forward but there is still a long way to go. Football connects India to the world. Virat Kohli is a hero in 15 countries. Lionel Messi is a hero in 150 countries.
"Until a few years ago, we (Spain) were in the same situation. A strong grassroots backed by local government and a good high-performance model (helped us improve)."
There is a reason why all the major fantasy sports platforms have either a movie star or an Indian cricketer as their brand ambassador. The KPMG survey also noted that only nine per cent of its respondents who did not use fantasy sports platforms were aware of ISL, compared to 19 per cent who were fantasy sports consumers. The figure for the same jumped to 84 per cent (non-users) and 88 per cent (users) for Indian Premier League (IPL), 52 per cent (users) and 21 per cent (non-users) for Premier League, 26 per cent (users) and 11 per cent (non-users) for La Liga.
Fantasy sports platforms are here to stay and there are a lot of people who use it. In the long run, they could also contribute to helping the Indian football industry and it would be an added benefit to the real-life sport.