Will fantasy sports get the much-needed boost through IPL?

Experts weigh in on the fact that communication with its target groups and affordable data rates played a key branding role in triggering growth and prominence of the OFS industry

e4m by Nafisa Shaheen
Updated: Sep 4, 2020 5:25 PM
fantasy sports

Since the inception of Indian Premier League, we have seen brands associated with the tournament soar heights of success. IPL has been hallowed grounds for the much-needed brand recall and repositioning for brands across industries. The 12th instalment of the tournament also seems to be no different with brands already jostling for sponsorships. After Dream11 won the title sponsorship, will fantasy sports industry in the country also get the much-needed fillip?

The pandemic phase has proved to be a blessing in disguise for the industry which earlier seemed to be a bit of distant luck. Fantasy sports has come a long way from being beset by betting and gambling to being associated with the biggest sporting tournament of the country.

In a recent report titled ‘Business of Fantasy Sports’ published by KPMG and the Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS), Online Fantasy Sports (OFS) operators’ gross revenues stood at over Rs 2,400 crore for the FY20 as compared to more than Rs 920 crore in FY19, which shows an increase of almost 3X over 12 months. The report also mentioned that the Indian OFS platforms have shown a rapid increase in their user-base YoY, growing from 2 million in 2016 to 90 million in 2019. Similarly, the number of OFS platforms in India has increased from less than 10 operators in 2016 to over 140 operators by the end of 2019. 

“The OFS market recorded a CEA (Contest Entry Amount) of over Rs 6,000 crore in FY19 and more than doubled to Rs 16,500 crore in FY20, at a growth rate of 167 per cent over FY20. The growth in FY20 is despite COVID-19’s impact", further added the KPMG-FIFS report.

Talking to e4m, FIFS (Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports) Spokesperson commented on similar lines, “OFS operators introduced new sports on their platform like baseball, handball and rugby. They were able to host over 1,000 matches from around the globe and saw participation from over 5 million users in the period between April and June 2020. As real-life sports is making a promising return, Indian sports fans are in for non-stop sporting action. As most of the sporting events are expected to take place with either limited or no in-stadia audience, digital sports fan engagement platforms like Online Fantasy Sports will play a pivotal role in driving fan engagement as we advance.”

He added that Dream11 becoming the title sponsor for IPL bodes well for the OFS industry as it is integral for digital fan engagement. "They are acknowledging the positive impact fantasy sports has on converting passive sports fans to active by giving them a deeper avenue of engagement with the sport they love,” said the spokesperson.

Rising popularity amid lockdown

The pandemic affected major live sporting events across the globe. The OFS industry was also impacted due to these cancellations as it is completely dependent on live-sporting events. However, the industry tried hard to salvage the situation by bringing sporting action to Indian sports fans through new sports and tournaments from non-COVID-affected places.

 Vinit Godara, Co-Founder and CEO, MyTeam11 told e4m that during the peak months of lockdown, the platform also innovated and largely diversified their business to make it more dynamic. He said, “The result was the launch of MyTeam11 Quiz followed up with the launch of MyTeamRummy and both the offerings have been doing pretty well. We also explored newer leagues and added new sports like rugby, handball and baseball which the users can engage with during the absence of mainstream tournaments. Now with the fast return of LIVE sports, we are seeing an upward trend again in the industry.”

According to Godara, the growing popularity of online gaming industry as a whole was due to people spending more time indoors, watching movies to playing games. With more time at their disposal, people were exploring online and fantasy gaming to entertain themselves.

Abhishek Madhavan, VP, Growth and Marketing, MPL (Mobile Premier League) also feels that the sheer involvement fantasy sports give the users in the game is infectious. He added, “They get to be a part of the action by creating and following the performance of their Fantasy teams and get to improve their knowledge of the sport. “

The upsurge in smartphone penetration in India and affordable data rates also helped.

Communication Strategy

Undeniably, the second most popular word after "unprecedented" during these five months has been "Communication". The OFS industry realised that propagating the right message at the right time and to the right set of audience is crucial to maintain its growing relevance. What kind of communication strategy led to an upsurge in popularity? According to Amit Purohit, Founder, Fantasy Akhada, “If I were to analyse the communication strategy of all Fantasy Sports Platforms in India, it has to do with 'Win Crores / Lakhs' basis the appetite of the platform. Apart from winning money, some of the established platforms also talk about being a 'Smart Captain / Selector' and my reading is that they try to poke the selector in you”.

Godara said: “Our strategy has been simple – we have banked on our innovation, diversification, and impeccable customer service as the basis of our communication. Over the years, we have built new pillars of communication which have helped us build our niche.”

OTT platforms: Friend or Foe?

The lockdown has forced people to stay indoors, which eventually aided the OTT and Gaming industry. People spent time watching movies or web series and gaming enthusiasts were busy in their online games. So, can we say that OTT platforms provided stronger competition in terms of engagement and reach?

Godara stressed on the fact that OTT is a completely different space and also gives the fantasy gaming companies an added option to reach out to the Gen Y users. He added, “We have ourselves launched our own OTT Platform SportsTiger in February which has been doing pretty well.”

Purohit too spoke on similar lines. According to him,” OTT platforms have enabled viewers to watch LIVE games on the go and have aided their ability to follow these matches and research proves that if a person watches a match, his / her probability of taking part in a fantasy sports contest goes up by 32%”.

“Games are a completely different form of immersive content, and we are a gaming platform with over 60 games. Esports and mobile gaming are on a massive surge in India, just like OTT,” added Abhishek Mahadevan.

Expectations from IPL

With IPL just around the corner, what do these players expect from the tournament?

Mahadevan said, “We look forward to onboarding new users for Fantasy as well as other games on our platform. With the variety we offer, we also expect to see time spent on MPL increasing. We are building cohesion between live sporting events such as the IPL, and gaming on the MPL platform with our partnerships like the ones with KKR and RCB. Fantasy is in the limelight thanks to fantasy brands being an important part of this IPL and we think many more new users will be getting into Fantasy sports. “

“Our focus will be on acquiring more users during the IPL season. However, more importantly, we will be giving disproportionate focus and importance to our User Engagement / Retention,” informed Purohit, Founder Fantasy Akhada.

Vinit Godara also added, “Like every year we are expecting a huge surge in users during the IPL and we are committed to giving them an amazing experience. A host of new campaigns are lined up around the IPL which we will reveal soon.”

Backed by the biggest sporting event of the subcontinent, affordable data rates and amplified digital approach, online fantasy sports is here to stay and thrive. Not just Tier 1 cities, but the OFS fever has also penetrated to Tier 2 and 3 cities, bearing testimony to its huge popularity, reach and engagement. There is no reason why exponential growth will not be witnessed in this space.

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