Nisha Qureshi

Why and how are Indian broadcasters tapping sports beyond cricket?

We take a look at the rise of niche sports broadcasting and viewership in India.

Two big international racing events, Formula E and MotoGP, will be held in India for the first time in 2023. While Sony Sports will air UEFA Euro 2024 and 2028, Viacom18 has acquired MotoGP rights.

SportsCast India has been granted official permission from the Media and Broadcasting Committee of the Cambodia SEA Games Organizing Committee (CAMSOC) to broadcast SEA Games 2023 live on its YouTube channel for the subcontinent. FanCode, on the other hand, is broadcasting many tournaments, like the Volleyball World League and Men’s Boxing Championship, for Indian audiences

JioCinema aired the last FIFA World Cup in November-December 2022, and saw a noticeable traction from both the brands as well as audiences.

It looks like more and more Indian broadcasters and OTT players are keen on broadcasting non-cricket sports. According to the GroupM ESP Sporting Nation Report 2023, sports industry spending increased by 49%. The spending on sports, beyond cricket, in India increased by 87% in 2022.

Siddharth Raman, Deputy CEO of Sportz Interactive, says that the larger macro trend is a push towards building a culture of watching sport regularly in India.

“India is definitely moving in the direction, beyond just being a cricketing nation. Yes, it (cricket) is still the biggest driver of consumption and commercialisation in sport, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for other sports to grow. This is precisely why broadcasters are going after non-cricket sports. There is a larger cultural shift at play here.”

Manik Bambha, co-founder and president, ViewLift, a tech company that enables OTT platforms to live-stream, mentions that sports remains the last true appointment viewing property. Every broadcaster needs such properties in their portfolio to drive eyeballs.

Talking about the growth of niche sports, Gurjeev Singh Kapoor, Disney Star’s head - distribution and international, states that though the viewership for sports like football and kabaddi has improved, they haven’t scaled yet.

“The scale isn’t meaningful yet, but it doesn’t mean it can’t improve. Let’s say there’ll be a selected audience for soccer and kabaddi in some rural markets, but the scale could be a question, when compared to cricket.”

However, the audience for non-cricket sports is definitely growing in the country and can further only grow, suggest experts. According to a KPMG report titled 'Sports broadcasting on TV’, The size of India's sports broadcasting market is estimated to be 330 billion.

As per TAM adex 2022,  live sports programming increased to 21 percent of total programming hours in 2021, from a low of 13 percent during the pandemic. The success of Indian athletes on international platforms is driving the growth of non-cricket viewership.

Many broadcasters have learnt from the IPL model and have started making consistent marketing efforts to drive its viewership. The league model has really worked in the favour of both advertisers as well as the broadcasters. According to the KPMG report, non-IPL sports leagues such as PKL Season 8 had 227 million viewers and ISL 21-22 had 130 million viewers. The report says that these numbers are significantly higher and their reach is bigger than full seasons of some of the highest impact GEC properties like KBC’21, BiggBoss’20-21 and The Kapil Sharma Show 20-21.

"Sports as a part of culture, has grown exponentially over the last 10 years and that is most reflective in the huge increase of sports participation and consumption of young Indians. High adoption of digital allows a platform like FanCode to provide multiple matches of various sports events at the same time, targeted to fans of each of these sports, across the country. We've focussed on fulfilling this unmet demand of Sports fans and plan to stream close to 20,000 live matches this year, half of them will be from sports outside of cricket," says Yannick Colaco, Co-Founder, FanCode

Are these properties profitable for broadcasters?

According to reports, Sony Pictures Networks India renewed media rights deal for Euro 2024 and 2028, for Rs 400 crore. Viacom is believed to have bagged FIFA World Cup 2022 rights for Rs 450 crore.

As per the GroupM report, cricket still dominates the Indian sporting landscape, contributing 85% to the sponsorship spends. Meanwhile, emerging sports in the country, like football, kabaddi and marathon, have seen a massive upsurge in sponsorship spends, contributing the remaining 15%.

Asked if the broadcasters see value in non-cricket sports properties, given how expensive they are, Raman of Sportz Interactive says, “Many broadcasters are trying to build a portfolio approach, where it’s not necessary that everything needs to be equally profitable.”

“There could be one massively profitable property that allows you to invest in others, with a long-term view. That’s why you see broadcasters going down this path. Every broadcaster has different business or brand building objectives. But all of them are looking to monetise - whether that’s over the short, medium or long-term.”

Bambha of Viewlift shares that distributors aren’t taking a real risk by grabbing high-level rights, particularly in football (soccer), which is so widely loved globally. He says that they will always find the right brands to partner with.

What’s driving the popularity of non-cricket properties?

Although cricket still dominates the sporting landscape in India, sports like football, badminton and kabaddi, have seen a significant rise in viewership in the country. According to experts, an interesting phenomenon driving the growth of these sports, is the content (being made) that’s centred on them.

Many sports documentaries and series have become quite popular on OTT platforms. Properties like ‘Formula One: Drive to Survive’, ‘The Last Dance, ‘All or Nothing’ and Rafa Nadal Academy have gained traction in the country. They’re helping to popularise sports viewership, beyond cricket, suggest experts.

“Great series like ‘Drive to Survive’ is in a ‘behind the scenes’ format. It introduces athletes as characters, establishes competitive rivalries and engenders audience loyalties. It’s a particularly effective format to attract new viewers to sports,” says Bambha. 

Raman says that there’s much larger awareness for global sporting events in India today. The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar didn’t have any Indian presence. But the fact that it was at a convenient time zone for Indians and featured some of the best footballers, definitely warranted the kind of promotion that we saw.

“Similarly, with the Olympics, India gets a lot of visibility. At the last Games, we won seven medals - our best-ever haul. All this brings about a sense of national pride and also ties into that sport-viewing culture.”

“And, that’s why the likes of Netflix are making sports documentaries, like ‘Formula One: Drive to Survive’. The show’s main objective was to reach out to a completely untapped audience. It wasn’t necessarily targeted at core fans. It seems to have achieved its objective and continues to do so, and you now see it replicated in other sports, like tennis and golf, as well,” Raman adds.

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