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The future of Fantasy Sports in India

The future of Fantasy Sports in India

Imtiaz Azad

Published: 11 March 2019 5:33 AM GMT
With cricket having a significant chunk of popularity among all the sports in India, it was never a surprise that it would be the first portal-based online game for fantasy sports in India. Long before Dream 11 made its way to the Indian market, there was a portal which became the torch bearer of fantasy sports in India. ESPN Super Selector, which launched in 2001, on television created a mark on its own with a huge fan base. Co-created by Joy Bhattacharya and ESPN, the fantasy league involved in picking a team of 11 cricket players within a limited budget. Points were awarded to contestants based on selected players’ on-field performances. Over five lakh contestants joined the frenzy of Super Selector during the 2003 ICC World Cup in South Africa. The immense popularity of the portal inspired media houses like BBC and Sky Television to launch their own fantasy sports franchises. Eighteen years later, the fantasy sports fan base has swelled to 20 million, growing ten-fold in just the last two years. Currently, there are about 70 fantasy sports companies in the industry; 30 of them launched operations in 2017-18 alone. Over the last few years, fantasy sports has not been restricted in the domain of cricket only. The likes of 
Indian Super League
and Pro Kabaddi League have also used it successfully. However,  cricket remains the biggest draw and Dream11 is the market leader, with 90 per cent of the share.
The concept of these fantasy game portals is simple. You go online or one of the apps on your mobile and create your own fantasy team using the real players who play a match or a tournament. The rules, salary cap, selection parameters, number of foreign players in one squad are the same for the fantasy leagues. The fantasy players triumph or lose depending on the on-field performance of the real players in their team.
Image: Twitter The Fantasy Premier League (FPL) is the official fantasy game of the English Premier League (EPL). EPL has a diverse representation of players from all over the world. The league has evolved over the years to today, it has dedicated shows on FPL tips and suggestions by FPL experts and a show dedicated for the fans named ‘EPL Fanzone’ being broadcast on TV. This help to gradually increase fan involvement in the game and their exposure to the brands associated with EPL and FPL. The Indian Federation of Sports Gaming (IFSG), India’s first and only self-regulatory industry body for the sports gaming sector, and KPMG India Private Limited (KPMG) released a report on the
‘The Evolving Landscape of Sports Gaming in India’
at its second flagship event, GamePlan 2019, on March 4. The report, which provided an overview of the online gaming industry with a focus on fantasy sports and e-sports, observed that as many as 69 per cent respondents said there are no overlaps between fantasy sports and sports betting and among these. According to the report, the industry is already worth INR 43.8 billion and is said to reach INR 118.8 billion by FY23 with a growth rate of CAGR 22.1%.  The report added fantasy sports is different from betting and can potentially aid in slowing down illegal betting in the long run. Fairness, legality and safe and secure nature of transactions are aspects that draw users to play these fantasy sports platforms.
Other key highlights in the report include: > 74 per cent users play fantasy sports one to three times a week, with the majority playing once a week. Twenty per cent of respondents reported playing more than five times a week. > Fun and excitement came out as primary motivators for 72 per cent playing fantasy sports across all age and income groups. For around 81 per cent respondents, the 'ability to manage teams virtually’, ‘remain connected with the sport’ and ‘utilisation of sports knowledge’ were other important motivators for engagement. > Further, 69% of respondents say that there are no overlaps between Fantasy Sports and Sports Betting and amongst these > The ‘opportunity to win money’ was seen as one of the motivators for around 30 per cent of respondents. However, this was only the fifth most important factor for engagement. > The report pointed out that 54 per cent of users play fantasy sports for free. Forty-six per cent have played paid contests at least once in the last 12 months. > Another important aspect the study brought to notice is that only 25-30 per cent of the spends on fantasy sports platforms come from the users’ pocket. Around 70-75 per cent of the spends are re-investments coming from previous winnings, cash bonus or periodical promotional offers given by these platforms to their users. > Most users from the top seven-eight cities of the country were found to be playing less frequently than some smaller towns in the country. Almost 85 per cent of the respondents from major cities play fantasy sports 1-3 times a week as compared to nearly 70 per cent of respondents from smaller towns who represent more than four times a week on such platforms. > Among the most preferred sports in online gaming, cricket won the contest with 71 per cent, followed by 54 per cent playing football. The non-cricket sports leagues in India are also witnessing increasing traction, the report added.
There are several factors responsible for the growth of fantasy sports in India, among which the most notable ones are:

Amplified digital environment

India has made exponential growth in terms of its digital infrastructure. Growing affordability of smartphones, expansion of the internet user base and plummeting data price are resulting in such growth. The report states, the internet subscribers increased from 368 million in September 2016 to 560 million in September 2018 in India, which has helped fantasy sports to flourish in the digital gaming space.

More investors

The popularity of fantasy sports gaming grew drastically over the years. One of the primary factors behind it is that the platforms also offer content in regional languages which have eventually improved the engagement. Thus E-sports leaders from Tencent to Nazara are also investing in fantasy sports gaming.

The emergence of sports leagues

The vast audience base in India has a distinct preference for the sports gaming, and various sports leagues have been established in the recent past, including those for kabaddi, football, wrestling and volleyball.

Clarity on legality

The Punjab and Haryana High Court has dubbed Dream11’s format as ‘a game of skill’ and not as a ‘game of luck’. As per the ruling of the Court in the case of Mr Varun Gumber vs the Union territory of Chandigarh and others in 2017 ‘ the element of skill’ is the predominant influence on the outcome of the Dream11 format of fantasy sports game. An appeal against the Punjab and Haryana High Court’s decision was filed in Supreme Court which was later dismissed by the apex court. The clarification on the legal status of the fantasy sports format helped in promoting the overall fantasy sports market. A significant number of platforms has now entered the market with similar setups and also leading to widespread user adaptation. With the increasing consumption of sports and the numbers associated with it, fans are focussing deeper into statistics, more with the intent of proving fantasy leagues help to hone their skills rather than just a game of luck. With a vast prospect yet to be unravelled, it can be safely said Fantasy Sports will be of great significance in moulding the next generation fans of Indian sports.
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