The Phenomenon called Fantasy Sports: For the new-age sports fans

Saurabh Chopra, CEO of BalleBaazi.com
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By Saurabh Chopra, CEO of BalleBaazi.com

Sports have always held a special place in the history of the world. Whether for its physical or mental benefits, the adrenaline that gives people a zest for living, sheer love of viewing and cheering for one’s favourite teams or playing the favourite sports out on the field, sports have always been an integral part of people’s lives. However, it is the current era that is going to mark a golden chapter in the books, being backed by the emergence of fantasy sports. The rise in sport leagues along with the rapid improvement in technology has led to the phenomenal rise of fantasy sports which has gradually taken the gaming industry by storm. Sports enthusiasts have not only been able to establish a connect with their preferred sport, but they have also been challenged and compelled to improve their skill set through these competitive games. Something that started out as a smaller sector with 10 operators in 2016, has now increased to 140+ fantasy gaming platforms, entailing the industry’s fast – paced growth. The pandemic has boosted the fantasy sports industry as it has gained traction and popularity among the cancellation of live sporting events. 

Cricket retains the top spot as other sports enter the market 

In India, cricket commands the highest popularity among the people. As per Star India and Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), the Indian Premier League (IPL) viewership has 31.57 million average impressions. The hype for the Indian Premier League, and immense and established connect with cricket has led to an expectedly strong preference for fantasy sports related to cricket. However, new sporting avenues such as football, hockey, kabaddi and baseball, OFS operators have also made inroads in the market and launched various contests much to the appreciation of the people. Besides this, as international cricket leagues have started airing in India and streamed across OTT platforms, enthusiasts have become fans and are further encouraged to showcase their knowledge of the game through fantasy gaming platforms.

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Investments in fantasy gaming 

As per a report by KPMG, the OFS industry is gradually growing at 32% CAGR accompanied by the expected growth of the online gaming industry which is 22.1%. Several foreign investments (FDIs) worth 1500 crore were completed in just a matter of a year (from 2018 to 2019). Constant innovation, addition of new features, paid contests and upgrading the application have drawn investments, both foreign and domestic, in this category. Given the meteoric rise, the sector is expected to continue attracting investments due to its dynamically growing user base and ever-increasing demand. 

Regulation and legal aspects of the fantasy sports segment in India 

As the fantasy sports industry paved the way for success for many operators, this invited various questions pertaining to the legality of the segment. However, stakeholders stated that engagement in fantasy sports requires skills, knowledge and talent and it is not a game of chance. Apart from this, courts have clarified that OFS platforms cannot be categorised under the Indian Public Gambling Act 1867. The self – regulatory body (Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports) for fantasy sports provides rules that are not prejudicial to operators, and reduces and eliminates malpractices along with ensuring consumer protection. The Niti Aayog’s order for regulation will provide a much needed boost to the fantasy sports segment as it would assure credibility and eliminate uncertainty in the industry.  There is a stigma associated with fantasy gaming, the regulatory body’s principles will assure transparency and honesty between the users and the fantasy platforms. Furthermore, as people gradually get acquainted with fantasy gaming, uncertainty regarding legality will reduce and lead to a stable growth in the future.

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Growth agents of the Indian OFS market 

The unexpected growth of mobile phones along with 3G/4G network technology is a major factor in the growth of the OFS market. The smartphone market is a growing market as it displayed growing figures of 17% in the 3rd quarter of 2020, as per the International Data Corporation. As per KPMG and India Cellular and Electronics association report, the smartphone user base is expected to touch an approximated 820 million in 2022. Portability, affordable data plans and high speed internet connectivity enable individuals to use more data and search for content on their smartphones. These respective growths have proved to be a catalyst for fantasy gaming as people can engage in these games with convenience and flexibility.

Impact of the pandemic on online and fantasy gaming 

Majority of the people are constricted to their house with minimal to slim chances of engaging in any physical activity, which further renewed the interest of viewers in online gaming. From the people aged 25-35 years an increase in the user engagement was seen along with a slight increase in female users. The optimum gaming time is reported to be from 8 PM till midnight, as gaming has been continued at all hours in the day. Specifically, on fantasy sport platforms, as per the KPMG survey, 74% of fantasy gamers engage in these sports 1 to 3 times a week.

Collaborations of OFS platforms with sporting personalities and celebrities was a boon, as it enhanced the hype for these events in this dull period. As people start engaging in fantasy sports, 65% of them experienced an increase in the time they spent on sport activities in real time.

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Future of online gaming

The enhanced user base and strong demand could convince the Indian courts to provide formal recognition to the sector. As per the ‘Business of Fantasy Sports’ report by FIFS (The Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports) in conjunction with KPMG, the gross revenues of online fantasy sports operators for FY 2020 were 2,400+ crores in comparison to 920+ crores in FY19 which is visibly a drastic increase in the period of 12 months. With the lucrative business, intense competition, newly emerging leagues and the growing enthusiasm of the users, this industry is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years.