Arvind Iyengar, CEO, Sportz Interactive talks about India is at the point where the advent of new sports leagues like The Indian Super League and the Pro Kabaddi League are both driving consumer interests and seeing big investments from corporate houses
BY ARVIND IYENGAR
CEO, Sportz Interactive
For the longest time, content consumption in India has been all about ABC - Astrology, Bollywood and Cricket. That last alphabet represents just a single sport, one that has grown exponentially ever since India’s historic 1983 World Cup triumph. Kapil Dev and his men captured the imagination of the nation and inspired generations to follow.
This landmark moment helped catalyse the development of cricket in India which followed a virtuous cycle – heroes inspiring the youth, children taking to the sport and improving their skills, the development of an ecosystem to help players showcase their talent and the rise of a new set of heroes to inspire the next generation.
The creation of this virtuous cycle is essentially how sport has grown in countries across the world. Like basketball in China, which saw investments in infrastructure, the creation of local leagues and the rise of role models like Yao Ming. It takes effort in building the entire sporting eco-system, investing in grassroots development to encourage the youth and creating leagues to showcase the best talent. And while sports beyond cricket have historically struggled to gain much traction, India today is at an inflection point with the advent of new sports leagues that are driving consumer interest.
The Indian Super League (ISL) and the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) have seen big investments from corporatesthat have a vision to grow sport in the country, and these two leagues are operating at real scale. Then you have the Hockey India League (HIL) which has completed four seasons, and newer leagues like the Premier Badminton League and the Pro Wrestling League that are growing fan avidity.
In terms of statistics, the PKL has seen a constant surge in television viewership with the first week of its third edition breaking all its previous firstweek records. In the same vein, the ISL gained one million more fans on Facebook during its second edition, prompting Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to mention the league as one of the top events in 2015 on the social networking site. Both leagues have TV viewership in the hundreds of millions and have a strong presence on digital platforms with a large fan base and stellar engagement on the back of continuous innovation.
Add to that, we’ve had a set of superstars develop on the international stage. In 2015, Saina Nehwal became the first Indian woman to hold the World No. 1ranking in badminton. Sania Mirza is the current World No. 1 in doubles in tennis. Our hockey heroes also did legends of the past proud by winning silver in their first-ever appearance in the final of the Hockey Champions Trophy. Clearly, there has been progress.
The virtuous cycle is starting to develop for multiple sports in India with the emergence of role models, the development of leagues and robust infrastructure and the focus on grassroots to ensure that today’s youth take to sport. All the pieces are coming together to drive scalable success. This year, India also sent it’s largest ever Olympic contingent to sport’s grandest stage which is a bigger testament than any other to India’s constantly evolving sports culture. We are not quite there yet, but India is well on the road to becoming a multi-sport nation.