It is an open secret that cricket is India’s unofficial national sport. It was, thus, unsurprising to see cricket being the first fantasy sports gaming online platform in India. And Dream11 is the torch-bearer of the now-bustling domain in India.
But how did fantasy sports go from a niche industry meant for entertainment (and a bit of fan engagement) to become a $150 billion industry?
Fantasy Sports in India: Early Days
Although Dream11 made it immensely popular in India, Fantasy Sports was introduced in the country 17 years ago by ESPN Super Selector in 2001. Co-created by Joy Bhattacharya and ESPN, it involved picking a team of 11 cricket players within a limited budget. Points were awarded to contestants based on selected players’ on-field performances.
Super Selector was so popular that during the 2003 Cricket World Cup in South Africa, it attracted over 5.00,000 contestants. What more was that the immense popularity of the Selector inspired big media houses like BBC and Sky Television to launch their own fantasy sports clones.
However, fantasy sports evolved over the next few years. From half a million, the domain reached a landmark figure of 20 million.
According to the numbers by Indian Federation Of Sports Gaming (IFSG), the majority of the growth in the domain has come in the last two years.
In fact, of the 60 odd companies that are working in the space, 30 were launched in 2017-18 alone.
What is Fantasy Sports?
The concept of Fantasy sports is pretty simple: You go online. Choose your favourite sport. And create your imaginary team based on real players that would feature in upcoming matches.
The game is more realistic with the inclusion of practical rules like the salary cap, statistics, selection parameters including the exact number of foreign players in one squad.
The contestants win or lose depending on the selected player’s on-field performances. As a result of this, fantasy sports leads to an increase in fan engagement as contestants want to know how their selected players are performing on the field.
Also Read | How to play Fantasy Cricket?
This is a win-win situation for all, the organizers, broadcasters apart from the sports games providers.
Contributing factors for the growth of Fantasy Sports in India
There are many things that have led to a sudden burst in the fantasy sports market in India.
1. Increased Smartphone Penetration
At the foremost of this is the increase in smartphone penetration in the country, especially in the tier-II and tier-III cities.
Only last year, the number of smartphone users rose to a record 337 million in India, according to Dazeinfo.com. The number might reach the half-billion mark by 2022, as per certain predictions.
The excessive competition introduced by the infusion of Chinese phone makers and the consequent breaking of the monopoly dominated by Samsung and Nokia led to a significant reduction in the phone prices.
2. Cheapening of Mobile Data
On 5th September 2016, Reliance dropped an atom bomb called ‘Jio’ that would change the dynamics of the mobile data market forever. The free plans in the 4G spectrum that the company introduced propelled India to become the No.1 country when it comes to mobile data consumption.
The repercussions of the sudden market disruption are visible even today. One of the important beneficiaries of these factors was fantasy sports.
The cheap data allowed users to stream matches live on their phones, further boosting fan engagement and benefitting the sports gaming online platforms.
3. Online Transactions
On 8th November 2016, PM Narendra Modi announced the demonetisation of ₹ 500 & ₹ 1000 notes, ushering the country towards a cashless economy. The likes of Paytm, Bhim, PhonePe, Google Pay and Mobikwik, amongst others, experienced exponential growth post this decision.
And this factor played an important role in ensuring that Dream11 and other platforms didn’t remain a fan-engagement apparatus like ESPN.
In fact, the monetisation of fantasy sports couldn’t have been possible at such a scale if not for the cashless transaction revolution.
To Other Sports
Soon after striking success in cricket, Dream11 wasted little time to bring other sports of the country.
In fact, the rising popularity of private leagues like PKL and PBL boosted their forays in Kabaddi and Badminton.
Expanding helped them reach a wide array of the audience outside cricket. Moreover, it also showed that the concept of fantasy sports can be applied to any sport, Indian or foreign.
Although cricket still draws most of the attention (90%), expectations are that other sports will catch sooner.
Moreover, being a tool of fan engagement, fantasy sports platforms have also helped to generate ‘artificial’ interest in sports.
The Future of Fantasy Sports Platforms
According to IFSG, India’s user base of fantasy sports is projected to break the 100 million barrier by 2020. What’s astonishing that this number accounts for only 30% of the online sports fans. That translates to over 233 million users still to be targeted.
With the disposable income and the use of net-banking on the rise, Fantasy sports will only touch new heights in the future.