Table of Contents
India has been experiencing significant growth and advancements in the field of sports and its related market. Foreign sports clubs and leagues have undeniably made efforts to tap into the vast and lucrative Indian sports market, but they have faced numerous challenges and barriers along the way. While cricket remained dominant, there was a noticeable surge in interest and investment in other sports, including badminton, wrestling, boxing, athletics, and even football. The rise of individual talents in these sports, such as P.V. Sindhu in badminton and Hima Das in athletics, garnered significant attention.
Market Size of Sports Industry across India from 2017 to 2022
India, with its massive population and growing middle class, represents a tantalizing opportunity for foreign sports clubs and leagues seeking to expand their global footprint. However, despite significant efforts and investments, foreign sports entities have faced numerous challenges in gaining a substantial share of the Indian sports market. Some of the challenges through the lens of several notable foreign leagues and clubs.
Case 1: English Premier League (EPL)
The English Premier League, one of the most popular football leagues globally, has attempted to capture the Indian market. The EPL has a significant following in India, with millions of viewers, but it faces challenges in breaking the cricket-dominated market. In 2020, Star Sports India, the official broadcaster of the EPL, reported a 23% growth in viewership.
Case 2: National Basketball Association (NBA)
The NBA has made substantial inroads in the Indian market, thanks to efforts such as the Basketball Without Borders program. The NBA has been successful in India to some extent, with over 10 million fans on its Facebook page and a growing youth fan base. Still, it faces specific challenges.
Case 3: European Football Clubs
Several European football clubs have sought to establish a presence in India. English football clubs such as Manchester United and Liverpool FC have forged ahead in establishing sponsorship and licensing collaborations with Indian firms, despite the competition. Let’s dive deep into the reasons why foreign sports entities have struggled to gain a significant share of the Indian sports market.
India has a diverse and unique sporting culture deeply rooted in cricket, field hockey, kabaddi, and other indigenous sports. These sports hold a special place in the hearts of millions of Indians, making it challenging for foreign leagues to establish themselves. The cultural attachment to these traditional sports creates a significant hurdle for newcomers.
Cricket is not just a sport in India; it’s a religion. The Indian Premier League (IPL) is a testament to the country’s cricket obsession. With high viewership and investment, cricket overshadows other sports. This means that foreign leagues must compete with the behemoth that is IPL, and that’s no easy task. According to Statista, the television rating (TVR) of Indian Premier League (IPL) season 16 in 2023 stood at 4.72.
According to various surveys, cricket has consistently been the most popular sport in India, with a fan base estimated at over 90% of the population.
Communication is a critical factor in any sport’s success. The majority of Indians are more comfortable with local languages than English. Foreign leagues primarily use English as their medium of communication, which can alienate a significant portion of the population.
Broadcasting Rights and Timing
Many popular foreign sports leagues have matches at times that are not very convenient for Indian viewers due to the time zone differences. Also, securing broadcasting rights can be complex and expensive, further complicating efforts to gain viewership.
Lack of Grassroots Development
For a sport to thrive in India, it needs grassroots development programs. These programs help in scouting and nurturing young talent. Many foreign leagues struggle to establish these programs, while indigenous sports have a well-entrenched system.
India is a diverse country with economic disparities. While there is a growing middle class with disposable income, the majority of the population still struggles to make ends meet. Attending or subscribing to foreign sports events can be costly for many, limiting the potential audience.
India has a complex regulatory environment that can make it difficult for foreign entities to operate seamlessly. They may need to navigate various legal and bureaucratic hurdles, which can be time-consuming and expensive.
Competition with Established Leagues
In many cases, foreign leagues face stiff competition from well-established domestic leagues. For instance, the Indian Super League (ISL) in football, and the Pro Kabaddi League in kabaddi. The total viewership of the Indian Super League (ISL) has surged to an impressive 130 million worldwide. Currently, ISL broadcasts reach over 200 countries, and the league enjoys significant global interest, with a substantial number of enthusiastic viewers. These leagues have invested significantly in marketing and player development, making it difficult for foreign leagues to break into the market.
Lack of Fan Engagement
Fan engagement is crucial for the success of any sport. Indian sports leagues have been successful in building passionate fan bases. Foreign leagues may struggle to replicate this level of engagement, as it takes time and effort to build a loyal following.
In conclusion, the Indian sports market is undoubtedly an attractive one for foreign sports clubs and leagues. However, it is a market that comes with a unique set of challenges, including cultural attachments to traditional sports, cricket dominance, language barriers, regulatory complexities, and competition from well-established domestic leagues. To succeed, foreign sports entities must not only bring quality competition but also be willing to invest time, effort, and resources to navigate these hurdles and win the hearts of Indian sports enthusiasts.