Cricket shows no sign of relinquishing its sporting crown in India, with a dominant share of ratings and revenue in the country’s US$558 million sports pay-TV market.
Try telling that to the growing throng of investors, federations and entrepreneurs, planning new leagues in basketball, cue sports, motorsports, table tennis and wrestling over the next 12-18 months.
These will follow recent forays and occasional ratings success for other non-cricket tournaments, including badminton, football, hockey, kabaddi and tennis.
Digital distribution platforms on both pay-TV and broadband are paving the way for the development of more targeted content. Sports is no exception.
New ventures are taking inspiration from successful franchises such as England’s Premier League as well homegrown cricketing tournament, IPL, seeking to cultivate fanbases among an emerging middle class, as well as support from advertisers trying to reach them.
In particular, the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) and Indian Soccer League (ISL), both launched last year, enjoyed an immediate audience boost, helping sustain audiences for sports content throughout the year.
In the past, sports ratings tended to flag in the second half of the year, without major cricketing events to keep viewers tuned in.
Nonetheless, dedicated sports channels will struggle without a tentpole cricket property for the foreseeable future, until other tournaments build up scale.
“Several non-cricket leagues entering into their second season have done well in contributing to sports viewership, particularly in the second half of the calendar,” comments Mihir Shah, VP of India for Media Partners Asia.
“As many of these leagues stabilise, the average length of the tournament will increase,” Shah adds.
“We will see a shift towards a more balanced cricket and non-cricket calendar of events. This might still take another five to seven years.”
Long road ahead
At the same time, financial success is far from given, especially for sports without national appeal.
That said, some approaches can tilt the odds in a new league’s favor, including celebrity involvement for greater visibility and acceptance, salary caps to ensure more even competition and close alignment with an official federation.
Even teams in successful leagues such as the IPL can still lose money however, while revenue streams can take time to start flowing for younger leagues, despite early ratings success.
A note from Media Partners Asia, which will be published in next week's edition of research report Media Route 26 India, highlights the different risk profiles for sports leagues in India, and possible paths to long-term monetization and sustainability.
“We are still at an early growth phase, where several new leagues like PKL, ISL and IPTL [International Premier Tennis League] will be going through the acid test of delivering ROI for advertisers backing them,” Shah notes.
At the same time, broader structural changes in India’s television landscape – including the introduction of a new audience measurement system as well as disputes between channels and distribution platforms – add to the obstacles that new leagues face.
“Apart from delivering on marketing, team participation, infrastructure and on-ground execution of these events, there are several challenges confronting them,” Shah adds.
“These investments are still long-term bets. However, growing monetization from digital, in-stadia and licensing and merchandizing revenue opportunities can help reduce their gestation period.”