It was just an idea. When the Star Sports Pro Kabaddi League was launched in July this year, Piyush Pandey, the India head of O&M, agency for Fevicol, thought that the adhesive brand would fit well with the contact sport. And “Fevicol ki pakad chootegi nahin” (the Fevicol bond won’t break) was used in on-ground and on-air promotions every time a kabaddi raider got caught.
“It (kabaddi) was bang on with our proposition as a brand,” says Anil Jayaraj, chief marketing officer, Pidilite, owners of Fevicol. About 128 million Indians watched the Star Sports-promoted league. That is about half the number that followed India’s biggest sports event, the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2014, on TV. Its weekly viewership was close to that of Star Plus’ top rated soap, Diya aur Baati Hum. “We are very pleased with the ratings,” says Jayaraj.
Having tasted success with kabaddi, Star India (which had a revenue of Rs 6,100 crore in 2013) is now pushing football with the Hero Indian Super League. Since it began in October, the average viewership has been 34 million. But the competition is not lagging. Sony (revenues of Rs 3,120 crore in 2013), which owns the telecast rights to IPL, has invested in the World Kabaddi League, FIFA and Euro football events, and the Ultimate Fighting Championship, a mixed martial arts event. At the Rs 4,602-crore Zee Entertainment, Rajesh Sethi, CEO of its sports channel Ten Sports, talks excitedly of investing year-on-year in WWE wrestling, football, golf and other sports.
“There is certainly a momentum on sports other than cricket,” says K Satyanarayana, senior vice-president, R K Swamy Media Group. NP Singh, CEO, Multi Screen Media (Sony) agrees, “All sports channels are looking at sports outside of cricket.”
Cricket still rules
This new interest in non-cricket sports has come despite 90 per cent of the conversation, viewership and revenues coming to sports channels being dominated by cricket. According to consulting firm Media Partners Asia, of the Rs 3,850 crore that sports broadcasting in India generated in 2013, Rs 3,450 crore went to cricket. Of the rest, football got a major slice with wrestling, tennis and hockey following.
But these sports still have a long way to go. Viewership for cricket, in terms of IPL, has doubled from 122 million in 2008 to over 254 million this year. Though advertisers and the networks alike are reluctant to share ad spends or ad rate figures, IPL, according to some analysts, attracted ads at the rate of Rs 20 lakh per 10 seconds. The highest estimate for a similar spot in the Pro Kabaddi matches is Rs 50,000. “Everyone (in other sports) is bleeding,” says Mihir Shah, vice-president, Media Partners Asia.
However, Sanjay Gupta, COO, Star India, is unfazed. “Any business, entertainment or otherwise, has a three to five year period in which it starts making money. Kabaddi is no different,” he says. Of the Rs 20,000 crore that Star will be investing in sports, 30-40 per cent will go into non-cricket sports. That is roughly twice the size of the entire sports broadcast industry.
Sony acquired the India broadcast rights to the US National Basketball Association three years ago after discovering that young people were following a lot of non-cricket sports online. Viewership has risen from 14 million to 50 million in the last two years. The total viewership for basketball now stands at 89 million people.
And that, say broadcasters, is the point. Sports requires networks to invest both in time and money. “Of the three hours that Indians spend watching TV, only seven minutes on an average are spent on sports,” points out Gupta. “In the US and UK, of the six hours on television, about 45 minutes are spent on sports. We need to change the way sports is looked at and played in India.”
To expand the viewership for sports on TV, broadcasters have followed two differing routes. One is taking cricket itself deeper, as Star is doing through Hindi and other languages and pushing non-India cricket, as Ten Sports is doing. The second is by investing in a non-cricket sport. Football has emerged as a favourite for almost every broadcaster. It has grown from 96 million viewers in 2008 to 215 million in 2014. Star latched on to kabaddi in addition to football because with 3,000 clubs, kabaddi is a very popular sport across India and has a very low cost of entry- the game requires no gear at all.
THE GLOBAL PICTURE
In the United States, around $7.5 billion in sports rights dedicated to pay TV generates $30 billion in subscription fees, with $14.5 billion in cash flow. In Australia, Fox Sports has built up a profitable business due to a highly consolidated distribution landscape with Foxtel and Fox Sports, both owned by NewsCorp. The success of ESPN in the US and Fox Sports in Australia has been driven by three things: broad content with coverage and rights that cater to consumer and cultural diversity; a corporate culture that is supportive of sports; and ground-up support, distribution, placement and marketing.
Sports investments have largely been through platforms such as Sky, Astro, SingTel and PCCW, which have emerged as the largest buyers in Europe and Southeast Asia. They use sports mostly as a loss leader to drive average revenue per user and subscriber growth. Consumption remains football centric but there is growing demand for local sports said Vivek Couto, Executive Director, Media Partners Asia
The coaching game
But there are big challenges ahead. As LV Krishnan, CEO, TAM Media Research, points out, compared with cricket which Indians have played and understand, other sports do not have the benefit of such a transition from playing to watching. “This changes your enjoyment of the game on television. Also, many other games are very good at the international level but not at local level,” he says. Getting people to play these sports requires good infrastructure and investment at the grassroots level, so the success of the broadcaster depends on how much it is able to push local franchises to invest in the ecosystem. For instance, IMG-Reliance, which owns ISL, has made it mandatory for franchises to invest a percentage of revenues in improving local facilities. “What ISL has done in its first year is to make eight quality football grounds available to players,” says Shah.”It took one year (to get Pro Kabaddi off the ground) because nobody could produce it. We had to bring in people who had done contact sports, knew the camera work needed, train the commentators,” says Gupta.
The second challenge is monetisation. “Cricket’s nature allows for frequent short breaks, and, therefore, ads tend to get noticed,” explains Sam Balsara, chairman and managing director, Madison World. “It helps build reach. Other sports are shorter, so the ad revenue potential gets restricted.” Thirdly, digital has a huge role to play in viewership and engagement for any sport. FIFA 2014 got a massive 20 million page views on Sony Live alone. But this is a Catch 22 proposition: digital could get bigger for other sports, but monetisation on digital is pathetic. Do broadcasters want to invest in this?
And lastly, “People get into cricket because you can become a hero overnight. It may not necessarily be for the love of the game. That kind of glamour is not there in hockey or in kabaddi which is a huge game beyond the metros,” points out Satyanarayana. That in turn affects how advertisers and TV operators view these sports.
Nobody thought they could become a singing sensation overnight till the broadcast ecosystem delivered on that dream through reality TV. Keep the faith then as kabaddi, football and other sports try to find the sporting limelight.