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Fantasy gully: World of fantasy sports experiences major boom amid pandemic

The Financial Express logo The Financial Express 4 days ago
graphical user interface, application: Top operators like Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel are, in fact, keen on focusing on gaming to monetise their subscriber base. © Provided by The Financial Express Top operators like Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel are, in fact, keen on focusing on gaming to monetise their subscriber base.

By Shriya Roy

Recently, Google took Paytm down from the Play Store, saying the payment app had violated its gambling policies. This was after Paytm announced the fantasy ‘Paytm Cricket League’ in which users could win cash rewards based on the actual performance of cricketers in the ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL). The app was restored only after it removed the cashback component.

Paytm’s launch of its fantasy league only points to the burgeoning interest in the sector in the country. As per a recent report by KPMG, the online gaming sector has seen a major boom both in terms of usage and engagement in the last three years, and fantasy sports has emerged as the next big arena of competition for top telecom operators after OTT platforms.

Top operators like Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel are, in fact, keen on focusing on gaming to monetise their subscriber base. With the advent of 5G technology, these network operators are aiming to become vital players in the sports and e-sports market. They hope that over time, with better broadband speeds and by leveraging artificial and virtual reality, 5G will allow them to focus on high bandwidth-consuming cloud games. They are planning to rely heavily on industry partnerships to capitalise on their 5G investments and that’s where the fantasy leagues will gain major traction, say experts.

One such league is My11Circle, which is witnessing great growth. "We have grown our player base steadily and, within a year, we are at a five million-plus user base," says Avik Das Kanungo, director, brand and marketing strategy, Games24x7, which owns My11Circle.

For fantasy league platform Paytm First Games, it’s majorly cricket that brings in the moolah. "Fantasy sports gains traction from cricket, which automatically expands the potential market for the game to over 200 million viewers-the largest for any game in the country," says Sudhanshu Gupta, COO, Paytm First Games.

The boom, however, comes with its own set of legalities and challenges, as can be seen in the Google-Paytm episode. The Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS), a self-regulatory body to protect consumer interest, works to ascertain that operators do not engage in any illegal activity on these platforms and that fantasy sports remains majorly a ‘matter of skill’ and not a ‘matter of chance’. For this, the FIFS keeps a check on members’ activities by carrying out auditing every now and then.

While there are various court rulings in favour of fantasy sports, there are others which have raised doubts. While Punjab and Haryana high courts have called online fantasy games as "games of skill", Kerala High Court in January ruled that "games of skills played for stakes amount to offence of gambling".

Needless to say, the legality of fantasy sports in India is dependent on whether the game qualifies as a game of skill or game of chance. The latter falls under the ambit of gambling and is, hence, restricted by state gambling laws.

Despite that, however, the Indian fantasy sports market has shown phenomenal growth, with gross revenues at Rs 2,400 crore in FY20 compared to Rs 920 crore in FY19, according to a recent FIFS-KPMG report. The worth of the Indian fantasy sports industry is expected to be $3.7 billion by 2024. The country has also witnessed a 700% increase in the past decade in the number of fantasy sports operators and a 2500% increase in the number of fantasy sports players.

Interestingly, a report by the Indian Federation of Sports Gaming (IFSG)-India’s self-regulatory industry body for the online fantasy sports gaming sector-suggests that more than 50% of online fantasy sports traffic comes from tier II and III cities in the country. Not just that, almost 70% of users from smaller cities engage with various online fantasy sports operators more than four times a week.

As far as the game is concerned, Indian Premier League (IPL) continues to be the most loved, with many fantasy platforms such as Dream11, Mobile Premier League (MPL) and MyTeam11 leveraging its popularity. Dream11, in fact, is the title sponsor for the ongoing IPL, while MPL is the primary sponsor for two of the biggest teams in the league-Kolkata Knight Riders and Royal Challengers Bangalore. Additionally, Dream 11 has raised about $225 million in funds, while MPL has managed to raise $90 million in its new financing round.

Gupta says IPL is the biggest event in terms of user engagement within the fantasy sports genre, with over 30-40% of the year’s metrics coming from the two months of the tournament. "IPL has become a great vehicle to increase reach for the platform. With the ongoing IPL, we are targeting to cross the milestone of 100 million users. In terms of revenue, we are expecting our monthly number to increase 10 times," he says.

So popular is fantasy sports becoming in the country that even iconic sportspersons such as Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Virat Kohli are endorsing it. With Tendulkar onboard as the brand face for Paytm First Games, Gupta says they hope to create more awareness about the genre. My11Circle’s Kanungo, too, says that Ganguly’s association with the brand has been key to their initial success.

What has perhaps aided these platforms’ growth and popularity is the fact that no spectators are allowed inside stadiums currently. "Within the first two days of the IPL, we witnessed heightened user interest, with close to one million users logging in to play," says Gupta.

The excitement is tangible, asserts Abhishek Madhavan, senior vice-president, growth and marketing, MPL. "Fantasy sports gives people the chance to be more involved in the action and the sector benefits from that," he says.

India has a huge untapped pool of sports lovers who can help these platforms become the next big thing. The fantasy league platforms, too, are working closely with telecom companies to offer best data packages to users. Time will tell how successful they are in the long run, but for now, the game is on.

Power play

Indian fantasy sports market gross revenue stood at Rs 2,400 cr in FY20 compared to Rs 920 cr in FY19, as per a Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports-KPMG report

Worth of the Indian fantasy sports industry expected to be $3.7 billion by 2024

More than 50% of online fantasy sports traffic comes from tier II and III cities in the country, as per a report by Indian Federation of Sports Gaming

Around 70% users from smaller cities engage with various online fantasy sports operators more than four times a week

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