Ad-dendum BY Rajesh Sethi: Looking beyond cricket

Published: June 2, 2015 12:22:27 AM

Niche sports have their own fan clubs in India with events such as World Wrestling Entertainment and UEFA Champions League getting the eyeballs

Cricket has been the dominant sport in India for a few decades now, taking over the mantle from hockey, which was, till then, India’s mainstay in sports because of its success at the Olympics. However, due to lack of much success in the 1980s coupled with the Indian cricket team’s success in the 1983 World Cup, cricket became the heartbeat of a nation of a billion people. T20 cricket’s entertainment factor and the continued success of Indian cricket including the famous World Cup win on home soil cemented cricket’s position as the undisputed leader in Indian sports. Not only in terms of revenues and TV viewership but also in terms of the number of people taking up the sport at the grassroots level, cricket is the leader by a margin. We will always be a cricket-crazy nation.

Yet while Indian cricket continues to be the major money churner, other non-cricket sports have witnessed increased interest from fans  thus helping them create a niche for themselves. Certain sports have gone on to attract major attention by the masses. These sports have not only grown in the last few years but have also chipped off on the popularity of cricket. World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), a tent pole property of Ten Sports Network is one such.

WWE is a very well-produced, well-scripted weekly sports entertainment programming which sees viewership from across markets, across age groups and across social barriers. The viewership this property garners is second to none in the non-India cricket segment. It has even consistently rated higher than live test cricket played by the Indian national cricket team which is a first for any sport. WWE offers a complete 360-degree interaction with its fans in India through reality shows, promotional star visits to India, screenings and other on-ground activations.
Moving to football, a sport that has particularly caught on with the youth of the country; we have seen an increased fan following for European football matches across the country.

Teams such as  Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Arsenal have massive fan followings in India. These clubs have invested in the country through football academies, events and screenings and are seeing returns through increased merchandise sales. Manchester United is reported to have one of their biggest fan bases in India. This has resulted in Indian companies sponsoring them at a global level. The fact that all top European leagues from England, Germany, France, Spain, Italy are broadcast in India shows the increased traction of the sport in the country. The FIFA World Cup in 2014 helped add a new viewer base to the sport but it is still the UEFA Champions League that features all the top European clubs in a group stage and knockout format,  which remains the mainstay in the annual football calendar for Indian viewers.

Other sporting events which are gaining popularity in the country are events with an India focus. Fans always love to see sports where their countrymen perform well and compete against the world’s best. The Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games are prime examples where the success of Indian athletes and sportsmen at the world stage created a huge buzz among fans in India. This translated into great viewership numbers and a lot of brands getting associated with the broadcast. Brands benefited a lot from supporting Indian athletes – being with them throughout their journey, from being unknown faces to becoming household names in India.

Other premium sports such as tennis, golf, Moto GP, Tour De France continue to have their fan following. They have created a niche for themselves in the Indian market and the fan following for these sports will only continue to rise. Cricket may be the heartbeat of the nation right now but the impact of other sports cannot be written off and will only continue to rise, these sports have opened up the market and have given advertisers a competitive alternative to cricket.

The author is global CEO of Ten Sports and CEO-Taj TV Ltd.

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