In earlier times, the only way people could engage with their favourite sports and players was by huddling in front of a television screen. Today, the rapid onslaught of technological innovation has created several opportunities where one can experience their favourite sports. One of the most prominent means to this end is through Fantasy Sports. Over the years, fantasy sports has gained widespread popularity amongst Indians, by giving them exposure to scores of global games at their fingertips, as well as an enjoyable way to engage with sports.
From approximately 20 lakh registered users in 2015, the Fantasy Sports user base in India has now surpassed 13 crore, as per data listed in the latest Deloitte report, Fantasy Sports: A Virtuous Cycle of Sports Development. There have been several incubators for this growth, including digital smartphone penetration and low data rates that have made online fantasy sports accessible to most sports enthusiasts. Given the national sentiment towards cricket as a religion, sports enthusiasts have leapt up to participate on these platforms.
The female user base, too, is seeing a steady rise, contributing to over 33% and expected to rise further. Players between 25-40 years of age take up 59% of the user base, making them the most significant contributor to Fantasy Sports. The main reason behind this is that they have been firsthand witnesses to the evolution of sports technology, from passive watching to active engagement. Their understanding of it is thus, unparalleled. Younger users aged between 18-25 constitute 29% of the base. This category consists of users who, via Online Fantasy Sports, are enhancing their knowledge about new sports, beyond the conventionally popular cricket and football. This group of users also dabble in sports like Kabaddi, volleyball, and others.
There are several compelling factors that attract sports enthusiasts to Fantasy Sports platforms. Listed below are few reasons that can help decode the monumental growth of this sunshine industry over the last decade:
1. Bragging Rights and Monetary Incentives - Since adequate knowledge about the sport is crucial to create an educated and sound team, players who participate in Fantasy Sports tend to be well-informed. Fantasy Sports gives them a chance to boast about their knowledge and brag about the analytical skills, which are required to understand player performance statistics, in their respective social circles like schools, colleges, offices, etc. The monetary prizes on victories further compel them to take up the challenge. These bragging rights can be taken to the next level with the introduction of Fantasy Sports World Championships.
2. Ownership Rights - Participating in Fantasy Sports games enables users to create their own ideal virtual teams. This creates a team management simulation, wherein users can manage teams, pick players based on their performance metrics, and also learn how to create a well-balanced team with the resources at hand. It makes for a mentally stimulating and gratifying game-play for Fantasy Sports players.
3. Community Experience - Given the rapidly growing popularity of Fantasy Sports platforms, especially during the Indian Premier League, Indian Super League, UEFA Champions League, Fantasy Sports players get opportunities to mingle with their peers in social settings. Exchanging tips regarding team-building, sharing scores and making leagues, all become innovative means of creating a pleasant community experience. This serves as a great team-building exercise for workplaces, by having users join free-to-play contests and building teams together. There are also colleges and schools that encourage creation of clubs and committees; for instance, Fantasy Cricket Clubs, wherein people compete against one another, socialise, and bond over their favourite sport.
4. Knowledge Enhancer - Participation in Fantasy Sports also helps users learn about a wider range of sports, enhancing not only their knowledge but further aiding them with better decision making ability, efficiency in planning teams, and overall enhanced experience. Sports like Kabaddi became popular in India because of the rise of Online Fantasy Sports. This has benefitted the entire sports ecosystem, motivating youngsters to take up new sports professionally. People are spurred on further by the thrill of a challenge when they notice their peers and other players winning. This fuels their own motivation to participate and win big.
5. Welcome Distraction- Fantasy Sports has provided ardent sports lovers with new and creative means of engaging with their favourite sports, beyond just watching it on a screen. Participating in Fantasy Sports games makes users feel like they’re a part of the entire ordeal, bringing them closer to the sport and its players. For instance, during football season, fantasy football owners eagerly look forward to Sundays. Watching games and following the performance of your teams is an entertaining form of escapism.
These reasons have fuelled the breakneck speed at which the Indian Fantasy Sports user-base is growing. According to the study by Deloitte, the male Fantasy Sports user segment is expected to grow at a CAGR of 14 per cent during 2020–26, and the female base at a CAGR of 13.9 per cent – thus ensuring the continuous growth of this sector.