Football is the most popular sport in the world, but there are still some countries where it is yet to gain a proper foothold among the masses.
While most of Europe, Africa and the Americas are already in love with football, there are quite a few nations where football is not the primary sport. India is one of them; the nation with the second-highest population in the world has long seen cricket as the most popular sport, with all other sports taking a backseat in terms of passion and support.
However, in recent years, football has been seeing rapid growth in the country, as more and more people tune into the Premier League, while fantasy sports have also played a part in getting football into the mainstream a lot more.
India is one of the countries where betting laws are still archaic, with gambling and betting banned in the country. This includes sports betting, but at the same time, we have seen fantasy games flourish, and many operators have set up fantasy sports games to cater to this demand.
This has mirrored the rise in demand for online casinos in India, but although that remains out of bounds, a recent High Court verdict that fantasy games require skill to play, and are thus permissible and do not fall under the category of gambling, has come as a huge boost to fantasy game providers. In order to further protect the industry and regulate it as well, the Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS) was created in 2017.
They recently published a report by the global consultancy firm KPMG, which stated that the gross revenue for Indian sports fantasy platforms was $320 million for the 2020 financial year, compared to around $100 million for the previous year. Thus, revenue has tripled in the space of a year. Further, another interesting fact was that almost 50% of transactions on these platforms came from Tier II and Tier III cities or the smaller cities in India.
While 77% of fantasy platform users have been playing leagues and competitions for cricket, 47% of them have been engaged with football, which shows how these fantasy sports games are drawing the public towards football as well. 65% of people who responded to the survey also said that there was a direct increase in the time they spent watching, analysing and reading about the sport they were playing the fantasy equivalent of once they started playing, which once again bodes well for football in general in the country.
However, this relates to the popular European leagues, which already have many followers in the country. The question is whether the popularity of fantasy football can translate into more fans for Indian football.
The creation of the Indian Super League (ISL) in 2014 has definitely helped raise the profile of Indian football, with the marketing and awareness around the league having definitely improved its support. ISL-based fantasy football games have also come up, further increasing fans’ interest in the league. However, to properly draw fans into supporting the league and the teams, there needs to be an improvement in the quality of football on display in the league as well. This needs to take place at all levels – grassroots, clubs and the national team.
There is a reason why all the major Indian fantasy sports providers have either a movie star or an Indian cricketer as their brand ambassadors – these are still the two most popular entertainment options in the country. Only nine percent of non-fantasy players were aware of the ISL, according to the KPMG survey, which shows the challenge facing the league in terms of bringing the beautiful game to the masses in India.