‘Fantasy sports can hardly be called addictive’: Joy Bhattacharya | Cricket

Fantasy sports has seen rapid growth in the last few years globally as well as in India. Cricket, the most popular sport in the country, has naturally played a big role in attracting more and more people towards fantasy gaming. Hindustan Times spoke to Joy Bhattacharya, director general of the Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS), who spoke about the growth trajectory of the industry, the reasons for their ever-increasing popularity and why there is no danger of addiction.

File photo of Joy Bhattacharya


How has been the growth of fantasy sports in India in the last few years? Can you throw some light on investment in fantasy games and current and future projections on their market size?

We are easily the fastest growing fantasy sports market in the world. In fact, FIFS has released the 2023 FIFS-Deloitte Report on the Fantasy Sports Industry and it seems to confirm this. Our revenue has tripled since FY20 and we have a user base of over 180 million adult players, which is three times the number of users in all of North America. fantasy sports industry revenue has reached 6,800 crore in FY22 and we are expecting to grow at 30 percent CAGR and further 25k cr in FY27. The industry is driving substantial economic growth and innovation in India in terms of tax contribution, attracting foreign and domestic investment, promoting related industries and providing highly skilled jobs for thousands of young Indians.

There is foreign and domestic funding for the FSP. 15,000 crore by FY22, FDI is expected to increase in Deloitte report 25,000 crores by FY25, and the current industry valuation is INR 75,000 crores by FY22. Fantasy sports also generated employment for 12,500 people in the economy in FY22, with around 5,000 direct jobs and 7,500 indirect jobs by FY22. This is expected to increase to 7,000 direct jobs and 10,500 indirect jobs by FY27.

Another important factor in this growth story is the impact made by the industry on the sports ecosystem in the country. FSP has contributed approx. 3,100 crore in FY22 for real-world sports through sponsorships and partnerships, and is expected to grow 6,500 crore by FY27.

What are the possible reasons behind this increase?

Over the past few decades, many things have changed resulting in the growing success of fantasy sports.

The biggest factor is the increase in digitization in the country. Smartphones are available for less than Rs. 5k and the reach has extended to C and D category locations as well. Thanks to this, India now has 660 million smartphone users with 692 million active internet users. This is an important factor in building a viable market for fantasy sports in the country.

Another important factor has been the rise in digital payments. According to a Deloitte-FIFS report, UPI transactions now add up to a value equivalent to 55 per cent of India’s GDP and there are 110 million paid online gamers in India due to the proliferation of UPI. This is the second largest number of users of any segment after e-commerce. In fact, we can argue that even fantasy sports have contributed significantly to the growth of digital payments in India.

Furthermore, the growth of league-style sports in India since the inception of the Indian Premier League has been another major factor in the rise of fantasy sports. Sports beyond men’s cricket have gained widespread traction with the ICC Women’s World Cup 2022 seeing a 47 per cent increase in viewership of the 2020 T20 Women’s World Cup.

Similarly, Kabaddi became the second most viewed sport in 2019 and Pro Kabaddi League Season 9 in 2022 saw a total of 222 million viewers.

With homegrown fantasy sports platforms that are available in regional languages, FS has managed to penetrate Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities as well, and in doing so, fantasy sports is breaking social barriers.

Has IPL been a big factor in attracting people towards fantasy sports?

The bigger the event, the more interest there is around it as everyone wants to earn bragging rights in their social circles for having the best fantasy team. Hence, just as IPL increases the interest among users in playing fantasy sports competition, similarly it increases the level of excitement among passive IPL viewers and turns them into active participants due to the high level of involvement required in playing fantasy sports . This directly attracts more attention and increases viewership which in turn leads to exponentially higher sponsorship and advertising revenue.

This is the reason why in today’s time, any sports league has one or the other fantasy partner. This is true for all major sports leagues like IPL, Major League, NBA, etc. as league owners realize that fantasy sports have now become an important means of increasing viewer engagement.

What are your thoughts on the new rules of IPL? Especially Impact Player?

The Impact Player is a very interesting rule. I still think that not all teams understand the concept well. This is tempting because it makes life more difficult for fantasy sports operators as well as fantasy sports users and makes matters a lot more complicated.

However, I think these changes are good as they add another element to the whole range of fantasy sports. Trying to guess who the Impact player is and pick the team accordingly adds an exciting element, thus adding excitement to the viewers and users alike.

How is the announcement of the rule of XI after the toss affecting fantasy sports?

Obviously, this makes life very difficult for fantasy sports users as teams can decide their playing XI literally after the toss. Depending on the result of the toss, a captain may field his best bowling unit or his best batting unit. This means that any fantasy sports user will have to keep this detail in mind, and the window of being able to choose their playing XI will shrink even more.

There’s a reason why fantasy sports are deemed sports of skill by the courts – because the person with more knowledge about the game always has a better chance of winning more contests. The new IPL rule tests the skills of the users as it forces them to think on their feet, as well as keep factors like the flip of a coin in their mind when selecting their playing XI.

Also, the new rules are making things challenging for fantasy sports operators as they now have to develop servers that are expected to be jammed in the last 25-30 minutes when everything breaks down. With users also following the toss and forming teams at the last moment, there has been a tremendous jump in demand for gaming infrastructure. Thus, it also increases the potential for new technology development and opens the door for new inventions in the fantasy sports genre over the next few years. Adding a little something to the game adds to the excitement of the game and on all fronts.

There are concerns about addiction to fantasy sports apps. What are the steps taken by FIFS to mitigate the risk?

If you look at fantasy sports, you will know that they are not available on demand, so there is very little scope for repeat use. A fantasy sports game is available to consumers only when a tournament or league is sanctioned by an authority, board or association for that sport. For example, right now we are providing you IPL, which is sanctioned by BCCI and in turn each national cricket board approves the participation of its players. The game really comes alive at 7 PM when the teams are announced and users have 30 minutes to select their teams. After that, they can come back to the game to check their position on the leaderboard, real scores and follow the performance of the selected players. However, there is no option to start another game. In fact, 70% of users say they watch new games and learn about new players and leagues.

Apart from this, 80% of users in India play for free. The average expenditure of the remaining 20% ​​is 50 per game entry. 80% of users have a playing frequency of only once a week or even less. These figures show a healthy engagement with the activities available and can hardly be called addictive. In fact, a substantial portion of users cite entertainment, social bonding, competition, and analysis of real-world sports as reasons for playing fantasy sports.

Nevertheless, at FIFS, we want to be vigilant and our members have responsible gaming policies that inform the user about his usage patterns so that he can enjoy it safely. Also, as a federation, we will actively engage with MeitY and SRB, to be constituted under the IT Rules, to follow the guidelines on safe and responsible gaming.

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