The term "sport" is derived from the old French desport which meant "leisure", and the English defined it around 13th century as "anything humans find entertaining". According to SportAccord, now Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF), that operates as the umbrella entity for all Olympic and non-Olympic sports federations, a "sport" is defined as any activity that should have an element of competition, be not harmful to any living creature, not rely on equipment provided by a single supplier and most importantly not rely on any "luck" element specifically designed and embedded into that sport.
With an increasing number of sports enthusiasts testing their knowledge, who are always aspiring for an opportunity to utilize and sharpen their existing skills, by evaluating a sport and its players, an enhanced and evolved version into the online world developed, what we call today as -- online fantasy sports. This is an industry which has a considerably fast-growing consumer base due to a large number of sports enthusiasts in the country. However, there continues to be a lack of understanding amongst stakeholders on what is online fantasy sports and what sets it apart from all other forms of online games?
Conceptually decoding online fantasy sports, the basic premise for online fantasy sports to happen is its 100% dependency on real-life matches and players. A participant creates his/her own team which basically comprises of real-life players who would be playing for upcoming real-life matches. Since there is total dependency on actual matches, seasons, leagues and players, a participant cannot play on any of these platforms without a real-life corresponding sports event happening. This is a primary reason why online fantasy sports as a sector took a big blow during Covid-19 since there were no actual sports matches and leagues taking place anywhere.
While India is a cricket crazy country, online fantasy sports have increasingly provided participants to also explore their interests in sports other than just cricket, such as kabaddi, volleyball, hockey among others. Sports that have always been neglected have begun to receive the much due attention and this eventually has developed greater interests and engagement in real-life sports. Online fantasy sports require a reasonable degree of understanding of a sport for the participant to actually win a contest. The need for assessing real-life players and matches has resulted in a much keener audience following real-life sports and player statistics.
This has also contributed to increased viewership and higher sports fan engagement that naturally contributes to more qualitative investments, sponsorships and packaging of these sports making them more viable and remunerative to the players of that sport.
While online fantasy sports has a user base engaging on these platforms majorly for purposes of fun and entertainment. It has over time become the most balanced mix of skills and entertainment outlet for sports enthusiasts across age groups (24-40 years). The small proportion of the users who engage in the pay-to-play format is still significantly low. The ticket sizes are negligible -- often times as low as Rs 35, the cost of a typical snack. A whitepaper recently published by IndiaTech.org also stated that the 80% of the online fantasy sports users prefer participating in the free-to-play format and 98% of the 20% who pay-to-play, have either won or lost less than Rs 10,000 net in their lifetime.
While online fantasy sports have been accepted and well established as a “game of skill” backed by multiple court rulings, it is important that other stakeholders including governments recognise this legitimacy which is currently subject to them being played in certain specified formats. The Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS), a self-regulatory industry body, based on the court rulings -- has formulated the FIFS Charter that outlines the best practices and standards to be followed by the industry. This charter ensures that its signatories strictly adhere to it and do not engage in any non-compliant activities on their respective platforms thereby safeguarding consumer interest and ensuring that fantasy sports predominantly remain a game of skill. In order to protect the interests of sports enthusiasts and considering that legal rulings exist in support of certain formats, it is necessary that organisations like FIFS which strive in ensuring that their members follow such self-regulated charters which are in adherence to the court rulings, be recognised as self-regulatory bodies for the industry.
The online fantasy sports industry has all the potential to grow out of India as the next emerging industry that also contributes to the development of sports in the country.
Rameesh Kailasam and Priyanka Mathur
Rameesh Kailasam is CEO and Priyanka Mathur is manager, policy at IndiaTech.org, respectively. The views in this article are their own.