The second day of FICCI Frames 2014 began with Gautam Bhimani anchoring a session featuring Nitin Kukreja, president (sports), Star India; Yannick Colaco, MD, NBA India; and Shrinivas Dempo, chairman, Dempo Group.
Bhimani set the tone for the discussion by reflecting on the status of other sports with respect to cricket in India. He said, "If a marketer has a million (10 lakh) to play with, chances are 9.36 lakh will be devoted to cricket and the remaining will go towards other sports."
Build the ecosystem
Colaco emphasised that people can't complain about monetising the ecosystem without actually building it. He said, "Everyone talks about monetising the ecosystem, but the challenge is to build it. That's something we (NBA India) are doing. We're looking to start from the grassroots to first make the sport grow and then monetise it. The mistake other sports are making is that they are looking to monetise it first without actually looking to build the fan base by engaging them. Once engagement is achieved, monetisation will automatically come."
Dempo spoke about the state of the I-League. "Dempo SC has survived for the last four decades in the I-League. The size of the football industry is Rs 150 crore, and all of it is because of the operating expenditure. Fourteen clubs spend about 10 crore each in this aspect. The challenge for the I-League is not competing with cricket or any other sport, but the European leagues like the Barclays Premier League, La Liga and the Bundesliga. The European leagues get four times the number of viewers the Indian League gets."
Kukreja countered Colaco's view of putting the emphasis only on the ecosystem. He said, "While we have to build sports as broadcasters, we still have to look at the RoI."
He added, "We have to understand why it is on the brink of collapse. The whole value chain is currently skewed. Forex has got unfavourable almost by 50 per cent over the last three years and that has made broadcasters suffer. Cricket has survived through this because it's a sport running on advertising spends."
Kukreja also brought up 'the Doordarshan issue'. "The government says that the country must get to view sport and I'm supportive of that, but with Doordarshan broadcasting live sport, it's eating into our own revenues now. Also, if I put in Rs 15 crore on a sport now, I see no RoI. There are further deficiencies and leakages galore and till they remain, India will remain a non-sporting country."
Colaco then explained how a country like USA has built its sports ecosystem. "Basketball is there from the school level in the USA and that's broadcast on television as well. From the grassroots to the NBA, the sport is given importance. There's been an obsession with leagues across sports in India of late. It's great to have such leagues that drive interest, but what next? Star put their money on the Badminton League but other than the league, there's no engagement for fans through the rest of the year."
Federations need to step in
Kukreja then spoke about the reason the IPL was a success. "IPL got a lot of things right. But the major reason it's been a success is that people follow the sport otherwise as well. There are 300 days of cricket, but there was still a need for the league. The BCCI packaged it well and created a phenomenon. The reason why we can't make hockey/badminton a success is that we can't keep the viewers engaged as there are only 100 days of hockey and badminton. Federations need to step in now and help."
Bhimani then asked Dempo whether cricket does well because the Indian cricket team is normally a successful one and whether the national team's winning helps a sport do well.
Dempo responded, "It does help package a product but that's not the only thing. As clubs we see and complain a lot that there's no packaging for our football games (pre or post shows). Football is prevalent in Goa and Bengal while the rest of the country isn't as interested. Mahindra United shut because Anand Mahindra thought there's no light at the end of the tunnel currently and instead looked to invest in the grassroots."
Kukreja picked up on Dempo's point and said, "Cricket has got a lot of good things going for it. There's enough consistency of product going on to keep the fans going. It's expanding to cities like Dharamshala and Kochi and that's helped the game - our captain is from a small town as well. The metros may be more muti-sport, but the heartland is still (about) cricket."
Bhimani pointed to a study conducted in the West Indies to find out why fast bowlers weren't coming through. It revealed that youngsters of the build of fast bowlers saw the NBA as a more lucrative sport and migrated to the USA instead. Colaco quipped that the reason for this wasn't money but because basketball was a 'proper sport'.
He added, "On a serious note, the BCCI gets the worst reputation among federations in India, but they've done a tremendous job. 25 years ago players came from the metros only, but now our captain is from a small town. That's why the IPL has been fantastic for cricket in India."
Bhimani asked Colaco whether a local sporting icon could help a sport and compared China's interest in tennis and basketball to the success of Li Na and Yao Ming.
Colaco said, "China is unique because even before Ming's entry in the NBA, it was well supported. When Sania Mirza was in the limelight I would see queues of young girls wanting to play tennis, but now that's she faded away even the interest has dipped. China doesn't have a player in the NBA currently, but we've still got an office in Beijing with about 120 people."
Build on the FIFA U-17 World Cup
Dempo then brought up the FIFA U-17 World Cup to be held in India in 2017. "It'll make a big difference. As a host country we'll get to play in it and get to build a team. If we can build enough aura around it, it will be great. But after that event we have to keep it going. I saw the last U-17 World Cup in Abu Dhabi and the level of football was scary. I think India could find it very difficult."
Kukreja underlined the importance of grabbing the FIFA U-17 opportunity, and said, "As a broadcaster, the viewership disparity shows where cricket stands in India. The top 10 programs in sports are cricket even if its highlights. It's time we ensure we grab opportunities like the CWG and FIFA U-17 World Cup. It's for us to capatalise on this."
On the advantage of sports like basketball and football in the country,
Colaco said, "The low cost of infrastructure is the big plus points for these sports. All we need is a flat surface and a ball. We've identified over 125 basketball courts in India. We just need to motivate people to use them. You can't keep blaming the lack of infrastructure."
F1's spin off is infrastructure in Noida
Bhimani brought up the F1 story in India. Before asking the trio for their inputs, he said, "F1 has had a great spin off in Noida - and that's been infrastructure. Builders have sold flats saying 'track view' etc. But, F1 hasn't really worked in India."
Kukreja was first on the topic. "It's something that has a lot of potential. Everyone drives and can relate with the sport. But other than the race, not a lot has been done to promote it."
Colaco echoed Kukreja's view: "The concern is having one apex event but nothing around it. Everyone drives, but access to high level go-karting or other racing doesn't exist in India."
Dempo added, "I've been to a lot of GPs around the world, and seeing the number of Indians attending them is staggering. So, there is interest around the sport for sure."
The last point for discussion in the session was the viewing experience. Colaco said, "Viewing experience and spectator experience is important. If you get in to an NBA game, even a non-basketball fan will leave as a fan. One can order meals and soft drinks through an app on the phone. There's plenty of entertainment going on. There are 41 home games each team plays and 91 per cent of the tickets are sold out. It's not only the NBA in USA but also other leagues like the NFL. An IPL match is competing with other modes of entertainment in India. Why will one person pay Rs 2,000 repeatedly to get pushed around in the stadiums, not get to use the loo, etc.? People will start spending Rs 400 instead to watch movies on recliners in theatres."
Kukreja too asserted that the on-ground experience was vital. "This buzz translates to TV viewership. The on-ground package helps the television experience. That's the reason why people don't really watch the Ranji Trophy as there's nothing happening around it," he surmised.