Wrestling overtook Cricket in terms of total viewership in 2018: Report

MUMBAI: The FICCI EY Report on the business of Indian media and entertainment (M&E) made some interesting observations on sports. Quoting BARC India data (TG: All India / 2+/ 2017 & 2018/Program Theme: Sports), the report noted that Wrestling overtook Cricket in 2018 in terms of total viewership, on the back of weekly content through the year.

It garnered a 20% share of total sports viewership with Cricket coming a close second at 19%. Within the category, key properties were WWE and the Pro Wrestling League. Volleyball more than doubled its viewership. Together, Wrestling, Cricket, and Kabaddi contributed to over 50% of all sports viewership. Football continued to remain out of the top five sports, coming in at number seven overall.

However, viewership share of the top three sports Cricket, Kabaddi and Wrestling declined from 73.6% in 2017 to 56.7% in 2018. Growth was seen across all sports like Volleyball, Athletics, Boxing, Hockey, Martial Arts, Badminton, and Soccer.

The report noted that Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) has seen a sharp fall of 31% in its viewership ratings for the first 12 matches of its sixth season, compared to the previous year. Over 23.7 crore viewers saw the first 24 matches of the 2018 season compared to 34.5 crore viewers last year.

It further stated that Volleyball was a hit among Indian fans, both in the Asian Games and the Rio Olympics held in 2016. This, the report added, prompted Baseline Ventures and Volleyball Federation of India (VFI) to launch the Pro Volleyball League. The league plans to kick off with the first leg in Kochi on 2nd February 2019.

In terms of viewership, sports is no longer dominated by males and there has been an upsurge in female viewership for sports events. Also, women’s sports is seeing growth in focus for rights holders, brands and media. With gender equality taking prominence, the growth opportunity represented by under-engaged females is being recognised, with brands demanding a focus on women’s sports.

Looking at the overall sports broadcasting landscape, the report noted that after the sale of Ten Sports by Zee to Sony for $385 million in 2018, the Indian sports broadcasting landscape in India is predominantly handled by two players, Star and Sony. While Star acquired the IPL rights from 2018-2022 and retained the rights of domestic and international matches in India for the same time period, Sony acquired rights of Australian and English cricket boards, which were earlier held by Star India.

Along with these, Sony has rights for cricket events of Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, West Indies, and Zimbabwe cricket boards. DSport, the third sports broadcaster, will telecast Bangladesh Premier League in India in 2019.

The report also stated that the sale of broadcasting and media rights remained the biggest source of revenue for most sports organisations. Broadcasters earned royalties from the sale of their exclusive footage to other media outlets which further enabled them to invest in the organisational and technical undertaking involved in broadcasting sports events.

In the first ever live e-auction for sports media rights by the BCCI, Star India outbid Sony Pictures Network with its consolidated bid of Rs. 6138 crore to acquire all the BCCI media rights for a five-year cycle (2018-2023), setting a new per-match benchmark for BCCI home games at Rs. 60.2 crore, up from Rs. 43.2 crore.

With more than 20.2 crore viewers turning to the video streaming platform Hotstar to watch the 60-day IPL, a record 28% of Star India’s over 70 crore IPL viewers consumed the cricket league online in 2018.

FIFA also saw massive uptake on digital, with an estimated 7 crore viewers watching it on SonyLIV. It achieved a peak concurrency of 20 lakh viewers. SonyLIV had 36 advertisers for the world cup.

According to the report, both Hotstar and SonyLIV have created packages for real-time sports streaming, while also in some cases permitting free consumption of sports content with a five-minute delay. The report estimates that there were approximately a million paid sports subscribers in 2018 across different packages.

Overall the industry grew 19% in 2018 to reach Rs. 18,500 crore. Growth was driven by increased media spends on sports (2018 boasted of BCCI tournaments, IPL, Olympics, and FIFA), franchise fees for new teams and endorsements, where a larger non-cricketing base earned brand deals. The report has not sized the sports apparel and fitness market in the above.

The report also pointed out that there are over 16 domestic leagues in the country – across Kabaddi, Football, Wrestling, Boxing, and Badminton – from just two leagues five years ago. IPL, India’s largest league, is valued at $6.3 billion today.

However, the report stated that five sports leagues ran into hurdles in 2018. The year did not see the annual editions of five sports leagues, including the Hockey India League which was establishing new benchmarks for growth and success. In addition, the Super Fight League (SFL), United Basketball Alliance (UBA), Premier Futsal and Super Boxing League (SBL) all ceased operations. The revamped Hockey India League (HIL) will return in 2019 in a new avatar with a more fast-paced five-aside format replacing the traditional 11-a-side event.

Media spend on sports increased by 24%. The media spends on sports increased by 24% to Rs. 5900 crore in 2018 with television accounting for around 85% of the spend. Media’s increasing interest in sports makes the market more conducive to investment, the report stated.

Another key trend noticed in 2018 was the entry of social media platforms are getting into the sports arena. In August 2018, Facebook bought the rights to show La Liga, the Spanish top-flight football league, in the Indian subcontinent (includes India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan) for the next three years.

Globally, it bought the rights to stream 25 Major League Baseball (MLB) games in 2018, entered a deal with National Football League (NFL) to stream highlights from regular season games, along with playoffs and the Super Bowl and bought streaming rights to the English Premier League (EPL) in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos from 2019 to 2022.

Globally, online delivery has become the main driver of sports media rights inflation, as digital platforms are becoming increasingly aggressive in sports media rights acquisitions and are bidding for exclusive rights. This has opened new opportunities for rights-holders while creating additional layers of complexity to negotiations and deals. Sports companies are also experimenting with their own direct-to-consumer services for customer acquisition and engagement.

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