Regardless of the industry of operation or the lifecycle phase of an organization, a common theme that surely occupies a significant proportion of its strategic roadmap is Growth - in the case of sports orgs, the burning question usually is: how do we acquire the next 100M fans? As a thought exercise, it'd be interesting to make a hypothetical choice between four potential markets to target:

  1. The country having close to 900M active internet users as of last year (source)

  2. The country recording 113M daily viewership for a Live sports event on OTT (source)

  3. The country with the largest young population below the age of 35 years (source)

  4. The country that accounts for over 45% of all digital payments in the world (source)

Which one would you choose? We do not need to choose ONE of these four alternatives, since none of them are hypothetical and all of them collectively point towards one nation: INDIA 

We firmly believe that there are two key trends parallelly taking shape in India that should excite global sports organizations and encourage them to sharpen their focus on India in order to unlock the next 100M fans for their properties:
the growing appetite for sports consumption and the rapidly evolving digital adoption journey


Growing appetite for sports consumption

While India had historically been a uniquely cricket-crazy sports audience, over the last decade or so we’ve seen a much wider gamut of events gaining significant traction. To get a primary sense of scale, we could look at the following benchmarks:

  1. Tokyo Olympics: Close to 70M total viewers on TV (source)

  2. Formula 1 Racing: 60M+ followers across channels (source)

  3. FIFA World Cup 2022: 200M+ viewers on TV + Digital (source)

  4. ICC Cricket World Cup 2023: 500M+ viewers on TV (source)

  5. Ultimate Fighting Championship: 100M+ viewers across channels (source)


In an interesting take on how much has traction from India improved between two Olympics cycles, the IOC had stated that Neeraj Chopra’s Gold medal winning throw had garnered more views (25M+) on Social than what the whole of Rio Olympics had gotten from India. The rapid rise and proliferation of OTT streaming in the country (on account of highly affordable internet data) has opened up a wide spectrum of alternatives for the Indian sports audience to explore. To add to this phenomenon, the gradually improving level of performance showcased by Indian athletes in major World Championship level events is playing a key role in driving more awareness regarding various sports properties in general. We’ve also seen a marked shift in the preference of younger sports fans in India who are increasingly choosing Social media over conventional channels for non-Live content consumption. To get a sense of scale, the IPL franchises that we partner with have had close to 1B Engagements & close to 3.5B Video Views across Social media through the two months of the 2024 season so far.

Over the course of the last few years, we’ve worked alongside some large global organizations on their India Entry Strategy so as to help them make the most of this tidal wave of sports consumption in India - the likes of the NBA, UFC, MLB & IOC now have India focused digital engagement strategies. Catering to a highly heterogeneous society with a diverse set of vernacular languages and cultures requires a much deeper level of nuance in terms of messaging and local references. Here are some great examples of how this localized approach has proven to be highly impactful:

UFC: Reference to local culture
Our campaign #MerabInIndia featuring UFC superstar Merab Dvalishvili, wherein he’d visited Mumbai earlier this month, was aimed at making UFC more relatable to the Indian audience. We experimented with references to famous local cuisine and with Merab trying his very best to correctly pronounce the names of some well known Indian cricketers. The UFC India Instagram handle has raced to nearly 350K Followers in the course of less than 5 months of going Live.


NBA: Collaboration with national influencers

In order to popularize the NBA across a much wider cross-section of the country, our communication to the fans focused on how some of the most well-known icons of the country relate to the league. It’s a widely held notion in India that nothing else drives as much fan craze as cricket and films do. Thus as seen in the images below, we featured Ranveer Singh (film superstar) & Yuvraj Singh (2-time World Cup winning cricket icon) speaking about their most cherished memories of watching some iconic NBA games. Through the last year, the highly popular Social handles recorded 750M+ impressions and close to 1B video views demonstrating the rising penetration among the Indian audience.

IOC: Usage of vernacular language

The challenge with a property such as the Olympics is the long 4-year periodicity and hence engaging the fans in the non-Olympic years is usually tricky. Further to that, we were entrusted with the objective of reaching out to a much wider demographic in the country - moving beyond just the metropolitan centres. Thus we effectively used vernacular language posts and references to India’s history in the Olympics to provide a uniquely Indian experience to the local fanbase. As a result, the dedicated Instagram handle @olympickhel now has close to 200K followers within a span of the first 8-10 months. With Paris 2024 around the corner, we aim to supercharge fan traction by providing a pulsating coverage of the Games.


Rapidly evolving digital adoption journey

Undoubtedly the most fascinating transformational story over the course of the last decade has been that of Digital India - rapid rise in the adoption of smartphones and digital payments. 

  1. The Unified Payments Interface (UPI) product has gone from having 100k transactions per month in Oct 2016 to over 13B transactions in Apr 2024 (source)

  2. As of last year, India had over 700M active smartphone users across the nation (source)

The opportunity that India offers any new entrant is truly of massive proportions. After the advent of Social media and the wide adoption of smartphones, fan engagement has seen an unprecedented shift from the physical to the digital medium owing to its ability to directly connect with the end user with highly personalized communication. We’ve empowered multiple sports organizations to drive their fan outreach with our Fanalytics offering, which encompasses everything from building the right strategy & product roadmap based on specifically defined outcomes, to driving highly contextual multi-channel campaigns on the back of first party insights. To know more about how a sports organization can truly supercharge fan engagement campaigns, you can check out this previous edition of The SI Perspective.


India’s diverse heterogeneity makes it an incredibly interesting (and at times daunting) market to crack, especially for global organizations. But as Uber’s global CEO Dara Khosrowshahi emphatically stated in an interview earlier this year, “If we can succeed here, we can succeed anywhere in the world!” Thus, success in India is bound to become a bouquet of templates for winning across multiple different micro-regions around the globe. Sportz Interactive, headquartered in Mumbai, has been partnering with a wide portfolio of clients (Indian and overseas) over the past 20+ years to empower them to drive fan affinity from a uniquely Indian perspective. Over the course of the last decade or so, we have helped 250+ clients engage with 500M+ sports fans, thereby driving 6M+ first party registrations and unlocking approximately $50M in revenue. We pride ourselves on having created tangible impact in India for more sports organizations than any other digital agency has - we’ve had the fortune of collaborating with over 10 global orgs to jointly carve out their India Market Entry roadmap & shall remain excited as ever to continue this fascinating exploration of fan behaviour and engagement.


- contributed by Aaditya Ranade (Manager, CEO's Office)