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Not just cricket: Are broadcasters serious about investing in other sports?

Does constant dominance of cricket on sports broadcast networks mean that non-cricketing sports will always be sidelined or are broadcasters actually serious about investing in such properties on the lines of the successful kabaddi league? BestMediaInfo.com analyses if channels are actually spending big money on expanding coverage of other sports or they're just playing safe by betting on cricket

For broadcasters, sports in India is a sunrise industry that is attracting sponsorship and broadcast deals worth billions of dollars every year. However, despite having super or pro leagues for every sport, majority of India's sporting broadcast industry still revolves around cricket.

To diversify from cricket, both Star India and Sony Pictures Networks (SPN) focused on developing non-cricketing properties in 2012. Star India, in 2013, made an announcement promising Rs 20,000 crore to expand sports coverage and develop other sports. The network very well beefed up its coverage of India and international cricket, but the only other sport that reached greater heights was kabaddi. Sony too focused on wrestling, NBA and soccer but its mainstay remained IPL. This is also evident in the viewership charts of the networks.

Factor this. With IPL in its kitty, it is expected that Star India will have about 81 per cent viewership contribution from cricket, while kabaddi will be left to approximately 18 per cent.

According to the study titled ‘Media: Content Meter’, done by ICICI Securities, SPN had 63 per cent of its viewership coming from IPL, while other cricket properties attracted 16 per cent. The rest 21 per cent was from wrestling, soccer and basketball among others. Against this, Star India had about 64 per cent viewership coming from cricket and 34 per cent from kabaddi while the other sports contributed mere two per cent in the channel’s 6.1 billion Impressions since February 2017. SPN had a total sports viewership of 6.7 billion during the same time.

We analyse if the two networks’ strategies are working in the development of non-cricketing sports. Are advertisers taking a note of how 'other sports' viewership is getting built up? Is Star India’s concentration on two of the biggest sports in India is justified as against its commitment to spend almost 40% of Rs 20,000 crore, which it promised for expanding coverage of sports, towards non-cricketing sports?

After Star India won the broadcast rights of the IPL for the next five editions, considering the shift of IPL (viewership of 4.1 billion) from SPN to Star India and the annual growth in viewership, Star will then have about nine billion viewership coming from cricket (along with IPL) and the total viewership will also go up to an estimated 11 billion.

The domination of cricket in Star India’s sports viewership will then stand at about 81 per cent, while kabaddi will be left with approximately 18 per cent. Sony, on the other hand, will be left with about 2.5 billion sports viewership, against the current 6.7 billion with 45 per cent contribution from cricket.

Star India’s dominance and over-dependence on cricket is only looking to increase with the shift of IPL. While the network has had some phenomenal campaigns and promotions for its cricket properties and kabaddi too, we haven’t seen any path-breaking creative work for other sports and sporting leagues – India Super League, Hockey India League or Indian Badminton League – for that matter.

Also, the network has the broadcast rights for some of the phenomenal sporting events, but most of these – English Premier League, Tennis tournaments and others – are mostly scheduled on the Star Sports Select channels.

Developing other (non-cricketing) sports

One of the sports observers pointed out that Star India has other sports content on the network, even if the numbers are not as huge as cricket and kabaddi. Without verifying the numbers from the report, Jigar Rambhia, National Director, Sports and Entertainment Partnerships, Maxus India, said, “Star India has created kabaddi, which is the second most watched sports in the country. They have the two best performing sporting properties and now, they have IPL too. It strengthens their position with ICC and India cricket already with them.”

SPN too started building on other sports like NBA and wrestling around 2012. This is how, according to the Media Content Meter report, soccer contributes to about seven per cent of the network’s viewership while wrestling contributes to about 11 per cent. This, against Star India, that has mere one per cent from soccer.

A media expert who chose to remain anonymous, said, “These are two different strategies that are working here. For Sony, it was a conscious step to go into a multi-sport strategy with FIFA, MMA, NBA and others. They built the non-cricket portfolio first and then started building their cricket portfolio through the acquisition of Ten Sports– which (probably) is the 16 per cent non-IPL cricket viewership in the chart.”

Explaining how distinct are the two networks, he spoke about Star India’s approach, “Star India went on to a more local approach, even with football and badminton leagues, while Sony went for international sports. The only large fight between the two, now, will be on India cricket rights. Rest, both networks have a distinct strategy.”

“Also, Sony had to make efforts to create a brand in the sports space unlike Star India, which had a decade-old standing. Despite losing IPL, nobody is doubt that Sony is serious player in the sports broadcast business.”

Rambhiya went on to explain that Star India also has niche properties like Wimbledon (tennis), football, F1, badminton, table tennis and all of that. “As for developing other sports, it takes a lot of time. We can’t expect such huge things to happen overnight. The upcoming sports, tennis and badminton, are also growing and in future, these properties will also start generating numbers. Be it Sony or Star, the more number of sports are telecast, it is better for the game. The way it is going, we will have many more global sports figures from India, apart from cricket. In badminton, we already have five out of top 20 global figures.”

If we see the efforts Sony has put in to build other sports, we wonder if the network was preparing itself for the loss of IPL, if ever. A media expert denied, “Nobody expects the bid to go wrong. I don't think they would develop a strategy basis that. I think they want to build the market for these sports, which I think it is still underutilised.”

Scheduling is key

It is not a new trend to telecast sports properties on movies or GEC channels. Leveraging on its huge network, Sony had telecast the ICC World matches between 2002 and 2007 on Set Max and there on, there was no looking back. It also bought IPL rights in 2008 on the back of the same strategy despite not having a single sports channel in its kitty. The network had also utilised its regional channels for IPL matches.

Star Plus too has recently leveraged this by telecasting Pro Kabaddi Leagues on its Hindi movie channel Star Gold. Though this year, the channel took the tourney off the movie genre and restricted it to the sports channels.

Star India is the first one to bring a regional sports channel with Star Sports Tamil and the first FTA sports channels with Star Sports First. The network’s Star Sport Select HD and its Add On services on Tata Sky have been innovations in themselves. But the network has largely restricted its high quality premium sports properties to Star Spots Select HD. Why so?

A veteran in the sports business said, “Star has always focused on the number game and given cricket and kabaddi (recently) the maximum reach. All the high quality non-cricket sports like EPL and French Open were majorly pushed on Star Sports Select, which has a limited reach in terms of distribution. That might be one of the reasons that these other sports don’t see huge numbers on Star India.”

While it is true that the network has developed and is telecasting in-house tournaments like India Super League and Badminton League, the scheduling of the international sports on the premium channel is definitely a well-thought strategy.

Rambhiya explains a prospective ‘why?’ here. He said, “Traditionally, these kinds of properties have never delivered numbers. It’s more of a quality game than a quantity game. The core TG of Star Sports Select 1 and 2 is SEC A and A+, which is the kind of audience that consumes these niche sports. So, I believe that the revenue is coming mainly from distribution, rather than advertising. Also, football and F1 are global deals, unlike IPL which is more India-centric. So, it makes sense for them to get subscription revenues whatever they can from these sports.”

Will the moolah come to other sports?

An industry observer and a senior media planner clearly states, “Though the non-cricketing sports are becoming increasingly popular and garnering viewership much above what they were about five years back, there are no bucks to back them.”

The planners and experts have all indicated that it will be a long time before monies are reaped by the other sports. Rambhiya said, “Even if Sony or Star has built other sports, I believe that they won’t be looking at monetising these sports as of now.”

Asked if the advertisers are more confident about cricket and kabaddi, he said, “Yes, because of the numbers that they generate. Kabaddi despite not being present on Star Gold this time has still given good numbers and hence, from an advertising point of view, it makes sense for a brand to be present.

Info@BestMediaInfo.com

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