GroupM – ESP Properties: Business of Indian Sports – COVID-19 Outlook

GroupM - ESP Properties Business of Indian Sports - COVID-19 Outlook

Sports sponsorship industry in India has been growing at a healthy CAGR of 12.8% over the last 10 years, with overall Sports Sponsorship market in India crossing the mark of INR 9,000 Crore for the first time1. 2020 was a year of Tokyo Olympics, T20 World Cup, Euro 2020 along with major tournaments like Vivo With most of the sports tournament either cancelled or indefinitely postponed, YOY growth / estimation for year 2020 pre COVID-19 will not hold true.

While there are many speculations around Sports to be conducted for TV audience only with no fans or limited fans in the stadium, anything is a possibility at this point in time. But from an audience appetite standpoint, fans are hungry and waiting for live

Sports is a universal language that connects people regardless of their origin, background, religious beliefs, economic Sports brings us together. Once the dust around COVID-19 settles down, sports will play a pivotal role in helping fans deal with the emotional stress, post-pandemic trauma and give people at large reasons to look forward to.

This situation is also an opportunity for sports in India is a sporting nation in the making with the sector showing strong growth in the last 6-7 years. At a world level, everything is a stand still. We need to focus on our athletes and performance of sports and have a strong vision for 2024 and 2028 Olympics.

Mobile gaming will be the biggest gainers in the post COVID-19 era. We’ve already seen 20% increase in the monthly active users during the lockdown in India, with daily average session going up from 30 min. to 45 and frequency of these sessions increasing to 5-7 per day as against 3 sessions per day during pre COVID-19.

Internationally, we’ve also witnessed rightsholders toying with gaming and virtual sports as a concept to keep athletes and fans engaged in the lockdown times (for example: UAE Tour launching cycling event namely ‘UAE Tour Mubadala Ramadan Virtual Challenge’ on virtual cycling platform Zwift). We see more of these pushing the envelope of virtual and real-world merger.

In a parallel world, esports has been trying to emulate traditional sports for some time now to reach a larger and more mainstream audience. It had already become a billion-dollar industry pre-COVID pandemic with tournaments witnessing arenas filled with screaming fans and sponsors increasingly injecting monies in the ecosystem globally. With the lockdown in place and millions forced to stay at home; esports has shifted to online format filling up the void for many of the LIVE sports’ hungry fans


Keeping the above-mentioned context in mind, below is a suggested playbook for all stakeholders in the sporting ecosystem to come together and help each other out of the situation at hand.

Stakeholders Talent Broadcaster Rights Holder Fans Sponsor Government






Innovative content formats need to be thought of between the talent and broadcasters cohesively.

Capitalizing on fan’s need for new sporting action and want

1 Source: Sporting Nation in The Making VII – GroupM ESP India Sports Sponsorship Report, 2020

to know more about the talent, interviews- from-home and match reruns with athletes from the game commentating on it are some of the concepts to be toyed with…
Rights holder Broadcaster
and talent need and rights
to work holder should
together even work more
more closely hand-in-glove
during the manner right
lockdown just now in order
to ensure that to build a
fan symbiotic
relationships relationship.
are bolstered, One of the
Rights Holder and event relevance

remains. Mutua

ways of doing this would be

opening up

Madrid Open the archive
Virtual Pro footage bank
wherein real to create
players will be rehashed
playing each content. Do
other on PS4 note, sports
broadcasted broadcasters
live on TV and are content
Mutua Madrid crunched with
Open social zero sports
channels action.
During the With dearth of COVID-19

lockdown are unprecedented times and times like these call for unprecedented actions from sports industry too. Keeping the fans engaged is an important KPI for a rightsholder and the lockdown times could be a perfect opportunity for rightsholder to make heroes off their fans. For example, just like NBA, Indian

COVID-19 live sporting
lockdown, live action for
talent some time
interaction with now, it’s an
each other on opportunity for
popular social sports
platforms like broadcasters
Instagram has to toy around
caught on with various
Fans people’s fancy. non-live sport-
For example: ainment
Rohit Sharma – formats as the
Jusprit Bumrah fan
OR Rohit acceptability
Sharma – quotient is
Yuvraj Singh high right now
amongst and this could
others. More of pave way for
these, would be future of non-
welcome. live sport-


ainment options.


Further, lack of LIVE sports could potentially push fans to relook at sports channel subscriptions during lockdown. It could be worthwhile for broadcasters to come up with innovative subscription packages to keep paused fans interested when there’s no LIVE sports.

rightsholders could open up their highlights archive for fans to access, rehash and create versions of their own.














COVID-19 has been detrimental to a lot of businesses and when topline is under pressure, sponsor relationships feel the heat. In times like this, a more humane approach becomes the need of the hour wherein all stakeholders go beyond the dotted line and extend favors which might help keep either parties buoyant.


The post COVID-19 time is expected to define “new normalcy” which in turn will have a telling effect on all aspects of business including sports. The sporting leagues / events post COVID-19 is expected to be lot leaner and efficient from a sponsor perspective and it would in interest of an advertiser to stay invested in the medium to have first-mover advantage at the end of the tunnel.

With fans at an all-time low in terms of live sports supply, sponsors can form the pipe to help fans engage with their favorite athletes, teams etc. and in the process be seen as the knight-in- shining-armor by the fans.

Additionally, sports can be the bridge for sponsors to drive team building and motivation







Initiatives like “Sangeet Setu” and “Hasya Setu” has been a great example of talent- government partnership in the recent past. Similar partnerships in With sports industry in pause mode, it would be a great time to clear the air on “sports events of national interest” – a topic which has been in The rate of recovery of sports as an industry is directly linked to the way government and rights holder rally together in current times.

International travel

While fan’s health and security are government’s top priority, due consideration needs to be made to the stress and trauma that people at large Government & sponsors work together beautifully as Public- Private- Partnerships. Post COVID- 19 time will call for many such initiatives.


sports realm is the need of the hour. How about “Shatranj (Chess) Setu”? the list for long… Further, the lockdown is a great time for government – broadcaster community to come together and chalk out plan of action to popularize events such as National Games which is the breeder network for future Olympic medalists. restrictions ban on people congregation, lockdown etc. has stifled the sports industry across the world. While sports might not feature in the Top 5 priority list of governments, what needs to be taken into account is the fact that sports might be the opium that people need to cope with the emotional trauma caused by the pandemic at hand… are subjected to thanks to the pandemic.

Sports has traditionally been the stress reliever for majority and in current times engaging fans via home- bound & grassroots sporting activities might be something worth considering.

To continue the growth of this sector India needs to focus on its athletes and sports performance for a vivid comeback post the pandemic. While other sporting leagues are on hold and the Olympics have been pushed, mobile gaming is one segment which not only has witnessed a huge growth during the lockdown but also is poised to grow post the pandemic considering its lockdown-related user surge.

Further breaking the playbook down and key takeaways in short:

  1. The post COVID-19 time is expected to define “new normalcy” which in turn will have a telling effect on all aspects of business including sports
  2. Keeping the fans engaged is an important KPI for a rightsholder & broadcaster. The lockdown times could be a perfect opportunity for both to make heroes off their fans
  • Broadcasters should toy around with various non-live sport-ainment formats as the fan acceptability quotient is high right now. Innovative content formats need to be thought of between the talent and broadcaster to make the most out of a fan’s interest in some sporting
  1. Government partnerships in sports realm is the need of the hour. Government & sponsors have worked together beautifully as Public-Private-Partnerships. Post COVID-19 time will call for many such initiatives
  2. Talent needs to make full use of the lockdown to enhance relationships with fans via social Live talent interaction on social media has caught the eyes of a large fanbase since the fans need to see some action happening between the talent instead of no-action. Gaming & virtual sports should definitely be in the consideration set for active fan engagement during current times taking a cue from how cricket world cup winner Ben Stokes engaged with his fans through F1 esports Vietnam Grand Prix.

The above given playbook is a guide for stakeholders like talent, broadcasters, right holders, fans, sponsors and the government, who play a vital part in the sporting ecosystem.

Your thoughts, please