We live in a twilight world. Maybe it is just a matter of growing up, and so is the world of fantasy sports. A sport's relationship with fans is unanimous, as they tend to fly as its kite when they watch a game.
Fantasy sports are a spin-off of actual sporting events. With umpteen developments in the digital realm, sports and gaming activities have moved far beyond just being played in a real-life context.
In today's digital age, Fantasy Sports, much like television was for cricket in India, could be the spur for fostering a diverse sporting culture. The Indian Fantasy Sports industry is fuelling a virtuous cycle of sports investment in the country.
Surprisingly, India has already made headlines by surpassing the US' fantasy market, with 200+ Indian operator companies and 13 crore Indian users becoming the largest market. As the sector evolves, FS operators are actively seeking opportunities to beef up this symbiotic relationship and contribute to the sporting industry.
The Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS), originally formed in 2017, is India's only dedicated Fantasy Sports self-regulatory body dedicated to promoting standardized best practices in Online Fantasy Sports (OFS).
By defining operational standards and developing a regulatory framework, FIFS intends to create a vibrant ecosystem for the Fantasy Sports sector that is sustainable and fair, ensures the interests of participants, and supports the expansion of OFS platforms in India.
Recently, FIFS announced the appointment of Joy Bhattacharjya as its director general.
To learn more about Fantasy Sports and the role of FIFS in protecting the industry and consumer interests, Sportskeeda caught up with Joy Bhattacharjya. In this exclusive interview, Joy discussed his desire to work in the fantasy sports sector and some insights into how the fantasy sports industry in India is thriving.
Fantasy sports offer huge value and allow people to have more intimate relationship with sports
Joy Bhattacharjya has been regarded as one of the stalwarts in the sports industry. He was the project director for the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2017.
He was also team director for the Kolkata Knight Riders and head of programming for South Asia History and National Geographic channels.
Joy was the first Indian head of production at ESPN Star Sports.
When quizzed on what prompted him to consider a career in fantasy sports, he replied:
"When I was an Executive Producer with ESPN Star sports, I started a fantasy sports-based game called Super Selector, which Naseeruddin Shah used to present. And it was a huge success at the time. That was the start of FS in India. I also have a background in Math and Computer Science. So, FS and sports analytics interest me a lot."
He chuckled as he addressed his goals and desires to shape up this industry:
"When I spoke with the FIFS people, where I've been for a few years, I sensed there is much to be done with the industry. So many young people should join and grow the potential of this sector. It also offers tremendous value, and FS allows people to have a more intimate relationship with sports. If you're playing FS, your association with the sport is far more personal because you have some skin in the game basis the team you build."
Globally, the Fantasy Sports sector has been growing steadily, with India being the fastest-growing FS market with 13 crore users. The fantasy and gaming industry has boomed significantly in the last three years and will continue to expand at an even quicker rate due to the high pace of digitalization.
More business factors are at work to create a new paradigm in the Indian sports fraternity. Validating this statement, Joy also spoke about how he foresees the industry reacting to this social shift.
"There's a massive amount of space we are left with. FS gives the person a chance to interact with the sport much more intimately, especially if you're interested in the sport. And what it does is that you can now interact with the sport from wherever you are, irrespective of circumstances, and you can still stay involved with it."
"Even though it's a vast business financially, I think we're still scratching the surface in terms of the number of people who are involved in FS. You will find the number will increase a lot. I would liken FS to what mobile phones were. My point is that FS has many more places to conquer, and I think you will reach far more people if you can tap the local languages. You will find more markets to best, and FS is at an early level currently."
Fantasy Sports, a sunshine sector, has attracted domestic and international investors, with over INR 10,000 crore in FDI, according to FIFS estimates. According to business intelligence and statistical data, the industry is predicted to increase by 6.11 billion dollars (a crazy number) between 2021 and 2025.
So, along the same lines, Joy talks about what employment opportunities exist and how millennials and Generation Z might take advantage of them. He opined:
"One of our founding members took 60 graduates from IITs to join us because there are so many technological requirements, it's not even funny. What happens is that it is a phenomenal employment opportunity, and I would club FS and Sports Analytics together because, fundamentally, they come from the same space. If you understand Sports Analytics well, you will play FS well. All this creates a viable business opportunity, creating a broad ecosystem effect with a huge scope of employment."
Sports enthusiasts are more likely to engage and actively participate in fantasy sporting events since it enriches their spectator experience. Going forward, there's another surprising insight that 55% of fantasy sports users are from Tier 2 & Tier 3 cities/regions.
So, what drives them? What are the core factors for understanding the social shift that prompts users to play more, and what new experiences can users expect in the coming years?
"The first huge breakthrough made, I liken it to the shampoo bottle vs sachet format. Only a few could afford the bottle in tier-2 and tier-3 cities when it came out first. And once the sachet was invented, there was immediately a massive increase in uptake and consumption. The same phenomenon has happened in cricket — from test matches to T20s and T10s. Further, the availability of high-speed internet, smartphone penetration, and the widely accepted free-to-participate formats of fantasy sports have created a vast market in tier 2 and 3 cities. Fantasy Sports has bridged the gap between rural and urban India in that sense – connecting the fans without boundaries."
FIFS aims to forge balance between industry growth and consumer protection while promoting innovation, as per Joy
FS Operators are on the cutting edge of sports technology and analytics. In light of new technological breakthroughs, the fantasy sports industry is constantly seeking ways to increase accessibility and offer a more immersive experience for its users.
Despite the industry's profitability and growth, there has always been concern about security and the protection of customer interests. So, in this case, Joy explains how FIFS comes into play and what role it plays in keeping the industry running smoothly. He added:
"We believe the best way to help our sector grow is by self-regulation, forging a balance between industry growth and consumer protection while promoting innovation. At FIFS, we can do this by having robust dialogues with our members and industry alike to ensure best standards and practices are followed, keeping the consumers' interests in mind. Internal hand holding, education, removing doubts, and managing to govern ourselves while trying to make sure that we correct ourselves is a huge part of what FIFS does, with FSRA playing a vital role. FSRA comprises ex-Supreme Court and High Court judges who are highly distinguished people and have served the country honorably in very senior positions. Hence, we are confident that they will be able to guide us on a path that allows us to govern ourselves effectively."
When quizzed about how the rise of daily fantasy sports has changed the view of sports, he replied:
"Absolutely, it has because commitment towards watching sports when you play FS is very different. You have a player in your team, and you want them to do well, but then that one doesn't do well, so you're looking at the other player after that. Anything is better when you have skin in the game."
"FS, the best example I can give you is that if you're watching football and supporting one of the teams, you have skin in the game. But here, even if you don't support either team, you are playing Fantasy Sports, then your team is playing, and there is a third team or entity in the game. Team C is your team. Your commitment to the game then changes, and if you follow the live sport, you see the comments on what the second screen is essentially, which is basically discussing the sport and your FS team while you are watching it. The number of discussions centered around the Fantasy team is amazing. This is what allows you to get into the game. So, fantasy sports makes any game being played far more real and vital to the viewers."
Fantasy Sports has helped grow the sports ecosystem, and the NFL and NBA are some tremendous global examples. In addition to offering a deeper relationship with the sport, Fantasy Sports has also given back in other ways to the sports industry via sponsorships and grassroots initiatives.
Regarding sponsorship, there are intellectual property, licensing, and image rights issues to be aware of when entering into a sponsorship agreement with a club that includes the use of its branding and logos. In the same light, Joy explains how FS aids in sponsorship and more.
"If you want to give your people the complete experience, then it's essential for you to be able to take the fantasy rights of the teams and leagues so that you can offer things like the picture of the players as well. Their names and logos are correctly done, and those things make a definitive difference. At the end of the day, all these are visual experiences. It has to be a symbiotic relationship, and that is the most important thing. The more Fantasy Sports, what people don't understand, and we need to get across to more people is that FS is a massive supporter of sports worldwide, not just in India."
"In India also, it is a significant part of many shows and forums, but around the world, this is a phenomenon, and we should not discount how much FS finances real sport. Fantasy Sports reaches out and allows people to interact with the athlete more actively. And that's the basic difference, you are not just putting a product out there, but you are allowing the fans to engage and be closer to their favorite superstar and players."
FS is growing at its best. As Joy concluded, he added that to realize its potential fully, a uniform regulatory framework and legitimate recognition are essential.