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The Underdoggs tale: In conversation with the co-founder - Rish Saini

In this third instalment of the Sports & Business series, we speak to co-founder of Underdoggs Sports Bar & Grill Mr Rish Saini.

Rishi Saini
Co-CEO & Director of Marketing – Rish Saini

When it comes to sports bars in India, one of the first names that comes to mind is Underdoggs. Started in 2011 in the National Capital Region (NCR) by the father-son duo of Preet Saini and Rish Saini, Underdoggs Sports Bar & Grill has many firsts to its credit. With five branches across as many states, and two more set to open later this year, Underdoggs has well and truly arrived.

Despite its name, Underdoggs can now boast of being an industry leader in the field of sports themed gastro-pubs. Not content to rest on its laurels, the company continues to innovative with interesting business partnerships with sports media houses, manufacturers, talent and event management companies. Notably, their NCR outlets have also played host to state level mixed martial arts and pool championships.

We spoke to the company’s 28-year-old co-founder and Director of Marketing Rish, to take us through the various stages of the company, unique industry challenges, achievements and expansion plans.

#1 When did Underdoggs come into being?

Underdoggs came into being in January 2011 with its flagship location is in Vasant Kunj, New Delhi.

#2 What prompted you to start your company? Why in the sports sector?

We saw a niche in the market that hadn’t been explored. Sports bars are popular the world over and existing properties were extremely cricket-centric. We wanted to bring the world of sports to the limelight, showcasing multiple sports channels simultaneously on 30+ HD screens. Adding to the sports factor, each Underdoggs location is outfitted with multiple gaming options, which include pool tables, foosball, carom, table tennis, darts and more. Adding to the entertainment factor, friends and family can engage in their own healthy competition and have a great time.

#3 Any particular reason your company is called “Underdoggs”? Do you identify with the story of an underdog?

We’re in fact true Underdoggs to begin with, laying it all on the line to be successful in this endeavour. So naturally the name just clicked, everyone at some point in their life has felt like the underdog, whether it is at home, in school, at the work place or in sports so it’s a term everyone can relate to. Plus some of the most memorable moments in sports history are of the teams and individuals that overcame all odds to achieve their glory. 

#4 What market need/gap does your company seek to fulfil? What service(s) to do you offer?

Underdoggs is the place where legends live and fans can live the dream.  We offer the ultimate LIVE sports viewing experience outside of being at the stadium. Sports fans can count on being able to watch their favourite sporting event in full HD, where every seat is the best seat in the house. We play live commentary for all big match ups and the heart pumping energy created by our passionate fans is enough to induce goose bumps...no kidding!

Match Day Crowd At Underdoggs Delhi
Match Day Crowd At Underdoggs Delhi. All images are courtesy Rish Saini/Underdoggs

#5 What are Underdoggs’ key achievements?

Underdoggs has been the winner of multiple accolades over the years, winning the title of best bar in Delhi, Gurgaon & Chandigarh numerous times. We have also been recipients of the Coca Cola Golden Spoon Awards, Indian Restaurant Congress Awards and the Times Food & Nightlife Awards.

#6 Any interesting anecdotes that you would like to share with respect to your company? Any famous celebrities who often visit Underdoggs?

Sports personalities like:

# David Warner

# Manchester United Legends- Dennis Irwin & Quinton Fortune

# Roberto Carlos

# Entire Delhi Daredevils IPL team - 2012

# Sardar Singh (Captain of the Indian Hockey Team)

# JP Duminy

# Leander Paes

# Baichung Bhutia

# Indian Men & Women’s Hockey Team

# David Miller

# Robin SinghMany other international & national players

# Many other international & national players

Underdoggs has also featured the Barclays Premiere League Trophy and UEFA Champions league trophy on its premises for its fans. One of Underdoggs most notable highlights was hosting the “C2K-Countdown to Kickoff” show for the 2012 UEFA Champions League finals LIVE from Underdoggs. This pregame, halftime and post-game show was beamed on millions of TV screens across parts of Asia.

#7 Do you have any sporting background? As in did you play/follow any sport?

I’ve always had a passion for all things sport and adventure activity. I participated on my school’s American football, baseball & wrestling teams. I won the Arizona Wrestling State Championship in 2006. I also wrestled in national level tournaments where placing in the top 3rd in different wrestling styles including freestyle & Greco-Roman.  I’m also an avid fan of shooting pool & billiards.

#8 How many employees in your company?

Currently, we have approximately 300+ employees.

#9 Underdoggs has how many branches currently? Where all are they located? When did each of these branches start? 

Chandigarh Underdoggs
Underdoggs Chandigarh

Underdoggs presently has 5 branches: 2011-Delhi, 2012- Chandigarh, 2013- Gurgaon, 2015- Bengaluru & Guwahati.

Opening in 2016: August- Lucknow, December- Shillong

#10 Do you collaborate with others in the Indian sports industry, say to host sports events or otherwise?

# We do our best and seek out the opportunities to collaborate with other in the sports industry.

# We’ve partnered with Adidas for the FIFA World Cup Tournament & Euro Cup.

# We have a great brand tie up with Sports Illustrated India also.

# Underdoggs has hosted live Mixed Martial Arts Amateur tournaments at our Gurgaon outlet, sanctioned by the All India Mixed Martial Arts Association. This has given amateur fighters the platform to showcase their talent in pursuit for a professional career.

# Another initiative we’ve focused on is holding state level pool tournaments in Delhi, Chandigarh & Gurgaon with prize money of 1.5 lakh INR for each tournament.

# Our latest initiative is partnering with Libero Sports - a full-service professional athlete representation and corporate consulting company. Together we host nights where fans can engage with up & coming national level sports stars clubbed with enjoying music by big name DJs.

#11 Prior to your sports company, where were you working? Please describe your stint there in terms of nature of work and duration.

Prior to Underdoggs, our family has owned and operated a successful finance company, hotel, and pool hall. We still own and operate Mrs. Kaur’s –Premium Bakery.

#12 What is your educational background? Did you formally study sports management? How important/unimportant is it now to have relevant education in sports management to succeed in the business of sport?

My father & I have benefitted from years of work experience in the hospitality sector. My father has run his own finance company, worked as a regional manager for McDonalds in Arizona, operated a Quiznos, as well as owned and operated a hotel & restaurant here in New Delhi. I’ve worked at some top end restaurants in Arizona. We still own and operate Mrs. Kaurs-Premium Bakery. All this experience at the ground level of operations in the hospitality sector has really been an important asset in developing Underdoggs Sports Bar & Grill as a successful company.  

L to R: Preet Saini, Rish Saini, cricketer JP Duminy & Anisha Saini
L to R: Preet Saini, Rish Saini, cricketer JP Duminy & Anisha Saini

#13 What are the main differences you feel in running a sports company in India as compared to the functioning of other industries you have worked in?

Well in the case of sports bars, the biggest difference is broadcast timings! Some leagues and tournaments that hold massive interest for fans are broadcast at simply the worst possible times for viewership. Hours at which we’d love to operate, but legally can’t. It’s a reality all Indian sports fans including us in the business have come to terms with.

For instance, the quarterfinals, Semis & finals of this year’s 2016 EURO CUP will be streaming at 12:30 AM IST, making it nearly impossible to find a place to watch the big event! This is the case with many major tournaments and sporting events.

#14 Are you satisfied with the way the Indian sports industry is progressing?

We are thrilled to see the current growth track of the Indian sports industry.  The number of sports broadcasting channels has increased exponentially over the last few years and we’ve seen a dramatic improvement in the variety of sporting events being streamed from around the world. You just couldn’t find the NBA, UFC, or many major sporting events anywhere on TV before.

Leagues like IPL, ISL, UBA, Pro Kabbadi League and IPTL are not only driving a greater interest in sports but also creating major opportunities for the Indian athlete that simply didn’t exist before. Sportskeeda has led the way in its own right, bringing the world of sports to the limelight for the Indian consumer. There has definitely been growth by leaps and bounds through every aspect of the sporting industry here in India over the last 5 years & the future looks more promising than ever.

#15 What are the various challenges you faced in setting up, and continue to do so?

For us the biggest challenges have been the build up cost or initial investment. Something you can only get right by doing A LOT of homework or simply through experience. We paid a heavy price in the build up of our first location in terms of construction and consultancy expenses. We’ve learned a lot since then and continue to do so. At the end of the day, money saved is money earned.


Cricketer David Warner - Signed Ball at Underdoggs
Cricketer David Warner - Signed Ball at Underdoggs

#16 Who are all your main competitors in the sports restaurants/pub business?

The industry has become oversaturated, where the supply is higher than the demand. There are new pub & restaurant concepts opening up everyday offering bare bottom prices and offers. We feel it’s a focus on the basics that will really determine who will last in this competitive industry.

An exceptional customer experience in terms of service, food/beverage quality and overall atmosphere are what you really need to bank on. Too many forget that’s what the hospitality business is all about. It’s about the overall customer experience & not having the biggest deal or marketing gimmick.

#17 What are the future expansion plans for Underdoggs?

Underdoggs is currently strengthening its internal structure. We are focusing on building our standard operating procedures, formats & overall company culture in preparation for rapid expansion in 2017. We‘ll have a total of 3 company-owned and 4 franchised locations by the end of the year.  Through aggressively marketing our franchise program this December, we’re targeting to double our location count by the end of 2017.

#18 Any advice to others who wish to become entrepreneurs in the sports field?

Sports are here to stay and growth in this field is inevitable. So if you’re passionate about sports & getting into the sports business, there’s no better time than now.

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