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Interview with SportzConsult CEO Jitendra Joshi: "Want to make a positive impact on Indian sport"

Detailed Q&A with Jitendra Joshi, CEO of SportzConsult, as part of the Indian Sports Business interview series.

SportzConsult

Sport is considered India’s sunshine industry, and is one of the fastest growing sectors in the country. Behind every successful sportsperson that we see today, there is a large network of professionals working tirelessly behind the scenes. Who are these individuals and institutions? What prompts these key movers and shakers to lay a solid foundation for India’s rise as an ‘all-sports nation’?

This column will seek to answers these questions by speaking with some of the leaders in the nascent Indian sports business sector. In this first interview of the series, we caught up with Mr Jitendra Joshi, CEO of SportzConsult via email, on what prompted him to take the plunge into the abyss of Indian sports, how he learnt to navigate through the darkness, before ultimately succeeding!

An entrepreneur and a sportsman at heart, Jitendra Joshi founded SportzConsult in 2008. When ‘Jitu’ and his team launched SportzConsult, their mission was to inspire individuals to make sport a part of daily life and to make India a ‘sporty’ nation. SportzConsult is an event management company based out of Mumbai. It works with brand managers and HR managers helping them meet their business objectives through sports.

With its 100+ cities delivery capability, SportzConsult has conceptualized and executed sports programs across the country involving various target groups – from school kids, corporate, to the rural masses. Some of their prominent recent programs include the Coca-Cola Cup (football), the Indian School & College Basketball Leagues, the Jr. NBA program, the Khel Mahakumbh in Gujarat, and the DNA women’s marathon, India’s first-ever women’s only event.

Before founding SportzConsult, Mr. Joshi worked with KPMG Consulting in the US for 5 years. He has been invited to give guest lecture sessions at IIMA and Mudra, and has won several medals & trophies in athletics and football at the University level. He loves Indian Classical Music and still learns and plays the tabla regularly.  He holds an Engineering degree from Mumbai University and an MBA from Clemson University, USA.

Q. What lured you to start your company? Why in the sports sector?

An opportunity to make a positive impact to Indian sport and make a living while doing what I am passionate about” – These are some of the key reasons I started the company.

Q. Why the sports sector?

Well, I am really passionate about sports so the ‘heart’ part of the decision was simple. Also, the opportunity for value creation in the sports sector was huge!

Q. How is your company contributing to the sporting scene in India?

Everything we do is guided by the principles: Are we creating a great sports experience for the fan/participant? Are we making a positive impact to Indian Sport? Are we creating a program that meets our customers’ business needs?

SportzConsult’s focus is in creating and delivering grassroots/amateur/participative sports programs.  For example, we are managing India’s biggest grassroots football program called the ‘Coca-Cola Cup’. The national under-16 team is selected from this program. We are managing India’s largest grassroots basketball program – the ‘Indian School and College Basketball Leagues’. We manage the ‘Jr. NBA’ program which is helping in the development of basketball amongst kids in school. These programs play a huge role in promoting the game and identifying talent.

In all our programs, especially the ones that involve young school children, we ensure that we create such an atmosphere. A positive sporting experience is very important [to increase participation]. For example, we created and have been managing India’s 1st women’s half-marathon for the past four years. In the 1st edition of the ‘DNA iCan Women’s Half Marathon’, 2,500 women participated and this year, we had 6,000 women participating in it. Many women run regularly now.

We have our own sports property called the ‘Mumbai Games’. The motto of the event is “Haarna Allowed Hai” (Losing is allowed). The idea is to get more and more amateurs to experience the magic of sports! We have created sports programs which helps many companies to promote an active and healthy lifestyle among their employees. We have been able to attract sponsorship in the space of amateur sports.  And, these investments make a significant impact to Indian sport.

One of the capabilities we have developed over the years is management of large-scale sports programs. This management capability helps federations run large-scale grassroots programs in a standardized and professional manner. In fact, we are working with State Governments as well. For instance, we are working with the Government of Gujarat to manage a 100 location self-defence program and a multi-sport amateur sports program which has 30 lakh participants.

Q. What sports do you follow? Any particular sportsperson you admire?

I follow many sports – football, cricket, hockey, basketball, and tennis. I admire all sportspersons, but if I were to pick one, it would be Rahul Dravid.

Jitendra Joshi
Mr. Jitendra Joshi

Q. Do you have any sporting background? As in did you play any sport? If so, please elaborate.

I was part of the school and college football and athletics teams (800m and 1500m). I do play squash and badminton now.

Q. How many employees in your company? In what all verticals do you operate within the sports sector?

Currently, we have 28 dedicated employees. We are ‘sports-agnostic’ which means we work across many sports. Our primary focus is amateur sports. We operate in the following verticals:

  • Pan-India Multi-City SportsWe have worked in creating and managing pan India School football program, School and College Basketball programs.
  • Marathons/Runs: We manage the DNA women’s marathon; JP Morgan Run in 3 cities.
  • Multi-Sport Citywide Sports: Mumbai Games – 12 sports, 6 age-categories
  • Consulting: We help governments manage sports programs. We help brands to leverage sports programs for their brand benefit.
  • Corporate Sports: We help companies create employee engagement programs.
  • Grassroots Programs: We help federations manage pan India grassroots sports programs.
  • Sports Development: We manage the Jr. NBA program which helps in the development of basketball amongst kids in school.

Q. What market need/gap does your company seek to fulfill?

There is a need for “good positive experience” amateur sports programs. Also, there is a huge gap in conceptualizing and creating implementable sports programs that brands can leverage. These are the two key areas/gaps that SportzConsult is seeking to fulfil.

Q. Prior to your sports company, have you worked elsewhere? If so, what are the main differences you feel in running a sports company in India as compared to any other industry, like say IT?

Yes, after completing my MBA at Clemson University, I was working with KPMG Consulting in USA for a few years before coming back to India and starting the company.

I would say that sports overall is still at a very nascent stage, the entire eco-system is yet to evolve and mature. Sports infrastructure is very poor and very few in India. This forms a critical component in delivering our services. The customers – say the marketing heads – are still figuring out how to leverage sports programs, how to measure the Return on Investment (ROI) etc; while in IT for example, customers have matured over the years and are clear on the ROI. 

Given the nascent stage of the sports sector in India, the talent pool in this field is limited. Hence we have to hire fresh talent and groom them on the job. Finding funding for projects is also difficult as compared to other industries. Also, unlike most of the other industries, sports companies have to work very closely with federations. Working with federations whose goals need not necessarily match with the company can sometimes be challenging!

Running any company in any industry is challenging, however, the above mentioned points are some of the main differences.

Q. Are you satisfied with the way the Indian sports industry is progressing?

Yes, definitely. We still have many challenges to overcome, but we are making progress. Entrepreneurs and investors in sports are creating sustainable sports properties. This helps the entire sports ecosystem. Significant amounts are being spent on marketing these properties. More people are either taking up or following sports. This helps create a greater fan base in India. These sports properties provide opportunities for sportspeople to make a decent living.

Take the Hockey India League or the Pro Kabaddi League, for example. Thanks to them, now young talented players have a good reason to take up professional sports. Heavy investments are being made to convert India into a multi-sport nation. Given the wellness and fitness revolution in the country, both the public and private sector is investing in sports infrastructure. Unique models are being experimented with to monetize these investments. Overall, positive progress is taking place in the Indian sports industry.

Q. What future plans for your company in terms of growth/new areas of operation?

We have identified three areas for our growth:

  1. Create our own sports properties designed for amateurs and deliver it across India.
  2. Continue to work with more brands and partner with them to create new sports programmes.
  3. Work with governments and federations and help them create marketable sports programmes and manage large scale sports projects.

Q. Any advice to others who wish to become entrepreneurs in the sports field?

Being passionate about sports is one thing and being an entrepreneur is another. You need to be passionate about both. You are not going to be on the sports field all day enjoying the game! Realise that as an entrepreneur, you are trying to create value by setting up a sustainable business. Dare to take the plunge! Half-hearted/part-time attempts will not work.

Dare to fail, be prepared to fail! Not all ideas work on the first attempt, be prepared to change your business models. There is nothing wrong with failure and nothing to be ashamed of. If you have an idea, talk to the right people to validate assumptions, but take your own decision finally. Commit yourself to the idea and give yourself enough time to prove your model. Look for mentors. Ask for help. People are willing to help and see you succeed.

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