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Why India is the next big market for MMA

Analyzing why India can be the next big market for MMA and UFC, by comparing the recent spike in popularity of various sports in the country.

When you think about India, the first thing that pops into your mind is the 1.2+ billion population in the country, and rightly so. The second most populous country in the world, at least in theory should also be a hot bed for numerous sports. For the past few decades, cricket has dominated the sporting scene in the country, but the resurgence of sports like hockey has seen a change in trend amongst the youngsters.

With UFC expressing their interest to enter the country in 2012, India was set to witness the hard hitting action of mixed martial arts, but with the global juggernaut yet to make a move to enter the Indian market, one can only wonder what it would take for the biggest MMA promotion in the world to finally set foot in India. With WWE being one of the most popular organizations in India with a massive following, UFC won’t have to try too hard, especially with the likes of CM Punk in their organization. Also, with the likes of GSP and Brock Lesnar rumored to return to the organization later this year, this can be the perfect opportunity for the organization to make an impact in India.

With UFC’s CCO Marshall Zelaznik reassuring the fans in a recent interview that India is indeed a priority for UFC, we have decided to take a look at some numbers, to analyze how successful UFC could be whenever they decide to bring their product to the subcontinent. We take a look at the success stories of various other sports in the past couple of years, which have provided the entertainment quotient – something UFC will undoubtedly bring to the table, and provide reasons why an Indian version of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) will be a massive success. 

 

Pro Kabaddi League (PKL)

Kabaddi, although originating in India, had always taken a back seat to the more popular sports such as cricket in the past. But in 2014, the initiation of PKL once again sparked interest among the fans, as Star Sports became the official broadcasting partner. Over the course of 37 days from the beginning till the culmination of the tournament, Star Sports garnered a staggering number of 435 million viewers (Source: The Hindu). The mega final of the tournament was watched by 86.4 million viewers – approximately one out of every four viewers in India!

The event was a hit on social media as well, as the tournament gained more than 2.3 billion impressions! PKL’s official Twitter witnessed more than 25,000 tweets on the days of the semi finals and the finals of the tournament.

 

Hockey India League (HIL)

Hockey India rolled out with the first season of the Hockey India League in 2013, and a mere glance at the numbers in comparison with the other mega events gives us an indication of the potential of India as a market.

World Series Hockey 2012: 6.3 million viewers in first week

UEFA EURO 2012: 0.85 crore viewers for its first six matches

Hockey India League: 1.46 crore viewers in the first week for six matches – 1.7 times UEFA EURO 2012 reach.

(Source: Business Standard)

Although the numbers needn’t necessarily astonish anyone, but the extent to which the league captured the imagination of the fans took everyone by surprise. The first week of the first season reached to over 14.6 million viewers – a staggering number, considering the fact that the 2012 Men’s Hockey Champions Trophy reached 5.8 million viewers throughout the entire tournament!

 

Indian Super League (ISL)

With the debut of ISL in India, bringing in the exciting format of the English Premier League, a lot was expected and anticipated from the first season. ISL kicked off remarkably well, recording a reach of 74. 7 million on the day of its launch, and drew an astonishing 170. 6 million cumulative reach in its very first week. But those numbers proved to be just the beginning, as the ISL continued to break records throughout the tournament. (Source: Business Standard)

ISL blew away the numbers recorded during the telecast of other tournaments, including the FIFA World Cup 2014! The very first match of ISL drew 65,000 live spectators, while the average attendance of Kerala Blasters was 49,111! In what turned heads of the football pundits around the world, the success of the first edition of ISL also resulted in ISL becoming the world football’s fourth biggest league, with the attendances falling short of only the English Premier League, Bundesliga and Liga BBVA, overshadowing the attendances of the prestigious Italian Serie A! (Source: The Guardian)

The success of the event reflected on social media as well. The ISL site had 16 million online video views through the course of the tournament, while its online channel registered 28.7 million visits. On social media, ISL recorded more than 1.8 million conversations on Twitter and Facebook, with over 10 billion page impressions and 275, 000 registered members. The semi final match between Chennaiyin FC and Kerala Blasters attracted 1.1 million online video views – the highest in India for a single sporting event (Source: The Guardian).

 

Indian Badminton League (IBL)

With the success of IPL and HIL, the Indian Badminton League kicked off in the second half of 2013, giving opportunity to the up and coming players in the country. Although the likes of Saina Nehwal and Jwala Gutta have managed to generate interest in the sport, the future of badminton in the country relied heavily on the success of the inaugural edition of IBL.

The tournament, which was telecasted on Star Sports, managed to drag 21. 7 million viewers over the course of 18 days! The figures only get better when we consider the average number of viewers per day, which account to a staggering 1. 2 million! The all – India rating of the last edition of IBL was 0.028 – an impressive number (Source: Business Standard and Economic Times).

 

The stats mentioned above not only drive the point about the resurgence of some of the sports that have been dormant in the past few years such as Kabaddi and Hockey, but also emphasize the potential of India as a potential market for relatively newer sports in the country. With UFC looking to step into the Indian market, and the fact that they’ve already begun the process of assessing India’s potential only strengthens the argument that very soon, India can be the next big destination for MMA. Also, a season of TUF – India can very well prove to be the defining moment for UFC’s plans to take control of the Asian markets. 

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