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Research Report - Sports Nation in the Making VII, 2020 (Synopsis)

ESP Properties is a new type of sports and entertainment marketing agency, dedicated to helping rightsholders take advantage of digital and data-driven changes in the media landscape. It is part of WPP’s GroupM. ESP Properties is dedicated to helping properties better understand their audiences, develop more relevant ways to engage with them, and provide potential brand partners more valuable ways to connect with their communities of fans.

High Scoring Year for a Sporting Ecosystem

2019 was a year of commercial success for Indian Sports, as it saw a healthy 17% growth in the overall sports sponsorship market in India. It also saw consumers shifting rapidly towards digital media with the advent of OTT platforms, leading to the growing confidence of advertisers in it.

Betting & gaming companies also made a huge impact across all sports. Leading the charge with an array of 18 cricket stars across different campaigns to boost their user base & engagement levels was Dream11; also platforms like MyTeam11, MPL & others enjoyed some level of success.

With India being a cricket-dominated country, it saw 67% of all team sponsorship coming from cricket. The endorsement industry also grew by 11%, including all new contracts, a total of 329 endorsement deals that were valid last year, and 228 of them involved cricketers.

What helped cricket generate the maximum revenue was the ICC Cricket World Cup & then a long successful home series & obviously IPL. New leagues like the ISL & PKL performed well at their scale while several other new leagues made their debut.

With a majority of revenue coming from ground sponsorship & advertising spends on Media, OTT platforms & digital media companies are going to be the most benefitted in the upcoming years.


Ground Realities Indicate Resounding Growth for Cricket

For any country, private leagues are the source of revenue these days. If you don’t build a good & sustainable revenue model for the league, you vanish in no time. A bright example is that of the Hockey India League, which stopped after 4 years. Even though the Odisha government strengthened its ties with the national team to bring back its glory, things haven’t worked out in hockey’s favor.

Unlike hockey, with strong sponsorship deliveries & a conducive schedule of home matches, cricket has always been the undisputed leader. With 2019 being a landmark year for ground sponsorships in India with Rs. 2000 crore peak being scaled for the first time ever, it also witnessed sports-oriented online gaming platforms gain significant levels of traction.

Among private leagues, while IPL has always been at the top, Football(ISL) edged out Kabaddi(PKL) this time for the #2 position which primarily happened because of a sharper revenue dip for the latter.

In 2019, many new leagues kicked off like the Pro Volleyball League with RuPay as its title sponsor. Leagues like Pro Wrestling League, Premier Badminton League & Ultimate Table Tennis League happened without making much of an impact on the revenue generation.

With leagues coming & going, IPL, ISL & PKL have always been at the top.

Let’s take a look at the numbers of these 3 big leagues:

  1. TV reach of IPL is 1.4x of the next best league, i.e., PKL & almost 3x of IPL in 2019.

  2. While ISL franchises outshout their PKL counterparts on social media by leaps & bounds, social conversations around PKL are 1.7x that of ISL.

  3. IPL scores a whopping 9x social conversations of ISL.

Facts & figures of Indian Sports:

  1. On-ground sponsorship grew by 25%.

  2. Indian cricket grew by 43%.

  3. Football & Kabaddi showed degrowth by 6% & 15% respectively.

Overall, it was a year of strong financial performances driven by a huge incremental delivery from cricket. If we drill down to the details, there were some great wins, along with a few missed opportunities too.


Big Guns Steady the Innings while Newcomers Ply their Part in a Solid Team Effort

You know you are in India when you find the world’s most popular team sport playing second fiddle to cricket. While cricket is the leader in public interest & business scalability, football gave a higher growth percentage than India’s leading sport with incremental revenue of 8% over the previous year. This growth was delivered in spite of a 5% dip in ISL Team Sponsorship because 2019 saw Indian brands tapping into the global appeal of the game by associating more with European Club Football.

A deep dive into the team sponsorship statistics indicates that cricket plays a very vital role while other sporting activities rally around it to give us the flavor of the overall performance.

With IPL, ISL & PKL already doing their bit to make India a sporting powerhouse, the fact that new leagues have come to the party with corporate backing, is indicative of the encouraging trend that the market is indeed bullish on sports in India.


Brand Virat Leads the Charge as Cricketers Step Up the Scoring Rate

2019 was a year where cricketers made big money & King Kohli is definitely the strongest brand of Indian cricket. Brand Virat dominated the endorsement space by crossing the Rs. 200 crore mark. While there was a drop in endorsement value from other sports, the big point to note here is that the non-cricketing space was dominated by women athletes.

Sports endorsements grew by 11% to reach Rs. 456 crore in a year that saw cricketers riding the wave of popularity of their sport. Endorsements from cricket players grew by 16% in a year that saw India’s favorite sport contribute 85% to the total value across all sports.

While Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni & Rohit Sharma led the charge for the #MenInBlue, Mithali Raj was on top of the list of brand endorsements for Women’s cricket.

After winning the World Badminton Gold, PV Sindhu was the leading non-cricketing athlete last year in terms of brand endorsements while Olympian Mary Kom also added four more brands to her tally.


  1. In 2019, all sports other than cricket got an endorsement of Rs. 81 crore while cricket itself got a whopping amount of Rs. 456 crore.

  2. If cricket dominated the leagues & franchises table, it’s a no-brainer that Virat Kohli topped the ranks in all aspects when it comes to individual athletes.

  3. Female athletes created a maximum buzz on digital in non-cricketing sports, which is definitely a point to boost for female sports torchbearers.


Over-the-top Hitting by Cricket on Media

It was just a matter of time until OTT platforms took over sports & 2019 was the year. While Hotstar led the charge with its impeccable growth, other platforms such as SonyLIV & others picked up nicely too. Definitely, in a country like India, it won’t have been possible without cricket. Hotstar did the live-streaming for IPL as well as the World Cup & the increase in watch time in IPL 2019 over the previous edition was as high as 74%.

The bigger story in the media skew was the boom that digital media witnessed. The total value of digital media spends was Rs. 875 crore; the growth being 84%. Print media delivered Rs. 85 crore in 2019, which was less than half three years before, with degrowth of 52%.

Ad revenue on TV has been gaining popularity over a period of time, delivering 1.8x growth over the last three years. TV, however, is the largest medium & continues to be the preferred choice for high-impact campaigns to deliver the targeted reach & other performance indices in the most efficient manner.

The digital surge is here to stay & Indian Sports fans are on the lookout for new & different experiences. We will surely get to see OTT & digital media platforms taking over sports in the upcoming years.


2020 Vision for a Year of Olympic Preparations

We are in the midst of a digital revolution & in the past few years we have been seeing a spike in ad spends on digital media. 2019 saw a huge increase here with Hotstar leading the OTT surge in sports viewership.

While TV continues to grow as the biggest medium for ad spends, brands are also having a clear digital plan along with their presence on TV to build a rapport with their consumers by reaching out to them in ways more than one.

With 2020 being the year for Olympics & numerous cricket tournaments, we are sure digital & OTT platforms are going to be the talk of the town. Engagement and interactivity are important elements of consumer marketing, and digital technology can be leveraged well to give differentiated solutions to sports lovers.

The Central Government has announced flagship programs aimed at excelling at high-level events like the Olympics, and also to encourage children to take up sports, with corporates and sporting icons in India also contributing their bit towards this cause. With a list of high-profile events lined up in 2020, we can look forward to a resounding start to another decade of sporting excellence.


This synopsis has been put together by Sambit Mishra.

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