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Fantasy sports in India gaining fast popularity on the back of IPL

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The Economic Times
17th October, 2020 23:01 IST

Bengaluru-based Ashutosh Singh (name changed on request) was not big on cricket, certainly not the T20 avatar. The 33-year-old communication professional is an avid football fan, loyal to Manchester City. A few years ago, he got hooked on Fantasy Premier League — an online game where the subscriber, as a manager, creates a team and scores depending on the performance of the players and the team.

What began as a casual quest for bragging rights among his peers became an obsession of sorts. So much so that during the previous edition of the Indian Premier League, Singh decided to apply his fantasy sports acumen to cricket. That led him to Indian fantasy sports platform Dream11. This year, he is winning more than just bragging rights due to the performance of two of his team’s permanent fixtures, Sanju Samson and KL Rahul. In two weeks, Singh has won around Rs 5,500 on Dream11. He is gunning for more, even as the competition is becoming stiffer by the day.


Welcome to the world of fantasy sports, where anyone with a smartphone can sign up on one of the 100+plus platforms functioning in India now. They can instantly create a team, pay a nominal entry fee to participate in tournaments and start winning cash prizes.

That is the core of the fantasy sports business model — acquire users for free, charge them if they want to take part in a match. Almost half of this pooled money goes to the winner or winners, as the case may be, and the rest is shared by other users. Dream11 charges a platform fee or a “take rate” of 10-20 per cent of the collection.


Navin Honagudi, managing director of Kae Capital, says: “Take rates were as high as 20 per cent. But intense competition has made this sub-15 per cent.”

Kae Capital had invested an undisclosed amount in fantasy sport platform HalaPlay. Gaming company Nazara acquired that stake in July for Rs 14.6 crore.

The fantasy sports market is big business abroad. In the US, for example, it is a $7.8 billion market in 2020, says market intelligence firm IBISWorld. In India, a FICCI-EY report said the online gaming segment was worth Rs 6,500 crore in 2019 and it would touch Rs 18,700 crore in 2022. The IPL fantasy league will be worth $1 billion, says KPMG.


Industry experts say IPL fans are likely to spend Rs 7,000-10,000 crore as joining fees or bets on these platforms this season. “The 2020 IPL will be the deciding factor for a lot of Indian startups in the fantasy gaming space,” says an industry insider requesting anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to journalists.

The companies are also raising money now as the going is good. In September alone, Dream11 raised $225 million at a valuation of $2.5 billion, while Mobile Premier League raised $90 million. (Disclosure: Times Internet Limited, a subsidiary of the Times Group, the publisher of ET Magazine, is an investor in Mobile Premier League).


These platforms also make money on advertisements. Last year, Dream11 earned Rs 775 crore, a substantial jump from the Rs 225 crore it earned the year before. Dream11, the market leader with some 90 per cent share, is also the title sponsor of the IPL. MPL sponsors the Kolkata Knight Riders and the Royal Challengers Bangalore in the tournament. Dream11 and MPL refused to comment for the story. Several other stakeholders did not want to be identified.

Despite this reluctance, the market has grown by leaps and bounds. There were 10 players in India in 2016 and 140 in 2019. Lowentry barriers, the prospects of a highly engaged and transacting user base, and the lure of easy profitability perhaps led to this proliferation.

Another factor fuelling this sector could be the regulatory haze. The Bombay High Court had in July 2019 said these platforms were not illegal as no betting or gambling was involved. Users had to use their skills to win, it said. But critics say these platforms can be used for betting and gambling, too.


The court ruling might not give the sector a blanket protection, says Nandan Kamath, a Bengaluru-based lawyer who specialises in sports, technology and media laws. “Simply by calling itself fantasy sports, a game format does not qualify as a game of skill. The operator must prove that skill has a predominant influence in determining the winning outcome in the particular format.” Fantasy sport platforms can be relevant only if they can entice more users and also reward them better, says Honagudi of Kae Capital. “The players need to feel that they’re winning.”

Dream11 has been trying to make that connection with users using an ecosystem that involves fantasy sports, a sports travel & experiences platform and a content platform. The company is also getting into merchandising. “Dream11 is a clear winner in this space. Others can’t match its partnerships and financial muscle,” says an industry insider.

Set up in 2008, it has raised $385 million from marquee inventors. In 2019, it became India’s first gaming unicorn. An industry analyst says: “It probably has more KYC and bank account details of people than the broadcasters. Once you sign up, they start offering unique integrated experiences.

I can see them go the BookMyShow way.” In the rush to add users, however, most of these platforms add obscure tournaments and matches from across the world. Like the 20-over matches between Dhanbad Dynamos and Dumka Daredevils.

This fantasy segment has to keep it real if it wants to be in the game.

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