The Business of Sports

Sports in India was synonymous to Cricket till some 5 years back. Media flashed stories of luxurious homes of cricketers, their 100 crore brand endorsements, travel diaries of their extravagant tours abroad and elaborate set-ups they managed to create back home like fancy restaurants, gymnasiums and coaching academies. Almost a negligent amount of money was poured into other sports, as if they were non-existant. No corporate was willing to take the risk to put money, advertise and hence none of the channels were much interested in televising it. Stories of Hockey players, Kabaddi players and other sportsperson traveling in Sleeper coaches by the Indian Railway for matches are widely known. In-fact, such were the adversities, that one time a key strike player managed to get himself shot in the arm during his train journey, just before they were about to embark for the Hockey World Cup. All this was happening when the Cricketers travelled by chartered flights, ordered food & wine on the go, captured most TV ad space and returned to rousing welcome when they were back(if they won, that is).

All that changed when the IPL was launched in 2007. With the success of the league and later India  successfully hosting the Commonwealth games in 2010, different channels started to open up for other Sports. A lot of money was plugged into the Sports industry and corporates started to set aside a portion of their marketing budget specifically for Sports.

I had the privilege to attend a session by Dr. Allen Sanderson, World Renowned Economist from the University of Chicago which was organized by FICCI in New Delhi. It was very interesting to understand a Economist point of view on the Business of Sports. FICCI on the outset, has a dedicated Sports division headed by Rajpal Singh who said that they are buoyant about the future of Sports in India. Backed by an able team and with constant support from the top brasses of the Sports fraternity, they are pushing to get Sports recognized as a sector in India.

Allen started by questioning the audience if anyone knew who the 3 highest paid people in the United States- Pentagon were? The Football coaches of the Army, Navy & the Air Force was what he revealed, which left the audience astounded. It only goes to show that Sports is such an important sector for US and other countries unlike in India. He explained the entire process of transformation of Sports Industry in US from the 1970's when the owners had a lions share of the pie(money) to the current scenario where, with an evolved system, the players rake in a 50:50 deal as free agents. No doubt the pie has got bigger over the years with the advent of Television and revenue being drawn from Stadiums (seats, food, boxes etc), merchandising, endorsements, broadcasting & media rights. A 30 second Television Commercial during the American Super Bowl would cost some $400 million. Yes, you read it right, 400 MILLION DOLLARS.

Television has had a huge influence in changing the way Sports are perceived & watched by plugging in an insurmountable amount of money. The thrill of watching a LIVE game on TV, with replays, commentary and the latest technologies is an unexplainable excitement for a Sports Connoisseur.

If we take a look at the current scenario in India, there have been a number of Leagues which have come up on the lines of the IPL. We have the I- League(Football), Hockey India League(HIL), Indian Wrestling League(IWL), Mahesh Bhupati League, Mixed Martial Art(MMA), Rugby League, Indian Badminton League(IBL) league etc to name a few. These have infused a fresh blood into Sports in India. Other Sports are planning to follow suit to garner mileage and gather sponsors. The Business of Sports is growing at an astounding pace and TV Channels like Neo, Zee Sports, Ten Action have started Televising these events, which have led to a wider reach and popularity of these Sports discipline. The Sports industry has also started to witness investments from Corporates like IMG- Reliance in Football(700 crore), Punj Lyod in Squash(Rs 30 mn), Sahara in Hockey & Cricket( Rs 206 crore), Jaypee Group in Cricket & Motor Sports( Rs 400 mn).

Allen took us through the details of why certain economies like US, UK made profits out of Olympic Games while some countries like China, Russia and others had serious repercussion when the games got over and were in huge debts. He also laid stress on the fact that Infrastructure plays a very important role in developing an athlete and that we need to start grooming talent from the age of 5-6 years because an athlete requires a minimum training of 10,000 hours before he can compete at the International level. The training in United States happens at Colorado which is at a High Altitude. This is done to accustom the athletes to the weather conditions so that they are able to perform anywhere around the world. Citing exemplary anecdotes about top athletes like Michael Phelps and drawing strong conclusions from writers like Sherwin Rosen & Simon Rottenberg,he ended the discussion with strong views about the state of affairs in the US and how exploiting the athlete is a part of the system.

An amount close to $600 billion is being plugged in the Sports Industry Worldwide. Sports business in India need to deal with issues like Return on investment, initial costs & annual maintenance of infrastructure. Sports is still in the nascent stage but will be a force to reckon in the next 5 years.

Turf 2012 - Global Sports Summit @ FICCI

"If you love yourself, you will definitely love Sports"

An animated Mr. Badal at Turf 2012
And when you do so, you find yourself amongst the privileged few, attending the 'Turf 2012- Global Sports Summit in New Delhi at FICCI. As a Sports professional, I always find it enlightening to hear the views of the top brasses of the Sports fraternity, for upon these people rest the future of the Sports Industry in India. When the panelist comprises of eminent personalities like Mr. Aloke Malik( MD, ESPN Star Sports), Mr. Sukhbir Badal(Minister of Sports, Punjab), Mr. Scott Hartley(Director, Press Red, UK), Ms Indu Puri(Arjuna Awardee & Former Table Tennis player) and many others, the discussion tends to be very informative and interesting.

Punjab has long been the Sports hub of India, with top Sport-person in many discipline emerging from this state. No wonder Mr. Badal is an enterprising politician and a sports person at heart. The plans they have chalked out for the development of the State for Sports are amazing. The minister became very emotional when speaking and talked about how we need to change the mindset of the people by encouraging parents to send their kids into sports and nurture their talent from a young age. He also laid stress on infrastructure development and the need to sustain it. Citing anecdotes from his life, he kept the audience enthralled with his vision and mission for Sports sector as a whole.

Another good initiative which I came across was the 'Marks for Sports' campaign, which has been started by NDTV & Nirmal Lifestyle MD - Dharmesh Jain. Sports has been a great source of entertainment since the Roman age(nothing could be more amazing than watching the Gladiators fight).  This campaign might as well be the motivation students need to take up sports. If people are fit, they will play sports. Mr. Jain said that a 10 year old vision was needed to develop Sports into a formidable force in the country and learn from countries like New Zealand & United Kingdom.

But, the best speech came from Ms Indu Puri, who is a Former Table Tennis champion and an Arjuna Awardee. She was very clear in her thoughts saying that we need to build-maintain and then use the infrastructure. 'If the stadiums are lying empty and are not allowed for public, what is the use of such facilities?' She was also in favour of Schools opening the playground in the afternoon for neighboring children to come and play. Another interesting point which she made was that, even if an athlete has to play in sub-standard condition, he/she should not be disheartened because when they would be competing at other places, the conditions would be very different. Experienced words coming out of a true player.

'Inactivity is a bigger killer than smoking globally' said Mr. Hartley from Press Red who had handled the London Olympics in 2012. He also threw light on the commercial aspects of the game and answered questions on how the infrastructure was maintained after building by keeping a portion of the building fund as a reserve, which could be used as an annual maintenance charge.

It was an amazing two days at the Turf 2012 where I met plethora of Sports personalities from the industry and also attended the exhibition on Sports which gave us an insight into the technical aspects. All in All two amazing days at FICCI.

IPL or Test Cricket? - a Money test

Once upon a time the gentlemanly Game of Cricket was a seasonal affair. The viewership was limited but some people followed the game with passion. Some Blessed ones who had the opportunity to watch it LIVE applauded the gorgeous cover drives and wristy flicks at the stadium whilst the others lived the viewing experience through some fabulous commentary on the Radio. The Idiot box was not a part of our lives then. Cricketers had a life beyond the game and since the burn out was less , they stayed fit & in the right frame of mind to play. You now know, why Kapil Dev never missed a single match in his career due to injury.

Times have changed and HOW!

Welcome to the 21st century Cricket. A commercialized term which eats, sleeps and drinks MONEY. People want to play the game today so that they can rake in the moolah, not because they are passionate to play. There has been a paradigm shift in the thinking of cricketers and their family. Whilst earlier they were reluctant in letting their child get into sports, today, they literally force them to take it up. Money is the driving force. Surprisingly, the child's dream has changed from playing Test Cricket for the country to playing the INDIAN PREMIERE LEAGUE aka IPL. That's where the money is, isn't it?

IPL which draws inspiration from the English Premiere League and NBA, was started by Lalit Modi in 2008. It was considered to be an apt reply to the rebel league, ICL created by Subhash Chandra in 2007. Will IPL be the ultimate goal for a Cricketer or will he sacrifice money and look to play for the country? No one knows. The scales might be tilting towards the IPL though...

A Series worth waiting for

7.6 Hilfenhaus to Sachin OUT! Goes for the expensive drive outside the off stump and ends up giving a simple dolly to second slip. Little master done by a beauty by Hilfenhaus. He is on song here.

End of 8th over(double wicket maiden) India 16-4

Tick Tick Tick Tick. The clock chimes.

I peep out from the rubble of warm blankets I'm engulfed in and rub my eyes to check the time. That's the first thing you want to do when you have a bad dream. Its 4.00 am. Which means i must have been barely asleep for over 3 hours. What's bizarre is that this has been happening continuously for the past 3 days and I'm not liking it a bit. Then realization dawns on me and in a hap-hazardous motion i check my Berry to find out the date.

It Reads December 23(i breathe a sigh of relief)....Its Still 3 days to the Boxing Test.

There is just something special about a series down under. The entire rigmarole of getting up at 4.30 am on a chilly winter morning, making a warm cup of coffee & watching with bated eyes at the sheer drama unfolding in front of a full capacity audience whose constant buzzing noise creates a dramatic atmosphere for cricket lovers on television as the Melbourne sun sweeps the entire stadium into bright daylight making the atmosphere intensely passionate for a cricket fanatic. This topped with top commentators from the world taking centre stage with the sheer pitch of the voice, the way they react to the fall of a wicket & the applaud at a top shot played. This surely has to be Test Cricket at its best.

One has to wait 4 long years to watch their favourite country play at the Melbourne Cricket ground on the 26th of December, commonly known as the BOXING DAY Test Match. It is always played at the MCG in Melbourne every year between Australia and the team which is touring them for the summer. MCG boasts of a capacity of over 1 lakh audience and promises to be a sell out this time round as well because this would, most probably, be their last chance to see batting legends Sachin, Rahul & VVS take centre stage. But, as Dravid mentioned..Who knows??

India has played 5 Boxing Day Test Matches, drawing the one in 1985 & losing the remaining four in 1991 1999,2003 & 2007. Considering their track record it must be said that it will be a mighty ask for them. What works in their favour is that for the first time they have been touted as the favourites to win the series. Also, they come into this tour after a very successful Test & ODI series win against the West Indies and all what remains of the 4-0 loss to England earlier this year are charred & distant memories & the loss of the No. 1 Ranking which they are desperate the gain back.

On the Flip side, Australia's record at the MCG hasn't been too great in the past 3-4 years. Post retirement of legends like Macgrath, Warne, Gilchrist & Lee they have lost 2 out of the 3 Boxing Day Test Matches. Their win too has come against a lowly Pakistan side while stronger sides like South Africa & England( Ashes 2010) have routed them by a 9 wicket margin & a whooping Innings margin respectively. With a question mark over Ponting & Hussey's form & injuries to premier players like Watson, Marsh, Harris, Johnson & teen sensation Patrick Cummins, Australia need a blinder to save themselves from an embarrassment. Their recent loss to New Zealand a fortnight ago hasn't helped either. the series has been named based on the intense cricket which is played between the two nations should be a great contest between bat & ball. If the Indian Fast bowlers remain injury free during the tour, we have a great possibility of winning our 1st series down under & add a Boxing Day victory to our credentials as well. Sachin will have his chance to score the 100th international century & Rahul & VVS will look to add on to the pile of runs they have scored in Australia. Youngsters like Ashwin, Yadav, Midhun & Vinay Kumar should look to impress the selectors. Inshant & Zaheer are the key to India's fortunes though. Zaheer Khan is the kind of bowler who can win you matches. His fitness & form will surely affect the result of this series. Ishant was the find of the 2007 tour where he tormented Ponting & made him his bunny. According to latest reports he has declared himself fit for the first test & so has Shaun Marsh, the impressive young no. 3 for australia. Lets hope both teams remain injury free so that we can a great contest to look forward to.

72 hours & 30 mins to go....