Television distribution monitoring, analytics and strategy firm Chrome Data Analytics and Media has come up with an interesting study titled Awareness and Consumption of Sports Leagues in India. The study analyses the awareness and viewership of different sports leagues in the country, and the reasons for their popularity.

The research was conducted in metropolitan cities, covering more than 6,000 people. Of this, 61% were male; 27% between the ages 15 and 21, 32%, between the ages 22 and 30, and 41% over the age of 31.

According to the findings of the study, 85% of the respondents watched sports: 92% on the television screen, 21% on their mobile phones, 9% on their computer screens; and 3% on tablets (the numbers do not add up because there are some who watch it on more than one medium).

Expectedly, among leagues, the awareness of the 10-year-old T20 cricket tournament, the Indian Premier League is the highest at 88%. Pro Kabaddi League followed at 67%, Hockey India League at 46%, the Indian Super League (football) at 35% and the Premier Badminton League at 27%.

According to the research, the biggest reason for watching the Indian Premier League (IPL) is the format, with love of cricket coming second. Even for the Pro Kabaddi League, the format is the top reason why people say they watch the games.

Interestingly, the success of some of these private leagues mentioned in the report has inspired Doordarshan which is looking to launch three university leagues—in basketball, tackle football (a modified form of American football) and kabaddi. These have been planned as university sports leagues, played among students from various universities/colleges across the country.

So, is India becoming a country where people actually watch sports other than cricket? And, as a corollary, are sports other than cricket finding their feet in the country?

In a July 12 interview to Mint, Sanjay Gupta, managing director of Star India Pvt. Ltd, pointed to a couple of reasons responsible for the popularity and increasing interest in sports other than cricket. He said a social change is palpable where the number of young children who play and follow sports has grown. With new leagues in hockey, kabaddi, football, tennis and badminton, it is no longer just about cricket. This change has been accompanied by a shift in parental behaviour—parents now view sports as a viable career option, considering the money that sports people playing in these leagues make.

That is not all. Advertisers are following the audiences who are moving in to watch these new sports leagues. Gupta says that brands are seeing value in multiple sports. “Businesses are thinking about sports as an opportunity to grow their brands."

Not surprisingly, broadcasters are also strengthening their sports offerings. At least three new sports channels have been launched this year. According to Broadcast Audience Research Council (Barc) India’s chief executive Partho Dasgupta, the rise in the number of sports channels is another clear indicator of the growth of the sports genre. The number of sports channels that Barc India measures has gone up from 17 in 2015 to 25 today.

Clearly, the sports landscape is changing with broadcasters betting big on sports such as kabaddi, wrestling, boxing, football, tennis and badminton.

“While it is still too early for many of these, the fact that viewers have a choice and they are investing time in these sports events is a good sign," says Dasgupta. Performance of sportspersons has also played a role in building interest in the genre and can be seen as a growth driver. “Considered a male genre, it is the rise of women sportspersons such as Saina Nehwal, Sania Mirza, Sakshi Malik, P.V. Sindhu, Harmanpreet Kaur, Mithali Raj and Dipa Karmakar that has increased the interest of viewers in women-led sports as well," he argues.

Consequently, while cricket still holds a major share in viewership, other sports contributed to around 20% of the genre viewership in 2016, Dasgupta says. Within this, approximately 80% of the contribution has come from just six properties—Pro Kabaddi League, Indian Super League, Rio Olympics 2016, Kabaddi World Cup 2016, Premier Badminton League, and Hockey India League. Women account for 40% of the sports viewership.

According to Indranil Das Blah, chief operating officer at Kwan Entertainment and Marketing Solutions, for any sports league to be successful in the country, there are certain prerequisites such as adequate infrastructure, world-class action, world-class broadcast and Indian icons.

“Some of the new leagues tick all the criteria and are already pretty successful," he says. However, comparing them with IPL, which is among the world’s most successful sports properties, would be unfair at this stage, he adds.

Blah says that India has seen a tremendous change in its sporting culture over the past five years. “We have gone from having just one successful league, IPL, to several successful leagues. The country should no longer be seen as a one-sport nation. We are already a multi-sport nation."

Dasgupta agrees: “India has taken the first step towards becoming one (a multi-sport nation). We no longer watch only cricket. There is interest for other sports events as well, and this is observed across urban and rural, male and female, and (across) socio-economic groups."

While cricket continues to dominate, there is today enough space for other leagues and sports to do well.

“We have just touched the tip of the iceberg and there is incredible potential to grow these sports…over the next few years, sports such as badminton, football and kabaddi will close the gap with cricket," says Blah.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff. Respond to this column at shuchi.b@livemint.com.

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