If there are two topics that are certain to capture the attention and the imagination among consumers in India, they are sport and technology. Anything that combines both could just hit the stratosphere, and fantasy sport apps are set to become as big a craze here as they are in the UK, the US and elsewhere.
But what is fantasy sport all about, what sports does it encompass and what potential obstacles does the industry face as it starts to take shape in India? Let’s find out.
What is fantasy sport
At its heart, fantasy sport is a formalization of something that every sports fan does as a matter of course – predicting who will be the big successes and failures in the forthcoming fixture list. It can be applied to almost anything, but the most popular fantasy leagues involve team sports like football or cricket.
All you do is select your fantasy team from a pool of players throughout the leagues. They are typically given values and you have a limited budget, otherwise every team would look very similar and be an all-star XI. With your team registered, you then wait for the real games to take place and you get points for runs scored, wickets taken and so on in cricket, or goals, assists and the like in football. At the end of the season, there are prizes for the top performing fantasy teams.
The gambling debate
Part of the problem that fantasy leagues face when entering the Indian market is the perennial debate over whether fantasy sport is tantamount to gambling. At first glance, you might say no – it is clearly quite a different proposition to betting on horse racing online or putting money on a particular team to win the IPL.
On the other hand, you are paying your league subscription, then making predictions on which players will do best, and if you are right, there’s a financial reward. Put in those terms, it sounds a lot like gambling. In America, the question has been debated ad infinitum, and the IRS recently ruled that money made from fantasy sports should be categorized in the same way as gambling winnings for tax purposes.
In India, there has been similar debate, but recent case law has established that fantasy sports should be considered a game of skill, not chance. This presents the opportunity for a viable ecosystem of fantasy leagues to be established.
Solid infrastructure and backing
Over the past five years, India’s fantasy sports market has seen rapid growth. In 2016, there were 10 providers, and by the end of 2020 this number had risen to 150. One of the best-known is Dream 11, which provides fantasy leagues for cricket, football, basketball, hockey and more. In 2017, Dream 11 founded the Federation of India Fantasy Sports (FIFS), which now has 19 other members.
Fantasy sport in India is still in its infancy. But with enthusiastic government backing and interest from real-world sports leagues, everything is in place for it to get very big very soon.