The Covid-19 pandemic has delivered a knock-out blow to the league ecosystem, which was already suffering from the slowdown in the economy and infighting among sports federations. Barring the IPL and Reliance-owned Indian Super League (ISL), none of the leagues are taking place this year. Many may not even return next year.
In 2019, India was on its way to become a multi-sport nation with two very successful and popular leagues — the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) — apart from some moderately successful or up-and-coming leagues across football, badminton, wrestling, volleyball, and table tennis etc.
Cut to 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic has delivered a knock-out blow to the league ecosystem, which was already suffering from the slowdown in the economy and infighting among sports federations. Barring the IPL and Reliance-owned Indian Super League (ISL), none of the leagues are taking place this year. Many may not even return next year.
“While in India sports is considered as an emerging industry, the current disruption due to Covid-19 is a potential threat for the current business model,” said Vinit Karnik, business head, ESP Properties, the entertainment and sports division of GroupM India.
“As an industry it’s time for all stakeholders to come together and embrace some of the fundamental shifts that are bound to happen in the ecosystem and protect the huge opportunity sports offers in building communities and inspiring billions of people.”
As many of the emerging sports are already cash strapped, experts feel it is fair to expect disruption to some sporting league and franchise ecosystem.
In the short term, leagues will have to depend on the media rights alone, which in the current scenario will hardly fetch big revenues, despite live sports being the only programming that commands appointment viewing.
In a two-player market the broadcasters’ appetite is also limited and smaller league owners may have to shell out carriage fee instead. Further, in absence of visibility, sponsorship revenues are also expected to remain subdued while another big challenge will be organising matches in empty stadiums, which will affect the gate revenues.
However, experts feel that league owners should stay invested and if needed, course-correct plans in the short term, as sports will come back stronger.
They say that resuming sports is a big signal to the world that the crisis has passed and we can come together again.
“It’s an extremely strong positive sentiment and when coupled with fans waiting with bated breath to see their favourite sporting icons in action; it’s safe to assume that the viewership numbers are expected to be unparalleled,” Karnik added.
Success of the IPL 2020 may excite other league owners, but the bottom line is that many of these leagues will not see a 2020 edition, and in some cases even 2021, or till at least some normalcy returns.