Sports is one of the biggest industries in the world, and by a wide margin. Not everyone knows who Ravish Naresh is, but no Indian under the sun can claim to not know MS Dhoni. That’s just how big the $800 million USD industry is, just in India. It expands across countries and is a subset of several more industries (entertainment, medical, fitness, textiles and whatnot), and you can bet it’ll only continue to grow.
In this article, we’re going to take a look at some of the startups that are leading this growth to new heights, why they’re so great at what they do, and the people behind them. But before that, let’s understand the sports industry in India a bit more, and the implications the pandemic has had on it.
Sports Industry In India
As we mentioned earlier, sports is perhaps the most influential industry in the world after education, as the industry contributes to as much as 4% of the total employment in developed countries. In India though, sports’ contribution towards employment is just .05%. However, initiatives like the Indian Premier League and Hockey India League, as well as the Indian Badminton League, Pro Kabaddi, Indian Super League – these competitions are bringing in a lot of jobs and revenue, and in turn changing the sports industry for the better. Sports in India is turning into something more than just cricket, and getting a lot more people involved as a result. And the money drops where the eyeballs are.
Sports Industry after Covid-19
As with all industries looking at promising futures, Covid happened! The pandemic has affected nearly every sector without picking favourites – and the sports industry is no different. Matches have been cancelled, competitions have been postponed or dropped altogether, and sponsors are trying desperately to cling to whatever little trinkles of revenue their investment makes.
Although relaxations are being introduced steadily throughout the country, you can rest assured that it’ll be a while before you’re watching a game live in the stands. Businesses will have to deal with the oncoming drought in cash flow. It is a risky business to be in given the current situation.
But it’s not all rainy days in the industry. Things are certainly looking bright with plans in place to open up places by next year. This will result in increased enthusiasm in the respective sports, resulting in increased sales of merchandise, tickets, boost viewership, and both directly and indirectly encourage more startups.
It won’t be easy starting up a sports business, given there are some pretty solid players in the market already, but there should be exciting stuff coming up when all this is over. For now, though, let’s understand who sits at the top of the industry, and why.
Sports Startups In India
If you watch IPL, you know what Dream11 is. The online fantasy platform for multi-category sports rose to fame when it became an official sponsor for the IPL 2021 season, much to everyone’s surprise.
The app was founded in 2008 in Mumbai, and quickly gained traction with rising support from football fans. Dream 11 enables users to create their own “Team” by selecting players from the official rosters of the teams participating in the competitions.
If your “team” wins, you make money based on individual player performances. And we’re not talking fantasy money, we’re talking real monetized currency. There are various ports available to participate in such as cricket, football, kabaddi and more. And all these ports make Dream11 more money than one could possibly imagine.
The company is currently holding 90% market share, and has generated close to $103 million USD in 2019 alone. No wonder Dream 11 is worth close to $5 billion USD today, backed by some of the strongest funders in the game.
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Mobile Premier League follows closely in footsteps of Dream11. It is also an online fantasy sports platform with multi-categorised sports leagues to participate in. The key distinction is the type of games you play.
Founded in 2018 in Bangalore, India, users use MPL to participate in gaming tournaments on the e-platform. Users will also be able to participate in games like PUBG mobile, Free Fire, WCC, and more. MPL founders Sai Srinivas Kiran, and Shubh Malhothra have raised over $235 million USD in total for the company currently, and some of its investors are big sharks like Base Partners, Pegasus Tech ventures, and Sequoia Capital. We don’t have to speak about MPL – Its 70 million users are more than happy to vouch for the app.
eBay meets sports – that is exactly what Collectabillia is. It is an online auction platform that can be used to sell celebrity sports merchandise. You can literally sell everything related to sports here – from signed match balls to bats to playing cards.
Collectabillia was founded in the year 2010 in Bangalore, and is currently home to merchandise ranging across sports like football, cricket, tennis, badminton, you name it. The company is also planning on expansion to include collectibles from the films and entertainment industry, having raised over $53 million USD from big names like InnoVen Capital, Sachin Tendulkar, and Accel. We’d love to see how this one does, given how collectibles have been a fan-favourite since forever.
- TECHNOLOGY FRONTIERS (TechFront)
We love a business that pivots away from the already walked path, and aims to solve a different problem. TechFront is a prime example. The company works in developing end to end integrated technology and provides solutions for sports entertainment and media industries – we’re talking free WiFi in Stadiums, digital scoreboards, fan engagement apps, LED solutions, seating management, and a lot more.
Founded in 1996 in Chennai by Muralidharan Srinivasan, TechFront is behind some of the biggest sporting events in the country like IPL and IBL, and even outside of India (sports like Rugby, football, and the like). The company has raised close to $45 million USD from investors like Anicut Capital, Avigo Capital Partners as well as Fidelis World. It’s doing quite well for itself, not going overboard with fundraising, and raising only when it seems necessary.
- DECATHLON GROUP
Decathlon is synonymous when it comes to sports equipment. The company has some of the biggest sports centres in the country, hosted across several locations. Decathlon has existed in India for a little over a decade now, having been founded in the year 2009 in Bangalore. The company has 65 stores spread across India, with several expansion plans in the pipeline. Decathlon also has 20 of its own clothing brands as well catering to sportswear and sports equipment.
Decathlon’s primary source of income is in sales and service of sports equipment – everything from cycles to basketball hoops to tennis rackets to dumbbells – You can find everything at a Decathlon facility. The company is now looking to help companies build their own products, with its R&D facility all over France working to provide latest innovations in design and functionality. Each brand has its own sport or a group of sports which are dedicated towards the development of a product. The company generates an annual revenue of more than $12.8 million USD and has around 87000 employees.
SPORTS365 is a startup located and founded in Bangalore by Chandrasekhar Reddy and Ashutosh Chaudhary in 2011. It is India’s first online store dedicated to high quality sports equipment. They sell a wide range of products across all sports disciplines, and even fan gear.
Apart from this, Sports365 also has a subsidiary called Schools365, which provides services for events and infrastructure development, and consulting merchandise to schools and colleges, corporates and clubs. This helps them go above and beyond being just another ecommerce store and truly create an impact on a more direct level. The company has raised a total funding of $1 million USD from investors such as Zolon Ventures and Powerhouse Ventures, and is further looking to improve on its $10 million business.
- XTREME ZONE
Another unique startup in this list is Xtreme Zone, catering to adventure sports lovers and adrenaline fueled athletes. The startup was founded in 2003 by Praveen Krishnaiah and is headquartered in Bangalore. It is based on pioneering in adventure sports, and is the largest company in this particular segment in India. They cater to a wide variety of sports such as bungee jumping from Towers and cranes across many parts of India (yes, there are many). You also have zorbing, paintball, BMX biking, and artificial wall climbing to name a few thrillers.
The main focus of Xtreme Zone has been to provide some of the most thrilling adventure sport experiences to youngsters in a safe environment without putting a hole in their wallets. And so far, they’ve done brilliantly well. The company also provides services for corporates and clubs looking to loosen up a bit.
Sports is a special part of India, and that is not changing anytime soon. Being a part of a sports startup can be one of the most challenging and fun parts of one’s career. Starting one would be just as exciting. The sports industry is seeing a difficult time thanks to the pandemic, but things are looking brighter as relaxations are setting the stage for more fun-filled days ahead – both in the business world, and the sports industry in India alike.