Almost three months after taking over the Director-General role of The Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS), a self-regulatory industry body for fantasy sports, Joy Bhattacharjya has his hands full. He’s currently busy overseeing the functioning of the body and working with policymakers and industry stakeholders alike to promote fantasy sports in India.
A well-regarded figure in India’s sports and media entertainment industry, Bhattacharjya also runs the Prime Volleyball League. As the Project Director for the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017, he delivered the most attended and successful junior tournament in the history of FIFA. In his earlier roles he has held the position of the Team Director for the Kolkata Knight Riders, Head of Programming for History and National Geographic channel for South Asia, and was the first Indian Head of Production at ESPN Star Sports.
In an exclusive interview with Storyboard18, Bhattacharjya talks about growth and impact of fantasy sports in smaller towns and the need for well-defined industry guidelines.
What is the untapped potential that you see in the fantasy sports industry of India?
The increasing internet penetration, availability of affordable mobile handsets, launch of new sports leagues, formats and overall increased access to sports have contributed significantly to the growth of Fantasy Sports (FS) in Tier II and III cities/towns. Currently, the Fantasy Sports industry boasts of over 14 crore users. Google Play Store opening up for DFS (daily fantasy sports) platforms will also have a positive impact on increase in the adoption of Fantasy Sports platforms.
Given our government’s focus on digitisation, there is a real opportunity to increase the presence of Online Games of Skill in regional languages. India is a land of multiple languages, religions and cultures, and FS can really tap into different markets. People need to be made aware of how FS is helping grow the sporting ecosystem in India, with Indian Premier League (IPL), Pro Kabbadi League (PKL), etc. partnering with FS platforms for increasing viewership and creating a sustainable fan base and National Football League (NFL) and National Basketball Association (NBA) being some prime examples at the global level.
What are the factors that can further boost this growth?
A light-touch self-regulatory model with the government overseeing can be the way for the industry to continue to grow. It is essential for guidelines to exist to clearly differentiate between Games of Skill and Games of Chance. Even the IT Rules 2021 for Online Gaming and Data Governance, have mentioned the “lack of clear guidelines to determine what qualifies as game of skill or chance,” which make it an unaddressed regulatory issue. A module to determine the exact definition can be created in consultation with industry experts.
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Despite being a money churner, why do you think fantasy gaming is facing massive hurdles when it comes to regulation? Do you think the industry has a PR problem?
As you know, Fantasy Sports has emerged as a widely regarded vehicle for sports fan’s engagement and has contributed significantly to the Indian economy, both from revenue to exchequer as well as employment and job creation. The prime issue here is the lack of understanding of this new and innovative means of digital sports engagement. Fantasy Sports has unfortunately, time and again, been clubbed with games of chance. This is despite having multiple positive court rulings that qualify us as Games of Skill and protected under the Constitution of India as legitimate business providers. We all need to work towards differentiating and educating the users between Games of Skill and Games of Chance.
We all need to work towards differentiating and educating the users between Games of Skill and Games of Chance.
What are your thoughts on discussions around raising GST rates for the industry?
I always believe the government’s policies on taxation should be reflective of the government’s vision for the industry. The current 18 percent tax levied on Platform Fee or the Gross Gaming Revenue (GGR) is in accordance with international best practices and viable for business growth. A fair and equitable taxation method has to be the way forward, keeping in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of atma-nirbhar Bharat in terms of AVGC (animation, visual effects, gaming and comics) industry.
What kind of changes has fantasy gaming brought in the smaller markets of India especially?
Fantasy Sports has bridged the gap between rural and urban India in that sense – connecting the fans without boundaries. With the availability of high-speed internet, smartphone penetration, fantasy sports have created a huge market in Tier II and III cities/towns.
An FS user listening to a cricket match commentary on a radio set at a sweet shop in a small village in Mathura can be competing against an FS user watching the same match on a smart TV in a high-rise in Mumbai. They are connected by their common love of sport - and their desire to outperform one another. That is the beauty of Fantasy Sports.
How has it impacted the sports fan experience?
FS has actively converted sports viewers from passive viewers to active participants. According to the research done by Millward Brown, FS users watch 60 percent more sports as compared to normal sports fans. FS users spend time researching statistics, teams' strengths and weaknesses, playing conditions, and various other real-life sports-related factors to create a more competent team to increase their chances of winning. Hence, automatically, a consumer’s interest in a particular sporting event goes up.
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What are your immediate areas of concern and how are you addressing them?
We believe the best way to help our sector grow is by self-regulation, forging a balance between industry growth and consumer protection while promoting innovation.
At FIFS, we are constantly having dialogues with our members and the industry to ensure best standards and practices are followed keeping consumer interest in mind. Internal hand holding, education and the clarification of doubts, is a huge part of what we are doing. This is also where FSRA (Fantasy Sports Regulatory Authority) plays a key role. FSRA comprises ex-Supreme Court and High Court judges who are extremely distinguished in their fields and have served the country honorably in very senior roles. We are confident that they will be able to guide us on a path that allows us to govern ourselves effectively.
Gaming no longer exists just as a hobby, but is also a viable professional career option.
What’s your prediction for the fantasy sports industry in India in the next two years?
I see a huge future for fantasy sports in India in the coming years, especially with the 5G rollout. We are entering the world of Web 3.0 and Metaverse and gaming no longer exists just as a hobby, but is also a viable professional career option.
Apart from boosting employment opportunities in the country, Fantasy Sports has also given back in other ways to the sports industry via sponsorships and grassroots initiatives, and is creating a value chain which hugely contributes to the sustained development of sports in the country.
The Online Skill Gaming industry forms a key part of India’s high potential AVGC industry, and is already attracting a large portion of FDI, which is expected to rise exponentially in the next three years.
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Note to readers: There has never been a better time for gaming and esports in India. While user traffic has skyrocketed in the last two years, 2022 is also a year of firsts for the industry. From winning the first medal at the Commonwealth games to the first televised BGMI series on primetime TV, the year has seen some big developments. With new brands and new players entering the market, esports and gaming have also become a popular marketing tool for marketers across the board. Keep up with the big trends and big players in the space in our In-Focus special series.