The inaugural edition of the Khelo India University Games in Bhubaneshwar that ended over the weekend didn’t really grab the eyeballs in terms of performances on the field. The timing of KIUG was also not ideal with various major international events taking most of the space in the media.
But every time one scrolled through the sports channels on television or on the OTT platform Hotstar the temptation to spend few minutes watching the games would always be there simply because of the quality of the feed that made for a decent viewing experience.
When the government of India conceptualised the Khelo India Games, they were pretty clear that for the new property to have any potential of scaling up similar to the University Leagues in North America, it would need proper broadcast partners. It is precisely why the sports ministry was keen on a private broadcaster, instead of the government-run Doordarshan, who will do justice to the overall production quality.
Talks of government forcing Star Sports’ hands into signing up as the production and broadcast partners for five years did the rounds when the Khelo India Games were launched in 2018 but there was no concrete evidence to prove that. According to insidesports.in, the broadcaster had made an annual commitment of Rs 20 crore for the rights and spent about Rs 30 crore on production and marketing in the first year.
Since then the event has only gotten bigger in terms of the number of days and this year the government has also launched the University Games and the Winter Games, which will be held later in the year.
According to a Star Sports spokesperson, they employed drones for bird’s eye view and buggy cameras at ground level to give viewers a sense of the speed and athleticism of the young athletes during the 10-day long University Games and the Khelo India Youth Games that were held earlier.
The Games were shown on three channels including the free-to-air SS First with total broadcast time on television and Hotstar exceeding 400 unique hours for both KIUG and KIYG.
This type of screen time is probably given to only Asian Games and Olympics in India for non-cricket events. The general argument that will be given by any television channels to not bid for other sports in India is that they don’t have many takers and hence does not make commercial sense. And that is where probably all the talk of government’s role in getting Star Sports, who promised to make the event a television spectacle, on board started.
However, the channel’s spokespersons insisted that they invested in the event as it ticks all their boxes in terms of targeting youngsters under 25. “As the leading sports broadcaster in the country, showcasing the depth and breadth of the sporting potential available in the country, along with establishing newer sports heroes who can inspire a whole new generation of kids/youth to embrace sports actively is worth all the investments.”
And though the return of investment isn’t substantial compared to cricket, the viewership numbers have gone up by 45 per cent over the three years in urban areas and a number of PSUs have come on board as sponsors.
And this is the template various national federations need to follow.
It is a known fact that in the current scenario, the financial viability of any sport is directly dependent on the live broadcast on television or OTT platforms while the growing number of sports channels in the country are looking out for more and more live content. And this should be a win-win situation for all.
For many years, the national sports federations haven’t really cared about expanding the reach of the sport and would be satisfied with the coverage Doordarshan gave them at a cost. Cricket was the first to break that mould in the 1990s when the then BCCI secretary Jagmohan Dalmiya sold the cricket rights to a private player and changed the history of the sport in the country.
No one is expecting a cricket-like miracle in other sports just yet. But given the increasing fan following, albeit a niche one, for many sports that Indians have excelled in over the last decade, the obvious question that most fans ask is how can they follow the nationals or other major domestic events live.
Table Tennis Federation of India has started showing its national ranking meets live on YouTube but that is just one table throughout the day. The Badminton Association of India has also tied up with a Stream Krida to show some of the matches in All India Ranking meets on YouTube. Wrestling and Boxing are probably doing a good job of showing most matches as they have limited number of mats/rings in which the event is conducted.
The Athletics Federation of India has also been showing the national level events on their Facebook page and that has been appreciated by the fans.
But most of these live streams have very little to boast in terms of production value as they mostly use one or two camera setups, do not have commentary or any other details to keep the viewer interested. As most of the competitors are relatively unknown to the public, it gets difficult to keep track of what exactly is happening in the event.
And this is where the national federations need to cash in on the television channels and OTT platform’s need for live content. The national federations definitely don’t have the finances or the authority to get force the hand of private broadcasters to dictate the broadcast but they can definitely reap the benefits if they basically manage to get their house in order and host events in an orderly manner.
Star Sports and Sony, to name two of the major broadcasters, have already been investing in IPL style leagues of badminton, table tennis, wrestling, boxing and volleyball and it would be an obvious choice for them to try and also build the profile of the game which will, in turn, help them market the league.
The federations may initially not make substantial money from any of these tie-ups but what can be be assured is that if the quality of coverage is improved, it will definitely help the sport and the athletes. And isn’t that what everyone should want?