Leaders Speak

Star India MD Sanjay Gupta addresses a keynote at CII Scorecard 2017

7 July 2017

Sanjay Gupta at CII Scorecard 2017 in Delhi
Star India MD Sanjay Gupta speaks at CII Scorecard 2017

Star India MD Sanjay Gupta addresses keynote at CII Scorecard 2017 - “Sport in India is on the move today, but it needs to be a movement.”

Thank you, Mr. Chandrajit!

A very good morning to our Honorable Minister, Mr. Goel, Mr. Aayogi, His Excellency Saeed Hareeb, Mr. Watal, Mr. Srinivas, Mr. Dani, and to all the illustrious guests here from the world of sport!

It is common wisdom today that sports in India is witnessing a massive surge. A sector which until a few years ago was in the doldrums – both in terms of individual performance and economic value – a sector in fact which wasn’t even considered to be an industry until quite recently, has suddenly been infused with a breath of fresh air.

It was around 5 years ago that I personally got involved in the business of sports. I remember, the number of conversations just answering the question, why. Everyone used to be so tentative around associating with, investing in this business. And understandably so – the traditional wisdom had been that this industry has nothing to offer, and has been struggling with dilapidated infrastructure, little funding and almost no focus.

And just look at how far we have come!

If you were at the Kochi stadium last year at ISL’s final, you could experience this new excitement first hand. The 60,000 strong stadium was packed to the hilt two hours before the match was even supposed to begin. And at one point in the match, when a local boy scored a goal, there was so much excitement that the entire stadium started shaking! I faced such a surreal experience myself during the first season of the Hockey India league. I was at Ranchi for the final, and imagine my surprise when I found that a stadium capacity of 7,000 wasn’t enough for the crowd that had gathered to watch the match. They had to actually hire a 15,000 strong football stadium next door at the last minute and put up screens there to accommodate everyone.

And of course, cricket – the mainstay of sport in this country. Cricket has actually gone from strength to strength. There are more and more tournaments happening, newer players coming in. From IPL, to now local leagues in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, cricket has become more local than ever. And most importantly, this new young team has brought a fresh zeal to the game – viewership of cricket today is at an all time high. The 2017 Champions Trophy was watched by 42 crore Indians! That is 2.5 times the number of people who voted for our Prime Minister in the Lok Sabha elections.

That’s the power of sports though. This passion, this emotional connect that no other product, no other content could possibly invoke. This passion that gets the entire country to hold their breath on the last ball of a India-Pakistan match, this passion that gets you on your feet to cheer when you watch PV Sindhu playing Carolina Marin on your television screen in the badminton final, this passion that makes you spring up and dance in joy when your IPL team wins.

Every morning in Mumbai, on Marine Drive, Worli sea-face, Juhu beach, there are hordes of people that you see running. They are all training for marathons, half-marathons, 10k runs, 5k runs! I believe that there are over 3,000 such events organized every year now. Who would have thought that in a country where fitness is actually the last priority, running – not for recognition, not for a medal, but just for the fun of it – could become so popular? And this is despite having no running tracks, and in most cases, no pavements – but people are finding a way, running on tar roads, on dusty maidans, just to follow their passion.

I remember when we were trying to kick start the kabaddi league, the kind of challenges that faced us were quite bizarre. Although this sport already had a strong following in states like Punjab and Haryana, we couldn’t add teams from those states just because they didn’t have a single indoor stadium to host any matches! There were almost no professional trainers, coaches, technical crew, commentators – it seemed like a bottomless pit. And look at where the sport is today. It has found its way into everyday corridor conversations.

This isn’t an isolated example – almost all the leagues today, from hockey to football to wrestling to badminton – their starting point has been pretty much the same. And they have all managed to find a place for themselves with consumers. People are watching them in their homes or on their mobile phones on their daily commute on buses, local trains, and taxis. In fact, even within sports the lingo has changed – people no longer only talk about runs and wickets, they are talking about raids, goals, points and rounds too!

What’s even more heartening is how this whole movement is creating value across the ecosystem and becoming more & more self-sufficient. More and more brands are now starting to ascribe real value to the impact that they are delivering. When we were going to launch the first season of Pro Kabaddi League, I remember having a conversation with the head of a company, asking them to put Rs. 1 cr on it. He refused point-blank. Today, I am proud to say that our partner Vivo is investing to put $40 mn on kabaddi for the next 5 years, just for the association it gets.

This is the logic-defying leap that sport has taken – despite no change in our infrastructure, or public funds. And it is this young, enterprising India that has given sport this new lease of life.

Each and every one of these leagues that I was talking about have been created not on the back of policy or public funding, but by a bunch of young, enterprising people – people sitting in this room – coming together. All of them – businessmen, entrepreneurs, league owners, team owners, bankers, media – have put in staggering sums of money and collaborated with and in many instances, created a whole new set to entities to build viable and scalable business opportunities. They have circumvented all these traditional blocks – both in the mind and on the ground – to build empires.

And this has actually been powered by our young enterprising players. Look at the face, or faces, of today’s sport. We are living in the era of a Kohli, a Sindhu, a Nitin Tomar, a Dipa Karmakar, a Srikanth Kidambi. They are today actively choosing to take up sport as a serious profession, inspiring millions more kids out there.

We often talk about the power of India’s demographic dividend. This is one sector where we perhaps overlook recognizing how young enterprise is changing its fortunes. The sports sector is definitely on the move.

So does this mean this is it, our jobs are done?

Absolutely not! Let whatever I have said not hide the reality of the challenges we continue to face. Despite this glitz and glamor of viewership and money, the reality remains that sports as an industry is just at a $2.5 bn size today. Whereas in a country like US, this sector is at a $67 bn! We have all been celebrating the leagues that have come up, but again – US has more than 30,000 league games happening in a year and we aren’t even at a 1/50th of that number.

Why does such a gap exist? What trick are we missing here? Are the reasons the same, oft-repeated issues of infrastructure and training and winning international medals?

I think we are all barking up the wrong tree. The real problem isn’t there. We have reached the size of $2.5bn just on the back of about 5% of the population playing. This is especially acute for kids, 4 year olds to 16 year olds. Kids in India play less than 20 mins in a week, while in the US, kids play for at least an hour a day. 20 mins in a week vs 1 hour in a day! 5% of the time they spend on playing – just playing, not training, not practicing to become a professional – is how much our kids here get to play. And here lies the real problem.

So is it that kids in India are physiologically so different that they don’t have a desire to play? Of course not! We are coming in their way. The ecosystem and its mindset is coming in their way - the mindset of parents, the mindset of schools and the mindset of businesses.

The narrative in our society, parents & communities has always been that academic study is the only pathway to success and play is a waste of time. Parents in this country look at education as a means to a better life, economic stability for their children. And playing is okay only until it doesn’t start interfering with their academics. What we don’t realize is that today, academic study alone is no longer a guarantee to success. Sports is equally important and needs to accompany and complement formal education to power success.

Our educational system has played a large role in driving this narrative. They assign sport the status of an “extracurricular activity” which is a euphemism for dispensable activity. Most schools’ curriculums have no place for sports in them. But my belief is that physical activity is actually a critical part of a child’s education – formal education in the way it is defined today is incomplete without sport.

Let alone the social narrative – the thinking in corporates and brands is no different. Most brands and agencies in India treat sport as another line-item on their media plan, no different from any other piece of content. What most brands don’t understand is that the kind of impact that sports can deliver long term, is unparalleled. Barclays’ association with the Premier League has made it a familiar name to even those who have never stepped inside a bank.

This is the mindset of sport that we carry – it comes last in the pecking order, for all stakeholders. And this is the core of the problem – this is why kids in our country don’t play. Let alone unleashing, we have not even understood the power of sport as a society.

Our respected Prime Minister has talked about the importance of sport in Mann ki Baat and multiple other forums – about how critical sport is not only for physical well-being, but overall development of an individual, how it can serve as a means of national integration. How sports teaches people these critical attributes: Skill, Perseverance, Optimism, Resilience, Tenacity and Stamina. How it is not important for people to become national or international players. But it is important to go in the field and play and make sport part of their life, to sweat a little every day.

That is the power of sport – to inspire, to unite, to teach as nothing else possibly can. This is the power we need to unleash upon the kids of this country. We need to get 30 cr. kids to play for at least an hour every day!

This is certainly not an easy task to take up. We need to challenge this current mindset of parents, schools, businesses to get there. This is a mindset that has been shaped over many decades. It will take nothing short of a movement to change it.

But the larger problem is that nobody is even trying! Such a mammoth shift in mindset and behavior requires a movement – our history is testament to that. But this isn’t even on anyone’s radar today – not the media, the federations, or private bodies. There is an initiative being run by CII of working with a group of 1000 schools, to redefine the perception of parents and school administration toward sports. But we can’t expect such initiatives alone to move mountains. Sports is on the move today, now it has to become a movement.

There is a dire need for young, private enterprise to again come together and rally behind this one cause. Let us together unleash the power of sport in this country – get 30 cr. kids to play an hour every day. Believe me, we are not being held back by infrastructure or facilities or training – only by our own imagination.

Thank You!

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