Fantasy to real cricket, Dream11 bets big on IPL

New Delhi: Mumbai-based online fantasy sports platform Dream11, founded by two Indian entrepreneurs in 2008, has bagged title sponsorship rights for the much-awaited Indian Premier League (IPL) after Chinese smartphone company Vivo exited the space.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) earlier this month decided to officially announce the suspension of the partnership with title sponsors Vivo.

The decision came amid border tensions with China that led to the death of 20 Indian soldiers in Eastern Ladakh, triggering nationwide outrage.

With activists calling for boycott of Chinese goods in view of the standoff, questions were also raised on Chinese investment in Indian cricket in general and Vivo’s title sponsorship of IPL in particular.

BCCI believes that awarding Dream11 the IPL title rights would not raise much eyebrows as it is “essentially” an Indian startup with “single-digit Chinese investment”.

Founded by Harsh Jain and Bhavit Sheth, Dream11 has been a favourite of investors with the company raising over $100 million in funding in 2018 led by Chinese social media and video games giant Tencent Holdings Ltd.

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For Dream11, cricket is the most popular sport on its platform constituting approximately 85 per cent of its user base.

Dream11, which now has over eight crore users, became the first Indian gaming company to enter the “Unicorn Club” in April 2019.

Besides Tencent, Kalaari Capital, Think Investments, Multiples Equity, and Steadview Capital are the marquee investors in Dream11.

The platform, which allows people to play fantasy cricket, football, kabaddi, basketball and hockey, among others, is now facing some competition from other emerging players in the field.

According to a recent study carried out by the Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS ) in collaboration with KPMG in India, the Indian online fantasy sports (OFS) space has come a long way from its nascent stage in 2016 -17.

From less than 10 operators in 2016, the number of operators increased to over 140 at the end of 2019, said the study released in July this year.

Similarly, the fantasy sport user base grew from two million in 2016 to 90 million in 2019.

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Growth in digital infrastructure (Internet and smartphone penetration), increase in digital transitions via payment wallets and UPI, growing popularity of sports leagues, operator investments in technology and focus on gameplay and reaffirmation of the legality of the fantasy sports format in India are some of the growth drivers for this space.

The online fantasy sports market clocked contest entry amount (CEA) of over Rs 6,000 crore in FY19 and more than doubled to Rs 16,500 crore in FY 20 at a growth rate of approximately 167 per cent during the period.

The report, however, noted that the top four-five players account for approximately 95 percent of the market share of the industry.

While Covid-19 is likely to slow down the rapid growth in user base and engagement, the fundamentals of the business remain robust enough to experience a V shaped recovery, once sports leagues resume worldwide, said the study titled “The Business of Fantasy Sports”.

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