HYDERABAD: How does a sport like tennis gain eyeballs in a land where men’s cricket is a religion? How can a sport like badminton compete with the likes of cricket’s superstars? How can a national woman cricketer get access to the same resources her male compatriots do?
Create stars. Create a Sania Mirza, a Leander Paes, a Saina Nehwal, a Mithali Raj. Wrap them in gold and watch the eyeballs flood in. Because, eyeballs mean money, and money is a prerequisite for growth.
This was the takeaway from the Global Entrepreneurship Summit’s masterclass on ‘The Business of Winning at Sports Entrepreneurship’ on Wednesday. The GES is held from November 28 to 30 in Hyderabad. The panel, boasting a who’s who of stars from the non-cricketing sports world, and moderated by commentator Harsha Bhogle, wasted no time in getting to the meat of why other sports have not gained much traction in India and how sports entrepreneurs can succeed in such an environment.
The answer, martial arts expert and entrepreneur Chatri Sityodtong asserted, lies in how sports as a business is viewed in Asia — due to the game of economic catch-up Asian economies are playing with the West. “We don’t view sports as business. Focus was on infrastructure so far. In a few years, though, sports in Asia is going to explode as people understand this is massive business,” Sityodtong said.
“The IPL went from zero to a few billion dollars because of great entrepreneurs and a great marketing plan. IPL gets eyeballs not because of any intrinsic thing, but because there’s great stars, marketing, packaging and media exposure,” he said.
Badminton coach P Gopichand agreed. “Whether we like it or not, that is the direction. It has to go that way to survive”.
Sania too said cricket has been creating stars for decades. “How many tennis stars can you name other than Paes, Mahesh or Sania? There is not a fourth star.” She pointed out that Bollywood-style packaging alone is not going to make a sport “sexy”.
A prime example of what media attention can do to promote a sport was on the panel. Women’s cricket captain Mithali stressed on how infrastructure could play a vital role. “As an India player, I travelled in unreserved coaches. We have come a long way since. Had proper facilities been available back then, maybe the standard of the game would have improved by miles,” she pointed out.