Leveraging Sports as a Sustainability Platform

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In the 2016 Rio Olympics, Hyderabad based badminton ace PV Sindhu became the first Indian woman to win a silver medal; Sakshi Malik of Haryana became the first Indian female wrestler to bag a medal (bronze); gymnast Dipa Karmarkar entered the annals of the history by becoming first Indian Gymnast to qualify for the Olympic Final, and Lalita Babar became the first Indian woman to enter a 3,000 m steeplechase final. Teen golfer Aditi Ashok from Bangalore became has come lauded as the first Indian and youngest women golfer in the world to compete at the Rio Olympics.

The above mentioned stellar performance by women in the Rio Olympics is testament to the growing influence of women in Indian sports. However, it was not easy for these women sportsmen to achieve the feats due to the lack of support from the stakeholders as well as society.

CSR to enhance Sports Culture

There is a dearth of infrastructure and technical support for athletes. If India is to deliver to potential in the global sporting arena, there is a need for upgraded coaching and training skills. An enhanced corporate support to the sports sector would help other sports to raise their standards and visibility and replicate the commercial success achieved by cricket.

Given the growing importance of sports in India as well as its convening power, visibility and potentially high ROI, companies are increasingly toying with the theme of sports in their CSR projects. Today social responsibility has also become increasingly prevalent in the sports industry.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a significant concept in the field of business across India. Businesses are using sports to fulfil their CSR objectives. Apart from being an effective CSR medium, sport builds values that any socially-responsible company longs for and instils qualities like team work and fair play.

Sport-based CSR activities can be effectively linked to business, while disseminating specific messages through these sports.

As per the CSR Rules, which come under the purview of Section 135 of the Companies Act, 2013, profitable entities with a net worth of Rs.500 crore or a revenue of Rs.1,000 crore or a net profit of Rs.5 crore need to spend at least 2% of their annual average profit of the previous three years on CSR activities. These activities are defined in Schedule VII of the Rules.

“Schedule VII of the Companies Act, 2013 that indicates a list of CSR activities includes ‘training to promote rural sports, nationally recognised sports, Paralympics sports and Olympic sports,” said Nirmala Sitharaman.

Sports Industry in India

According to The Business of Sports report from consulting firm KPMG and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), the Indian sports sector is undergoing a sea change, with an increase in sponsorship, viewership and participation in sports other than cricket,.

The reports says that in 2015, the sports sponsorship market grew approximately 12% from a year ago to reach Rs5,190 crore.

The sports sponsorship market includes team sponsorship, ground sponsorship, franchise fee, endorsements and on-air sponsorship. Of this, on-air sponsorships accounted for 52%, fuelled largely by new formats. Ground sponsorships, too, registered a healthy rise on the back of these new sports leagues.

The last five to seven years have been the most dynamic for the sports industry in India with some fundamental changes. Sports not only provides an active branding and marketing opportunity to investors, but has also created value for fans all across. Addition of various sporting leagues in India has invited tremendous support and presence of corporate sector.

While leagues came to India late, they have made up rapidly; out of the 11 operational leagues, nine were launched during 2013-16. Two more are planned for this year.

According to the report, televised sports viewership grew 30% between 2014 and 2015. Regional games packaged for urban viewers and in league formats attracted rural viewership.

“High levels of interest in rural areas is indicative of the latent potential in rural sports offering. Further, broadcasters’ strategy to woo rural viewership by presenting predominantly rural sports such as kabaddi and wrestling with an urban packaging has succeeded in popularizing these sports in urban areas as well,” said Jaideep Ghosh of KPMG India.

According to data from the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India, rural contribution to the number of impressions was as high 45% in the sports genre.

Women too have fuelled sports viewership growth. In 2016, 41% of the audience watching the 9th season of the IPL was female. In 2015, 39% of the Pro Kabaddi League viewers were female while 38% of the viewers watching the International Premier Tennis League in 2014 were women. For the Indian Super League in 2014, women and children accounted for 57% of the television audience pulled in.

“There has been an upsurge in global female viewership for sports events. In India too, sports viewership is no longer male-dominated, as women comprise a significant portion of the viewership pie. Teams, sports associations and brands are cognisant of the rising female viewership, which is expected to gain more traction going forward,” said Ghosh of KPMG India.

The online sports audience has expanded too, fuelled by better mobile and internet connections and affordable data plans. The online option gives viewers the flexibility of time and space.

“A young digital audience, and rapidly increasing smartphone and internet penetration is driving the growth in online consumption of sports content in India. 60% of the digital audience in India is within the age group of 13–35 years, which is also the primary target audience for short-format sports,” said Ghosh. Star India has tapped into these audiences with its online platform Hotstar.

“The country’s sports sector is going through a significant transition. In February 2016, the government accorded an industry status to sports infrastructure which is expected to attract investments from the private sector, thereby not limiting its role to just corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities and non-profit organisations,” said Ghosh.


Corporate social responsibility (CSR) can be used in the sports industry as an innovative tool to achieve the desired goals. The government has said that social welfare expenditure by corporates and companies towards promotion of sports like the rural and national sports would be considered as a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activity.

Although using CSR in sports is still at a nascent stage in India, a growing number of corporates have begun to implement CSR initiatives that employ sport as a means for development. CSR through sports can add value to corporate branding.

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