Mass participation key to make India a sporty nation: Joshi

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With an aim of getting more amateurs to play and slowly transform India into a sporting nation, Jitendra Joshi or Jitu as he is fondly known, set out and founded SportzConsult, India’s premier grassroots sports management company in 2003.

Today, SportzConsult is regarded as India’s No.1 Grassroots Sports Development Company. Given that now every year, over 4 million Indians – including young kids, youth, adults, and corporate executives – participate in SportzConsult’s events and programmes, Joshi is convinced that SportzConsult is on the right track. In 2016, he authored a White Paper on ‘Experiential Sports Marketing’ to help Brand Managers looking to gain a competitive edge by developing a positive brand image among its target audience.

Recently, he has authored a View Point on “A Practical Approach towards building A Sporty Nation”. He has won the coveted “PRCI: Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2016-17” for exemplary work in grassroots sports development.

Joshi in an exclusive interview with insidesport.com shared his experiences and vision on changing the sporting landscape of the country, the hurdles, growth, and prospect of India’s sporting journey. Here are the excerpts:

INSIDE SPORT: Creating Great Sports Experiences is the tagline for SportzConsult. Can you please share the philosophy with us?
Jitendra Joshi: Life is a sum of experiences. We all seek happiness and satisfaction in every activity/experience we indulge in. We believe every experience has four different factors at play – Physical, Emotional, Intellectual and Spiritual. We are truly satisfied and happy when all the 4 factors (layers of our personality) in an experience are met. This philosophy forms the design principle for all our sports programmes.

We strive to create an experience that satisfies all the 4 factors in every programme we deliver for our customers. We want our customers to be truly satisfied and experience the magic of sports.

IS: Getting corporate India to invest in sports is one of the major goals for SportzConsult. The corporate of late is showing considerable involvement in sports. But the numbers are still limited. How viable is ‘Sports’ as an industry for corporate?
JJ: Till about a decade back, the corporate involvement in sports was looked upon as ‘support’ and therefore had a connotation of charity or donation. Even today many sports properties approach corporate with a mindset of seeking support for the sport. This must change and has been changing slowly.

A company’s job is to sell its product/service and not to support a sport. Therefore, if a sport seeks the sustainable involvement of corporate India, it must show Return on the Investment (ROI) for their core business.

We believe Sports provide a fantastic platform for companies to leverage their marketing and business needs. We as a country still have a long way to go before we learn how to fully exploit the marketing potential of sports. Both the marketing folks in companies and sports property owners are still figuring it out. It will take time, but we are seeing the change. The companies and brands are realizing that benefits and returns from the investments in sports are in the medium to a long-term range. Agree, the numbers are still limited but clearly, marketers have started believing in the potential and have started apportioning budgets for sports marketing. Based on the GroupM report, Sports accounted for 10.4% of total media spending at $798 million, growing at 12.3%. In mature markets like North America, the sports market is $60 billion, and we are at less than $2 billion. This just shows how huge the potential is!

IS: What are the strengths, weaknesses and what needs to be done to make India a commercially successful sporting nation?
JJ: Developing a sport in a country is a multi-pronged challenge and has no immediate solution. The sustainable answer to developing a sporting nation is simply to promote mass participation in sports. There are five major drivers – Place for Sports, Time for Sports, Social Currency, Coaches and Competitions to trigger a mass participation movement. Bigger the base of Participants at the ground level, higher the likelihood of creating Fans. A large number of fans make the sport commercially viable and are the reason why players, coaches and all the supporting stakeholders benefit financially. Participants and Fans are the two pillars on which the foundation of a Sporting Nation is built. It creates a sustainable cycle for sporting success.

The good news is that the demand for amateur sporting platforms is on the rise with increasing inclination to spend on sports and fitness. A sea of well-intended changes has been initiated by the government, private sector as well as non-profit organizations. There are more than 10 IPL-style leagues running in the country. There are innovative examples from India and abroad of entrepreneurs and sports professionals working to create value for sports while running a viable business.

IS: At SportzConsult, how did this professional sporting journey start?
JJ: Our journey started in 2003. Being passionate about sports, we started with a simple idea of getting more Indians to play. We began creating safe places for kids to play. Within a year, a boom in the real estate prices made our business plan unviable. Then we tried multiple ideas such as sports events for companies, summer camps, sports ticketing, sports technology and failed at most of them – reasons could be not that it was not funded enough, it was an idea that was too early for India, it did not get the volume we had planned for, etc.

While we were struggling to find the right business model, we kept studying the state of sports in India and kept asking ourselves – How can we get more Indians to play? What can we do to impact Indian sports? How can we add value to Indian sports consumer? While making an impact, how can we create a scalable and sustainable business? Eventually, we found traction in 2 areas – marketing folks looking to leverage sports and outsourcing of physical education by schools. We figured the biggest impact that we could make is to get corporate India to invest in sports and get sports to be part of the school.

IS: As you look back, what gives you the maximum satisfaction in terms of succeeding in your goals? Regrets, if any so far and one big ambition you are gunning to achieve?
JJ: I wouldn’t say we have succeeded in our goals yet. However, with almost 4 million kids participating in our programmes every year, working with over 3,500 schools, delivering the largest grassroots sports programmes in the country gives me immense satisfaction and makes us believe we are on the right path of making India a sporty nation. The satisfaction comes from the fact that we have made Sports a part of daily life for many Indians. Great satisfaction also comes from the fact that as a team, we persevered for 14 years and have managed to create a sustainable organization.

Absolutely no regrets at all. There are many ideas – big and small – that we will go after but can’t point a single big ambition.

IS: As you formed SportzConsult, there was one key question – How can you add value to Indian sports consumer? How far have you succeeded in addressing this question and how?
JJ: We are addressing this by delivering successful large-scale grassroots sports programmes. We are adding value to the Indian sports consumer by ‘creating positive sporting experiences’ through our programmes. We are taking our programmes to schools as well where kids are introduced to new sporting experiences. These experiences and our programmes help the Indian consumer to make sports a part of their daily lives.

IS: India has started getting recognition as a sporting nation, how organized is the sports industry in the country?
JJ: India’s sporting credentials both as participants and organizers have definitely attracted recognition in the recent years. This has opened demand for qualified sports professionals. Today, we require not only support staff such as coaches, umpires, managers, physiotherapists and video analysts but also industry professionals such as photojournalists, sports marketers and event managers. According to a FICCI report, the projected demand for human resources in sports by 2022 will be 43,71,675. The biggest challenge in organizing the sports industry in India is meeting this momentous demand for skilled professionals.

IS: FIFA Under-17 WC in India has been a great success. Our badminton stars are emerging as a power to reckon with globally, hockey is regaining its lost glory – how will this pleasant scenario help the Indian sports industry?
JJ: All sports need aspirational platforms for the top players to showcase their talent and shine. These platforms and our athletes’ performances will have two significant impacts. First, they will turn top players into role models for the generations to come, inspiring them to take up the sport and give them the belief that they too can be successful. Second, these will create that elusive Fan required for the sport’s sustainability – making the sport more monetizable for sponsors, broadcasters, and other stakeholders.

IS: Your latest ‘Point of View’ on “A Practical Approach towards building a Sporty Nation” has been initiating a lot of debates and discussions in the sporting fraternity. What was the idea behind this report??
JJ: The idea behind the report was to share our view of what we think is the right approach towards making India a sporty nation. The idea was to share the learning from our experience of working with every stakeholder in the sports eco-system in India. This report is a cumulative effort of 14 years of experience in midst of grassroots sports development programmes, working with brands, leagues and on our own IPs. This is the culmination of all that I have seen in these last 14 years.

IS: Your report boasts of providing opportunities to play to almost four million people. This is an awe-inspiring number. Can you please elaborate?
JJ: Yes, close to four million people participate in the programmes managed by us. We are running these programmes in association with various institutions including corporates, leagues, NGOs, and schools. The range of our programmes includes introducing sports in schools – e.g. the RF. Jr. NBA project has around 3,000 schools enrolled in the program.

Then, we manage competitions for schools – e.g. the football program has got around 2,500 schools which we do at the behest of Reliance Foundation Youth Sports. The programmes with Nike help to make sports a part of the consumers’ daily life. We work with schools to encourage indoor games and help kids who are not inclined to outdoor sports to remain active. Our women empowerment programmes such as Shakti help lakhs of girls with self-defense techniques. We get thousands of women to participate in marathons we organize. There are brands like Hot Wheels, Tata Tea, Nestle Milo and a couple of State Government Projects for which we engage kids through School Sports Programmes. We help adults to lead an active life as well. We work with companies and develop employee engagement programmes through sports.

Apart from that, we work with brands like Axis Bank, BBC, DNA Publications for various projects.

IS: Is sports infrastructure improving as required? Do deserving athletes get access to the right ones?
JJ: There are good facilities available for athletes now. But there is a need to have lot more grounds and facilities. Athletes and sportspersons need access to better facilities at local level. Unless amateurs get state of the art infrastructure we cannot expect them to prolong their careers.

IS: How are professional leagues contributing at the grassroots level?
JJ: The IP holders are spending significantly on creating effective models for commercial and competitive growth of sports. It is important that fans support the eco-system. The focus then must be on the grassroots level. There is a higher chance of someone becoming a fan if he has played the sport. For example, kabaddi will become unsustainable if grassroots work is not done. Investing in grassroots makes sense from talent development point of view as well. If there is no talent, there will be no participation and no engagement.

As we talk, there is a sports revolution, things are moving in the right direction but a lot more is needed.

IS: You have suggested a roadmap. How much acceptance do you see for it in the prevailing system?
JJ: There is an acceptance and I see partial implementation as well. Western India Football Association developing their coaches is one bright example. Introducing KBD Juniors is yet another recent example of it. I see a few steps in the right direction which is happening along the roadmap and that makes me euphoric about this long-cherished dream of making India a sporty nation.


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