1 December 2020

Impact Of Covid-19 On The Business Of Sports

The year 2020 was an Olympic year. At the beginning of the year, athletes around the world were training for their selection trials and those already selected were preparing for the grand event...
India Media, Telecoms, IT, Entertainment
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The year 2020 was an Olympic year. At the beginning of the year, athletes around the world were training for their selection trials and those already selected were preparing for the grand event which was scheduled to commence in July in Japan. While the organisers were meticulously planning and relentlessly working towards hosting one of the biggest sporting events in the world, on the other hand, at the same time, parts of the world was already facing a grave health crisis. The coronavirus, a case of which was first reported in November 2019 in Wuhan province in China, had spread to various countries by January 2020.1 On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared that the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) is a pandemic. 2

Between January 2020 and March 2020, COVID-19 spread to most countries of the world, with countries imposing international travel bans and regionwide lockdowns, to control the spread of the virus. The imposition of such strict measures had an impact on various businesses across the world, including the business of sports.

In India, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) imposed the first phase of lockdown on March 25, 2020,[3] which was thereafter extended on multiple occasions and was in force till May 31, 2020.4 The MHA permitted `the opening of sporting complexes and stadiums, without spectators, from May 18, 2020. However, sports gatherings were not permitted. The aim of the relaxations was to allow athletes in the training centres to resume training.5 The Sports Authority of India (SAI) issued a standard operating procedure for its training centres and athletes were gradually allowed to resume training in accordance with the protocol.6

The MHA announced the opening of areas (which were not marked as containment zones) in a phased manner as part of the ‘Unlock 1' guidelines. The notification issued on May 31, 2020 stated that subject to the circumstances, sports gatherings would be permitted under the third phase of the unlock.7 Under subsequent unlock 2 and 3 guidelines, sports gatherings were not permitted across the country, including

outside containment zones. The MHA issued ‘Unlock 4' guidelines on August 29, which permitted resumption of sports activities with a gathering of maximum 100 people from September 21, with mandatory wearing of face masks, social distancing, provision of thermal scanning, and hand wash or sanitizer.8

The guidelines issued on September 30, 2020, (‘Unlock 5') further eased the relaxations on organizing sports events, allowing state/union territory governments to permit gatherings of more than 100 persons at sports gatherings from October 15, 2020, subject to the following conditions: (i) in closed spaces, a maximum of 50% of the total capacity, with a ceiling of 200 persons, shall be permitted; or (ii) in open spaces, respective state governments must take into consideration the size of the ground/space to determine gathering limits, to ensure that social distancing norms are maintained; and (iii) wearing of masks, social distancing, sanitizing/ hand washing and thermal scanning, shall be mandatory in all cases.9

The ‘Unlock 5' guidelines, were a welcome relief for swimmers, as they finally permitted the opening of swimming pools for sportspersons starting October 15, 2020. The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (MYAS) issued a Standard Operating Procedure on October 9, 2020 for the same10. The SOP permits only competitive swimmers above the age of 12, engaged in training for the purposes of participation in swimming competitions, inside the swimming pool, and excludes contact sport such as water polo, those learning to swim or swimming for general fitness. The SOP makes use of the Aarogya Setu app mandatory for swimmers and the staff at the swimming facility and lays down the number of swimmers that would be allowed inside the pool at a time, subject to size of the pool (maximum 10 swimmers are permitted at a time in a 50 metres 10 lane pool, while only 16 swimmers are permitted in a 25 or 50 metres 8 lane pool. Further, the SOP bars any form of contact amongst persons inside the training area, and makes it mandatory to follow adequate social distancing and sanitization protocols.While the swimmers have resumed training, the unexplained delay in allowing opening of swimming pools, despite the WHO stating that ‘swimming in well-maintained, properly chlorinated pool is safe'11, has perplexed those associated with the sport.

In this article, we shall discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the business of sports business and the positive developments in the sports industry on account of COVID-19, including technological advancements.


Before delving into the impact of COVID-19 on sports' businesses, it is important that we understand what constitutes the business of sports. There are three primary revenue sources for a live sports event: (i) broadcasting revenue; (ii) advertising and sponsorship revenue; and (iii) match day revenue i.e. ticket sales. These three revenue sources for the sports industry dried out since no live events took place due to the imposed lockdown and restrictions. Further, the sports business entails not just the live events which are televised and broadcast, but also all the businesses associated or dependent on the occurrence of such live events. The associated businesses include the production of live events, stadium rentals, hospitality, fantasy sports and betting, merchandise and sporting goods, etc., all of which have suffered huge losses. Several companies rely on sponsoring the events to come into public eye and boost their sales. Individuals, who work largely on per event/ match basis, such as umpires and other support staff, athletes with no sponsors/ regular source of income, have also been severely impacted.


At the beginning of 2020, no athlete/ fan/ organiser would have imagined that a match, let alone tournaments in their entirety, will be held behind closed doors (in empty stadiums and quiet atmospheres), however, the pandemic brought the sporting world to a standstill. While live sports have gradually resumed over the past few months, it is only under strict health guidelines and without fans. The gravity of the circumstances can be ascertained from the fact that the International Football Association Board (IFAB) mandated that in the event a player is found to be faking or deliberately coughing, he / she could be penalized with a red card, subject to the discretion of the referee12. The International Cricket Council (ICC) also amended its playing conditions regulations to ban use of saliva by players to shine the cricket ball13, however, the players can use sweat to shine the ball14. While new rules emerged on one hand, technological advancements were made use of to create a Pre-COVID era stadium atmosphere and unique ways to create a viewer experience emerged. Danish football club, Aarhus Gymnastikforening (AGF), partnered with videoconferencing company Zoom for one such initiative. Before the match, AGF asked its fans to sign up for virtual tickets in the section of the stadium where they would normally sit, and then grouped them together on video calls of up to eighteen (18) people. Thereafter, a group was projected onto one of the giant video screens set up inside AGF's stadium Ceres Park for a brief period before being replaced by another group. AGF had also set up a smaller screen dedicated for fans of visiting team, Randers.15 The sounds from the spectators' microphones were also played through the stadium's loudspeakers. This user experience was also introduced in the Premier League.16 The ability to watch a match from the safety of your homes, alongside fellow fans on giant screens installed in stadiums, did manage to create a unique stadium experience for the fans, the viewers and more so the players. A study conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has projected that the sports sector will grow at 3.3% for the next 3-5 years, compared to the 8% growth in the previous 3-5 years. The study further projected annual growth rate in sponsorships to reduce to 2.2% in 2020 (4.5% annual growth rate in 2019) and licensing and merchandising to 3.4% (compared to 4.1% in 2020).17 On the contrary, eSports and video games saw tremendous growth during the initial months of COVID-19 era. Esports streaming platforms reported a surge in growth during the months of March and April, with a 20% increase in usage hours and 75% increase in gaming traffic during peak hours.18

Federations and Leagues/ tournaments

One of the major consequences of the spread of the coronavirus has been the cancellation or postponement of major sports events which were scheduled to be held in 2020, including the Olympics 2020 (Japan), the men's T20 Cricket World Cup 2020 (Australia), the Euro 2020, etc. (which have been postponed) while other events such as the 2020 Wimbledon tennis championships, the Boston Marathon were cancelled19. The first effects of the pandemic were felt in the sporting world with various leagues such as the NBA, the Premier League, etc. being suspended indefinitely. In India, as well, the finals of the Indian Super League (ISL) (the top division football league) were played behind closed doors on March 14, 2020.20

The I-League (2nd division football league) 2019-20 season was scheduled to be held from November 30, 2019 to April 12, 2020.21, however all remaining matches of the I-League, starting March 15th, 2020 were initially suspended and thereafter, on April 18th,2020, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) announced cancellation of the remaining matches of the season. Mohun Bagan were declared as champions and awarded the entire champion's prize money of USD 136,150 (as it had an unassailable lead). The remaining prize money of USD 170, 187 was divided among the other 10 clubs, with each club being awarded USD 17, 019.[22]

In March 2020, the South African cricket team had travelled to India for a bilateral series. While the first ODI in Dharamshala was washed out due to rain, the other two ODIS were cancelled on account of COVID-19, with both the cricket associations agreeing to work on a revised schedule. The South African cricket team returned home thereafter.23 Further, the 2020 season of the Indian Premier League (IPL), the Board of Control for Cricket in India's (BCCI) flagship event, was scheduled to start on March 29, 2020, however, due to a nationwide lockdown, it was initially postponed till April 15, 2020, and thereafter postponed indefinitely as the Indian government imposed strict measures to contain the spread of the virus.24 Once the T20 Cricket World Cup, which was earlier scheduled to be held from October 18 to November 15 2020, was cancelled by the International Cricket Council (ICC),25 a window for organising the IPL was created in place of the same. The event, which started on September 19, 2020, is currently ongoing in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), inside a bio-secure bubble with strict health and safety protocols. Apart from the IPL, the BCCI has issued a tentative calendar for the 2020-21 domestic season scheduled to start in November, which does not include major annual limited over tournaments such as the Vijay Hazare trophy and the Duleep Trophy26.

Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the world governing body for football, issued guidelines allowing expiring player contracts to be extended until the end of the season (if season has been extended by the national football association). The guidelines further said that the player contracts which were due to commence at the start of the next season should begin on the new start date of the next season.27 These guidelines eased the concerns of several football clubs across the world as they were able to complete their seasons with the players they had signed till the end of the 2020-21 season of the respective league, without having to renegotiate with the players or their next clubs to allow the player to stay till the end of the season. The All India Football Federation (AIFF), football's governing body in India, also issued similar rules for its domestic season.28 The 2020-21 season of the ISL will also be played entirely in the state of Goa (1 city) across three stadiums (3 venues), unlike the usual format of games being played in the home and away format at home stadiums of the clubs in their city.29

In the event IPL 2020 would have been cancelled, the BCCI could have faced a loss of revenue amounting to a sun of approximately USD 530 million.30 While cricket is a religion in India and therefore the high stakes, the cancellation/ postponement of events such as the Ultimate Table Tennis season 202031 and various national and state level tournaments has had a direct bearing on the athletes participating in such sports, as well as those whose livelihoods depend on these events, such as umpires, referees, ground staff and support staff. In August, Dream Sports Foundation (DSF), the philanthropic arm of Dream Sports, the Indian sports technology company which runs Dream11, launched ‘Back on Track', an initiative to support and provide financial aid to vulnerable athletes, sports professionals, academies and associated stakeholders who are part of the Indian sports ecosystem. DSF's programme will provide immediate aid by way of sports equipment, diet and nutrition, training and coaching, monthly stipends and hygiene kits amongst others, the company said. Already, DSF has identified and supported over 300 athletes and coaches across the country in the first phase of the programme and is planning to extend the aid to over 5,000 athletes in the second phase. This initiative aims to ensure that people whose livelihood depends on sports do not dropout due to lack of opportunities and resources.32

Players and clubs/ associations

The economic impact has also been felt by major clubs across the world. On account of lack of revenues, several clubs negotiated the remuneration stipulated in contracts, with players of Barcelona agreeing to a 70% pay cut33, whereas clubs in the English Football League (EFL) and other leagues across the world agreed on deferment of salaries with players and staff34. Premiership Rugby clubs unanimously agreed to reduce the salary cap to £ 5 million for the 2021-22 season from £ 7 million. The clubs also agreed that the cap would be reverted to its current level if revenues increase to appropriate levels in future seasons.35 Player/ athlete unions such as the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA), association of Premier League players and Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA)36, played a significant role in the discussions that led to salary cuts and deferrals. PFA rejected the 30% pay cut proposed by the Premier League and their clubs on grounds that it would mean lesser taxes paid to the government which would be detrimental to the fight against COVID-19.37

There have been instances where players have refused to accept the pay cuts or deals offered by clubs. Swiss club, Sion, unilaterally terminated contracts for those players who refused to take the unemployment settlement offered by the club.38 Premiership Rugby club, Leicester Tigers, sacked Manu Tuilagi after he refused to sign a new contract with reduced consideration in line with the league's revised salary cap rules.39 These unilateral termination of agreements by clubs can be considered a breach of the agreed terms between the club and the player. Alex Song, who was sacked by FC Sion, has approached FIFA claiming ‘unfair dismissal' by Sion.40

The government of United Kingdom introduced the furlough scheme to help businesses sustain during the COVID-crisis and protect jobs. Companies could furlough employees during the months of March to June, which has now been extended till October, who would be paid 80% of their salary to a maximum of GBP 2500, per month, by the government.41 Premier League clubs, Liverpool F.C. and Tottenham Spurs F.C., furloughed the staff at the clubs. However, the clubs rescinded on their decisions to furlough employees after the criticism from fans and the public, as the players had not been given a pay cut.42

According to a study conducted by KPMG, the aggregate value of a player in the top 10 European football leagues decreased by 6.6 billion euros or 17.7%, due to the matches of the 2019-20 season being played behind closed doors after the leagues resumed. The study also noted that if the top 10 European football leagues had been cancelled without completion of the 2019-20 season, the decrease in player value would have been 10 billion euros or 28.5%. The KPMG study did not take into account the impact of cancellation of football leagues in some countries and completion of leagues in other countries.43 While the clubs in top rungs have managed to stay afloat with sports resuming gradually, with games being played behind closed doors has directly impacted the revenue of clubs in lower divisions in Europe and other continents, who primarily rely on match day revenues.44

While spectators are gradually returning to the stadiums in some places, United Kingdom government has decided to not allow spectators inside stadiums under its new measures announced on September 22, 2020, which could last for 6 months45. The sports pilot events, which were restricted to 1000 persons in attendance from September 10th, 2020, have also been paused.46 After the announcement, various sports federations and organisations approached the government informing it of the financial repercussions of zero income from gate receipts. While the government has promised a relief package will be announced, it has asked financially stable organisations, such as the Premier League to help the clubs in the lower divisions.47

While there have been no reports of player salaries being reduced or deferred in India, the force majeure clause has been activated on account of the COVID-19 pandemic to terminate player agreements. Force majeure clause provides that if due to an event beyond the reasonable control of a party, there is delay in or inability to perform a contractual obligation, the party shall be excused for such delay or inability and it would not constitute a breach of contract. Section 56 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872 provides for frustration of contracts as a statutory remedy which can be invoked in cases where it has become impossible for a party/parties to perform obligations under their agreement and the object of such agreement has been frustrated. However, it cannot be invoked on ground that under certain circumstances it would not be commercially viable for a party to perform obligations under the agreement.

After the I-League season was cancelled by the All India Football Federation (AIFF), couple of I-League clubs, Chennai City FC and Quess East Bengal FC, terminated their player contracts by activating the force majeure clause, citing COVID-19 pandemic as a reason.48 Force majeure clause provides that if due to an event beyond the reasonable control of a party, there is delay in or inability to perform a contractual obligation, the party shall be excused for such delay or inability and it would not constitute a breach of contract.

East Bengal FC was formed in August 1920 and is considered one of the oldest football clubs in India. The club which recently celebrated its centennial anniversary has a massive fan following across Bengal and India. East Bengal FC and Bangalore Quess Corp Ltd. entered into a joint venture in July 2018 and formed the Quess East Bengal FC Pvt. Ltd. (QEBFC) wherein Quess held 70% stake in the new entity and East Bengal held 30% stake. The partnership agreement specified that the partnership would be terminated if the club did not play the ISL within 3 years. However, in 2019, Quess intimated East Bengal that the last date of the partnership would be May 31, 2020. On account of COVID-19, Quess activated the force majeure clause on April 26, 2020, thereby terminating player agreements from April 30, 2020. Thereafter, the partnership agreement between Quess and East Bengal was terminated on May 31, 2020. On July 17, 2020, Quess acquired East Bengal's stake in QEBFC and handed over the sporting rights of the club to East Bengal.49 The East Bengal players whose contracts were terminated approached the Football Players Association of India (FPAI), an association of football players in India which is recognized by FIFPro (international football players association) but not by All India Football Federation (AIFF).50 In August 2020, the players filed a complaint against the club with the AIFF Players' Status Committee (PSC). Some players also unilaterally terminated their agreements on grounds of non-payment of dues. FIFA Regulations on Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP) (Article 14 bis) states that a player shall have the right to terminate their contract if their salary dues of at least 2 months are not paid by the club. AIFF asked the club to respond to the players' demands by September 4 after which the matter would be placed before the PSC.51 Thereafter the club sought time to clear dues after it recently entered into a partnership with Shree Cements Foundation, one of the leading cement manufacturers in India.52 East Bengal FC and Shree Cements have formed a new joint venture, Shree Cements East Bengal Foundation, with Shree Cements having the majority share of 76% in the new company. East Bengal FC have transferred the sporting rights, assets and properties including intellectual properties to the new entity.53


The various measures imposed to control the spread of the coronavirus had a direct bearing on the manufacturing and sales of various companies. Consequently, companies have had to significantly reduce their sponsorship budgets in order to increase their cash flow, which is evident from the sponsorship deals agreed for the 2020 season of sports event.

After BCCI and Vivo, Chinese phone manufacturer, agreed to suspend the title sponsorship agreement for IPL 2020 season, BCCI invited bids from other sponsors for the season this year.5455 It is understood that the event being moved out of India would likely have been grounds for the parties mutually agreeing on suspension of the agreement.56 While under its agreement with BCCI, Vivo pays around USD 68.2 million annually for the IPL title sponsorship, the title sponsorship rights for IPL 2020 season have been awarded to Dream11 for USD 29.7 million approx.57

Delhi Capitals, the IPL team representing New Delhi, has announced JSW, an in-house brand (the JSW Group owns 50% of the stake in Delhi Capitals), as its principal sponsor for the 2020 season at a 15-20% reduced cost, after Daikin pulled out of IPL 2020.58 Daikin being an air-conditioning brand and the IPL not being held in the months of March – May (prior to peak summer) like other years could possibly have been the reason for them to not invest in sponsorship during winter months. This also goes to show that there has been a significant reduction in the sponsorship budgets of companies.

Apart from franchise teams owned by giant corporates, various National Sports Federations (NSFs) are dependent on the financial aid received from the government as well as sponsorship money received from corporates. However, the current circumstances have led to companies not being as upfront in sponsoring athletes and teams, resulting in NSFs requiring additional support from the government. The IOA requested for a one-time financial aid of around USD 30 million (approx.) from the MYAS stating that sponsors were unlikely to come to their rescue until 2021. IOA requested the Sports ministry to grant approx. USD 1.36 million for itself, USD 680, 750 for each NSF governing an Olympic sport, USD 340,375 for each non-Olympic sports NSFs and USD 136,150 for each State Olympic Association.59 The International Olympic Committee had also set aside USD 150 million for International Federation, National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and IOC-Recognised Organisations to help them continue their mission to develop their sports, prepare for the Olympic Games and support their athletes, which is said to be granted on a case-to-case basis.60 It is unclear whether the IOA or the NSFs have applied for or received any amount from the grant set aside by IOC.

Sports Broadcasters

Sports broadcasters primarily rely on live events to sustain their business, attract viewership and earn revenues, however the COVID-19 reduced their sources of revenue and the restrictions forced them to think of innovative ways to engage audience.

Due to the lockdown measures imposed, viewership of sports channels in India dipped significantly. During the first half of 2020, viewership on sports channels dropped by 67% and overall advertisement bookings reduced by 13% compared to the first half of 2019.61 The drop in viewership on sports channels can be attributed to the lack of live events, however the viewership of other genres increased during this period. Various sports broadcasters resorted to broadcasting archival footage to retain viewership and advertisers on their platform, with Star Sports broadcasting footage from ICC tournaments, IPL seasons and the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL).62 However, unlike live events which has appointment viewing, reruns of previous matches barely drive viewership. In the United States of America, the National Football League (NFL) and the National Basketball Association (NBA) removed the paywalls for their own subscription services to allow viewers to watch older matches.63 Esports also saw substantial growth during COVID-19 with streaming platforms such as Twitch breaking viewership records in the first 2 quarters of 2020.64 The developments in eSports are discussed at length in the section ‘Esports and Video Games' of this article.

The resumption of sports in Europe saw a significant increase in sports viewership, with the first match of the La Liga, post suspension, seeing an increase in viewership of more than 48%worldwide. In India, where La Liga is broadcast on Facebook, 72% increase in viewership was recorded. 65 Dream11 Pvt. Ltd. sponsored tournaments being held in the Caribbean region (where restrictions were relaxed) such as the Vanuatu T10 League, the St. Lucia T10 Blast, and broadcasted these live cricket matches on their mobile application, ‘Fan Code', a multi-sport aggregator platform.

Associated businesses

Fantasy Sports: The business of fantasy sports has grown drastically over the past decade in India.66 Fantasy sports is a game format where participants create virtual teams using real-world players from more than one team, which are scheduled to play in a league or a match. The participants are awarded points based on the performance of the players in the real-world match or tournament. The organization of live sports events is the prerequisite for a fantasy sport platform. With the live sports being halted, the business of fantasy sports platforms dwindled since there were no live events that the participants could play. We have already discussed in the previous section how Dream11 sponsored small tournaments to sustain its business.

Equipment: The impact of COVID-19 was also felt by the sports goods manufacturing industry. Several aspiring sportspersons join sports academies during spring each year, which adds to the growth of the sports business industry. This also coincides with the IPL, which is usually held from March – May.67 It was reported that the sports goods industry in Jalandhar, which manufactures around 70% of all sporting goods in India68, was facing a business loss (as of Apr. 2020) of Rs. 2 to 3 crores per day. However, equipment for indoor games such as carrom, chess, etc. saw a surge.69

Exports: The domestic sporting goods industry export nearly accounts for 60 per cent of the total output. The government records indicate that the total toys, games, and sports requisites export stood at US$ 417.43 million in FY19 and reached USD 356.05 million in FY20 till January 2020. However, sealed national and international border in the wake of pandemic and consequent stall on exports, with stakeholders either cancelling or indefinitely postponing their orders, has had a grave bearing on the sporting goods industry.70

Imports: Further, since India does not have capability to manufacture the raw material used for sports goods alone and the industry relies on imports from China for materials such as PVC and PU material for the manufacturing of footballs, leg guards, gloves, cotton polyester linings, stitching thread, tetron cloth, feather for shuttle cocks, etc., it has become extremely difficult for the industry to procure the same due to international lockdowns and the cost of raw materials has also increased due to shortage of supplies.71

Digital classes and home gear: Due to change in consumer behaviour and people becoming more health conscious, the online demand for athleisure, activewear and fitness gear products like dumbells, push up bars, belts, cycles and yoga mats surged during the lockdown and is expected to continue to grow post-COVID. For instance, Decathlon, a multi-sport equipment store recorded a 2000% increase in sales of resistance bands, 200% increase in the sales of cross-trainers and elliptical machines, 35% increase in sales of yoga mats and a 30% increase in demand for dumbbells. Further, products for cycling, fitness cardio, yoga and running were among the top ten most purchased products.72 However, since small and traditional sports equipment manufacturers are primarily not engaged in sale of athleisure products, their problems continue to grow with the larger population continuing to stay at home.


The onset of COVID-19 created the need for technological advancements. Video conferencing platforms such as Zoom, Google Meets, etc. met the requirements for meetings, classes, webinars, sessions, etc. which could not be conducted physically. In the world of sports, the technological advancements ranged from holding online training sessions via video conferencing to hosting virtual sports events.

While not all forms of sports could be held virtually, events such as the recently concluded FIDE Online Chess Olympiad were launched and executed during this time.73 The concerns regarding constant electrical supply and network did come to the fore when India lost a match as players lost connection.74 Some other traditional sports also turned to Esports (discussed in detail in the next section) with Formula 1 hosting virtual Grand Prix instead of the scheduled physical events.75

Various online training courses and provision of facilities also emerged during the lockdown, such as SFAPlay76 and Champ for Life Academy77. The MYAS and various NSFs also launched their own courses for training of coaches7879 and athletes80.

The technological innovations have benefitted the sports industry by not only having an opportunity to introduce various online models during the COVID-19 era but also for the resumption of on ground sports. The digital innovations and use of immersive technologies such as fake crowd noises either in stadiums or overlaid on match footage before broadcast81 and remote production of live events were made good use of when physical (on ground) sports resumed behind closed doors. Further, virtual reality also assisted in providing fans an immersive stadium experience while sitting in the comfort of their homes.82 Fox Sports launched a redesigned mobile application which allows user to view footage of the game from multiple cameras in real-time, while still watching the traditional feed.83

Additional equipment, to ensure adherence of social distancing measures, were made use of ie. as part of the IPL Standard Operating Procedure, players/ member are required to wear Bluetooth bands which alert them if they came within 2 meters of another player/ member wearing the band.84

Companies that had a technological head start made huge profits during this time. While COVID-19 served as a boon for them, technological development also provided the people at large with a much-need source for entertainment, with traditional sports resorting to archival footage broadcast in the initial days of world-wide lockdowns being imposed and failing to provide new content to viewers.


Further, the restrictions also served as a boon for stakeholders in the Esports and video gaming industry, which recorded increased participation and sales during the COVID-19 period, as it became a primary source of entertainment for the youth. In the first week of quarantine in the United States, Verizon reported 75% increase in the domestic peak-hour usage. Twitch, which is the world's biggest streaming platform gamers, reported 33% increase in its audience in March 2020 alone.85

Hybrid sports have also seen growth during these times. Hybrid sports combine the physical skill of traditional sport with Esports like virtual rendering. The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) launched its first Esports World Championships alongside technological provider Zwift.86 UCI and Zwift also signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for development of cycling Esport as a new discipline in cycling.87 The National Basketball Association and 2K Sports launched the Xbox One competition, NBA 2K tournament in which sixteen players/ gamers, including Kevin Durant participated and was broadcast on ESPN.88 NASCAR entered into a partnership with iRacing to form the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series, an esports racing series with the most popular racing car drivers. The participants often participated from their homes using virtual car simulators, with the event being broadcasted live on Fox Sports.89 In India, UltimateE, an Esports racing series ideated and executed during the lockdown, organized Esports racing events on weekends, which not only invited the public at large to participate, but also saw participation from motorsports racers Narain Karthikeyan, Arjun Maini and Karthik Tharani.

In India, titles such as PlayerUnknown's BattleGround (PUBG), Call of Duty, DoTA 2 saw an increase of 50% in gaming during the lockdown90, 11% growth rate in terms of the players playing eSports and fans consuming eSports and average time spent per user went up by almost 50%.91 Several online competitions of PUBG, Call of Duty 2 were also held which were broadcasted live over YouTube. On September 2, 2020, the Indian government banned PUBG, among other Chinese mobile applications and games, in the interest of sovereignty, integrity, defence and security of the country.92 While India is PUBG's biggest market in terms of users (23.8% of total downloads), it has contributed only around 2% of the mobile application's revenue till now.93 The ban on PUBG and other games has provided an opportunity for Indian gaming companies to develop their own mobile games. Two days after the ban, actor Akshay Kumar, a Bollywood superstar, announced the launch of a new multiplayer mobile game, FAU-G: Fearless and United Guards, which is being developed by nCORE Games. Apart from the entertainment, the mobile game will also give players the opportunity to learn about the sacrifices of our soldiers and 20% of the net revenue generated from FAU-G shall be donated to the ‘Bharat Ke Veer Trust', which is under the MHA.

On September 8, 2020, PUBG Corporation, the owner of the game PUBG, announced that it would drop Tencent as the publisher of its PUBG Mobile game in India94 and is looking for an Indian partner for the same95.

With the ban only imposed on Chinese companies, the domestic developers will have to compete with other international developers in creating their space in the Esports market, however, if successful, the Indian gaming companies could benefit from the quickly increasing user base to attract advertiser revenues, in addition to in-app purchases.96

While there has been an economic slow-down in India, the gaming and Esports businesses showcase a promising potential for growth, both commercially and in terms of user base, especially with the government (Union Education Ministry) having recently announced that it will organise a national level hackathon on ‘online games' to showcase the talent of Indian students and generate employments opportunities for gamers.97 Esports and online gaming have significantly increased in the recent years and it is the one of the few industries for whom the lockdown served as a blessing in disguise. Esports, which made its debut as a demonstration event at the Asian Games 201898, is proposed to be held as pre-event to the Olympics in 2021 (earlier scheduled for 2020)99, which will further assist in increasing the popularity.


COVID-19 has brought in a wave of challenges and opportunities for the sports sector. While several events have been cancelled or postponed, the technological advancements have helped generate viewership and engagement through Esports.

On occasions traditional sports and Esports have worked together to organise events with real-world players participating in online competitions representing their teams, which were streamed live and well-received. This speaks for the tremendous growth potential should the sports and gaming industries work in tandem. This is also indicative of the immense potential of sports which has found ways to continue to entertain even during such difficult times.

While COVID-19 has given Esports the boost it needed, however, only time will tell whether it can walk alongside traditional sports. On the other hand, the media innovations that have taken place during this time are certainly going to transform the manner in which traditional sports are consumed which have made it a more interactive experience for both, the athletes and the fans. Since the economics of sport hinges upon a fan base, till such time as the fans can maintain that connect with sport (their favorite teams) in one way or another, eventually, as soon as they perceive the environment to be safe, people will return to the stadiums and sport is bound to thrive.


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9 Ministry of Home Affairs, Order No. 4-3/2020-DM-I(A),

10 ‘Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) & Guidelines for training of sports persons at swimming pools in a COVID-19 environment',

11 ‘Explained: How safe is it to swim? Behind India's reluctance to reopen pools', Indian Express,

12 ‘Players can be red-carded for deliberately coughing, say IFAB & FA', BBC,

13 ‘Interim Regulation Changes Approved', ICC Cricket,

14 ‘ICC says it is all right to use sweat to polish cricket ball but not saliva', The Guardian,

15 ‘A Danish Soccer Team Invited 10,000 Fans to a Zoom Watch Party', New York Times,

16 ‘Premier League return: Fans on screens and celebration cameras to be used', BBC,

17 Sports Industry: System Rebooting, PwC's Sports Survey 2020, PwC,

18 ‘How COVID-19 is taking gaming and esports to the next level', Wordl Economic Forum,

19 ‘Coronavirus: What sporting events are affected by the pandemic?', AlJazeera,

20 ‘ISL final to be held behind closed doors', Goal,

21 ‘I-League 2019-20: Full schedule, fixtures and where to watch', Sportstar,

22 ‘AIFF concludes season, Mohun Bagan declared I-League champions', The Times of India,

23 ‘India vs South Africa: BCCI reschedules ODI series due to coronavirus pandemic; South Africa to visit India later', Hindustan Times,

24 ‘IPL 2020 postponed indefinitely due to coronavirus: BCCI', Economic Times,

25 ‘ICC Men's T20 World Cup postponed', ICC,

26 ‘BCCI eyes start of domestic season from November 19', Indian Express,

27 ‘COVID-19 – Football Regulatory Issues', FIFA,

28 ‘AIFF addresses COVID-19 Football Regulatory issues', AIFF,

29 ‘Goa to host ISL, first big sporting spectacle in times of pandemic', Times of India,

30 ‘COVID-19 crisis: Cancelling IPL 2020 could cost BCCI $500 million', DNA,

31 ‘UTT postponed indefinitely due to COVID-19 pandemic', Sportstar,

32 ‘Dream Sports to support athletes, sport ecosystem with ‘Back on Track' programme', Economic Times,

33 ‘Barcelona's Lionel Messi agrees to 70% pay cut amid coronavirus pandemic', ESPN,

34 ‘EFL clubs agree deal to defer 25 percent of wages in April', Hindustan Times,

35 ‘Premiership clubs agree to cut salary cap to £5m from 2021', The Guardian,

36 ‘MLB wants players to take another 2020 pay cut; here's how salaries would look under league's proposal', CBS Sports,

37 ‘PFA says Premier League 30% pay cut plans would harm NHS', BBC,

38 ‘FC Sion Sack 9 Players for Refusing Unemployment Settlement Amid Pandemic', Bleacher Report,

39 ‘Rugby-Leicester Tigers end Tuilagi employment after pay cut refusal', Reuters,

40 ‘Alex Song claims 'unfair dismissal' following FC Sion sacking', Sky Sports,

41 ‘UK furlough scheme extended by four months', BBC,

42 ‘What is a 'furlough' in football and why are Liverpool, Spurs & Premier League clubs doing it?', Goal,

43 ‘Player value not immune to pandemic', KPMG,

44 ‘Coronavirus: How COVID-19 is hitting smaller English football clubs hardest', Euro News,

45 Coronavirus: Fans may not be able to return to sporting events until at least end of March, BBC,

46 ‘Sport pilots to be reduced in capacity to 1,000 people socially distanced',

47 ‘UK government ready to rescue up to eight sports facing financial black hole', Guardian,

48 ‘Chennai City terminate foreign players' contracts by triggering force majeure clause', The Times of India,

49 ‘Quess Corp terminate agreement with East Bengal, give back sporting rights to the club', Goal,

50 ‘Football Players' Association to approach AIFF after East Bengal's investors terminate contracts', Scroll,

51 ‘All India Football Federation asks East Bengal to provide update on players' dues by Sep 4', Inside Sport

52 ‘East Bengal seek more time to address charges of non-payment of player dues', Goal

53 ‘ISL 2020-21: East Bengal transfer sporting rights to Shree Cement East Bengal Foundation', Sportstar,

54 ‘BCCI and VIVO suspend partnership for IPL 2020', Hindustan Times,

55 ‘BCCI invites title sponsorship bid for IPL 13: All you need to know', TimesNow News,

56 ‘IPL-Vivo deal suspension: More than just sentimental reasons', Indian Express,

57 ‘Dream11 wins title sponsorship for Indian Premier League 2020 for Rs 222 cr', Business Standard,

58 ‘IPL franchises wrestle with sponsorship challenges in Covid-hit economy‘, ESPNCricinfo,

59 ‘COVID-19 impact: IOA requests Sports Ministry for one-time grant to meet financial crisis', The Times of India,

60 ‘IOC approves a financial envelope of up to USD 800 million to address the COVID-19 crisis', Olympic,

61 ‘TV viewership: Sports' loss is news genre's gain in first-half of 2020', Economic Times,

62 ‘Coronavirus impact: Sports broadcasters bank on reruns to retain engagement', Economic Times,

63 ‘Sports Leagues Offer Free Streaming of Older Games Amid Coronavirus Shutdown', Wall Street Journal,

64 ‘Twitch breaks records again in Q2, topping 5B total hours watched', TechCrunch,

65 ‘La Liga viewership rises by almost 72% in India after Covid-19 break', Business Standard,

66 ‘Indian Fantasy Sports contributes 750 Crores in FY20 by way of taxes, Business World',

67 ‘COVID-19: Sports goods industry hit hard with lockdown at ‘peak season'', Inside Sport,

68 ‘Why India's sports goods manufacturers fear lockdown means game over for their sector', Indian Express,

69 ‘Covid-19 cripples Rs 2,000-crore Jalandhar sports industry', Economic Times,

70 ‘Sports Goods Industry not too sporty as Covid-19 cripples demand', SME Futures,

71 Ibid.

72 ‘Sportswear brands and etailers make hay as demand for fitness products surges', Financial Express,

73 ‘FIDE Online Olympiad Launches July 25 On', Chess,

74 ‘Online Chess Olympiad: Power disruption behind online woes', New Indian Express,

75 ‘Formula 1 and esports in the time of Coronavirus', LawInSport,


77 ‘Online course for safety of sports and fitness', Times of India,

78 ‘Sports Ministry Begins First-Ever Online Training Of Coaches During COVID-19 Lockdown', NDTV,

79 ‘Coronavirus: Sports federations prepare online modules for archers, football coaches during lockdown', Scroll,

80 ‘COVID-19: Online training to the rescue of athletes during lockdown', SportsLounge,

81 ‘EA Sports lends its recorded stadium sounds to bolster crowd-deprived soccer matches' CBC,

82 ‘India's sports industry will take a giant tech leap when it reopens in a post-Covid-19 world', QZ,

83 Just in time for baseball, Fox Sports' new app wants to be your ball game buddy of the future, Fast Company,

84 ‘IPL bubble: Bluetooth bands to enforce distancing, others' rooms out of bounds', Indian Express,

85 ‘Esports ride crest of a wave as figures rocket during Covid-19 crisis', The Guardian,

86 ZWIFT confirmed as Official Supplier to UCI 2019 Road World Championships in Yorkshire, UCI,

87 UCI and Zwift sign Memorandum of Understanding for the development of cycling esports as a new cycling discipline, UCI,

88 ‘Devin Booker wins NBA 2K Players Tournament', NBA,

89 ‘eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series', ENascar,

90 ‘How eSports has grown in India amid the lockdown imposed due to COVID-19', The Bridge,

91 ‘India Gaming Summit 2020: How India is emerging as a top hub for esports globally', Financial Express,

92 ‘PUBG Video Game App Among 118 New Chinese Apps Banned', NDTV,

93 ‘PUBG Ban: Massive Blow For Indian Esports Or Opportunity To Expand?', Inc42,

94 ‘PUBG game owner distances itself from Tencent in bid to overturn India app ban', CNBC,

95 ‘PUBG Unban: PUBG Corp Looking For Indian Partner to Revive Popular Mobile Game in India',,

96 Supra 77.

97 ‘Indian students to get job opportunities in online gaming', Economic Times,

98 ‘Asian Games 2018 Confirms List of Esports, Includes Two Mobile Titles', Esports Oberver,

99 ‘Intel World Open brings esports to 2020 Summer Olympics', Esports Insider,

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