Sports Advertising for Real Money Games: A Forbidden Fruit !

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Indoor gaming has been ingrained in Indian culture for generations, evolving from traditional boards to the virtual realm. Despite the transformation, the passion for gaming remains steadfast. Today, India stands as one of the world’s fastest-growing online gaming markets, a surge accelerated during the Covid-19 lockdown when entertainment options were limited. According to an All-India Gaming Federation EY report, the online gaming sector is anticipated to surpass USD 2 billion by 2023.  

Driving Factors Behind the Growth of Real Money Gaming:

1. Mobile Gaming Boom:

  • Affordable smartphones and economical data packs have democratized online gaming.
  • Currently, mobile gaming holds a whopping 90% market share in India, with over 3 billion downloads.
  • The revenue, currently at $1.5 billion, is expected to triple to $5 billion by 2025, driven by the ‘mobile first’ trend.

2. Rise of Skill-Based Games:

  • Skill-based games, rooted in India’s gaming history, are at the forefront of the online gaming surge.
  • Games like rummy, racing, and fantasy sports, reliant on player skill and strategy, redefine gaming as mainstream entertainment.

3. Technological Advancements and Payment Options:

  • Continuous innovation in gaming technology enhances the user experience.
  • Video chat features allow live interactions among Indian gamers, fostering a sense of community.
  • The advent of 5G and a variety of secure online payment options further propel industry growth.

4. Social Lifeline:

  • In an era of prolonged social distancing, online games serve as a crucial outlet for relief and connection.
  • Platforms like Discord and multiplayer games enable players to forge friendships and stay connected, addressing mental health concerns.

5. Heavy Investments:

  • Recognizing India’s gaming market potential, global giants invest and partner with local companies.
  • Real Money Games (RMG) witnessed deals worth USD 700 million in the first nine months of 2021.

6. Regulatory Challenges:

  • Despite rapid growth, the industry grapples with an unstructured regulatory framework.
  • A clear and effective regulatory policy is essential for sustainable growth and responsible gaming practices.

7. Economic Diversification:

  • Beyond cash prizes, the gaming industry creates opportunities in non-conventional sectors like tech-oriented careers in IT and game development.

As the Indian gaming craze intensifies, a robust regulatory framework is crucial for the industry to reach its full potential. Once the government establishes a clear and effective policy to promote responsible gaming, the flourishing industry will undoubtedly realize its true capabilities. 

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The Allure of Sports Sponsorship

The combination of sports and Real Money Gaming (RMG) has proven to be a lucrative synergy for several reasons, tapping into the overlapping interests of sports enthusiasts and gaming enthusiasts.

The online gaming sector has experienced significant growth since the advent of the internet, with real money games adding an enticing dimension by allowing players to win monetary rewards. These games involve using actual money for gameplay, contributing to their global popularity. In India, the surge in real money game engagement is attributed to widespread smartphone usage and affordable internet access, particularly appealing to the younger demographic.

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The connection between IPL and real money game marketing

Amid this trend, the ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL) has become a focal point for discussions around real money games. The key link lies in marketing, considering the intense competition in this gaming genre. Marketing plays a pivotal role in attracting and retaining players, and leveraging platforms like the IPL becomes crucial for real money game promotion.

The IPL, being one of India’s most eagerly awaited sports events, serves as a significant advertising avenue for brands, including those in the real-money gaming sector. 

The tournament boasts a massive nationwide audience, making it an ideal platform for companies to showcase their real-money gaming applications and services.

Taking a glance at the real money gaming industry’s current landscape reveals an unprecedented growth trajectory in India. By 2022, the industry generated over $1.5 billion in revenue, and projections indicate a substantial increase to over $5 billion by 2025. This growth encompasses various games, which are emerging as some of the major contributors to the industry’s flourishing market.

  • Poker
  • Rummy
  • Fantasy sports
  • Betting

Key Players in the Market

Some of the major players in the Indian real money gaming market in 2023 are-

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Real Money Games Marketing Strategies for IPL:

The Indian Premier League (IPL) has emerged as a powerful platform for promoting real money games in India, with companies utilizing strategic marketing approaches. These strategies encompass IPL marketing, sponsorships, partnerships, in-stadium branding, and TV/digital ad campaigns.

IPL Marketing

The influence of IPL marketing on real money games is substantial due to several factors:

  • Large Audience: Cricket’s widespread popularity in India provides a vast audience base, making IPL an essential advertising platform for real money games.
  • Rising Interest in Virtual Cricket and Betting: The virtual transformation of cricket betting, spurred by the IPL’s popularity, has led to increased engagement with real money gaming platforms offering cricket betting options.
  • Alluring Offers and Prizes: Real money gaming platforms introduce special promotions and bonuses during the IPL, enticing customers with exclusive offers tied to the cricketing event.
  • Boosted Revenue: The significant revenue generated by real money games, reaching $1.5 billion, indirectly benefits these platforms by contributing to increased consumer spending and government tax revenue.
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Sponsorships and Partnerships

IPL teams and players are increasingly forming partnerships with real-money gaming platforms, enhancing visibility and brand image. Notable examples include Dream11, MPL, My11 Circle, and Vision 11, who leverage these collaborations for strategic promotion.

Player Branding and Promotions

In-stadium branding is a potent tool, allowing real-money gaming companies to directly engage with the audience during IPL matches. Hoardings, banners, and on-ground activations help amplify their presence.

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TV and Digital Ad Campaigns

Real-money gaming companies feature prominent celebrities like MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli, and Shahrukh Khan in TV and digital ad campaigns during IPL matches. These campaigns aim to create brand awareness and drive user acquisition by reaching a broader audience.

Challenges and Controversies

Despite the success, the real money gaming industry faces challenges and controversies:

  • Regulatory Concerns: The heavily regulated nature of the industry, with state-specific restrictions, poses challenges for gaming companies, requiring strict adherence to avoid legal issues.
  • Ethical Debates: Critics argue that real money games promote gambling, raising ethical concerns about addiction and financial repercussions for users.
  • Maintaining Brand Image: Companies must navigate controversies to maintain a positive brand image, adopting responsible gaming practices and prioritizing user safety and security. Negative publicity can significantly impact user acquisition and retention efforts.

Regulatory Challenges

The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (I&B) has issued a warning to online platforms, threatening “appropriate actions” under various statutes if they fail to adhere to its advisory. The advisory aims to curb direct and surrogate advertising of games that may qualify as betting or gambling. The ministry expressed concerns about the significant financial and socioeconomic risks posed by such advertisements, particularly to youth and children, citing potential linkages to money laundering networks. The advisory specifically targets advertisement intermediaries and social media platforms that allow the promotion of betting and gambling platforms, especially during major sporting events like cricket tournaments.

The ministry emphasized the urgency for platforms to refrain from displaying such advertisements, stating that non-compliance would lead to government intervention under existing statutes. This advisory comes amid rising concerns about online betting platforms causing financial frauds and irregularities, with upcoming events like the World Cup and Asia Cup intensifying the focus on the issue.

The I&B Ministry had previously issued similar advisories in June and October of the previous year and March of the current year. Industry stakeholders acknowledged the government’s clear stance on the real-money gaming sector but expressed concerns about the implementation and enforcement of self-regulatory bodies (SRBs) mandated by the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.

While the government has not clarified the timeline for the establishment of SRBs, legal experts pointed out that companies could face legal action for non-compliance with advisories even without the presence of SRBs. The restrictions on advertising do not apply to the nascent esports industry, which has been forming partnerships with mainstream broadcast platforms to advertise and telecast tournaments.

According to legal experts, statutes applicable to illegal online gaming firms and advertisers include state gambling acts and the Consumer Protection Act. In cases of evidence related to money laundering, illegal foreign remittances, and tax evasion, additional laws such as the Foreign Exchange Management Act, Prevention of Money Laundering Act, Goods and Services Tax Act, and Income Tax Act would also be applicable.

Ethical Considerations

A recent report from the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) reveals that the real-money gaming industry has become the most non-compliant sector in advertising, surpassing the education sector. In the fiscal year 2022-23, the report indicates that 92% of gaming advertisements reviewed failed to comply with real-money gaming guidelines, neglecting to inform consumers about the risks of financial loss and addiction. Additionally, only half of the identified non-compliant ads were voluntarily modified, making the gaming sector the least compliant.

The ASCI’s annual complaints report, covering 7,928 advertisements across print, digital, and television, showed a two-fold increase in scrutiny over the past two years. While print and television demonstrated high compliance at 94%, overall compliance dropped to 81%, primarily due to the digital medium. Digital ads, constituting 75% of the reviewed ads, not only were the primary violators but also exhibited the lowest compliance, raising serious concerns about online consumer safety.

ASCI had previously issued guidelines for the real-money gaming sector in December 2020, with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting subsequently issuing an advisory for compliance.

The report also highlighted a troubling surge in misleading ads featuring celebrities, with 503 such ads processed—an 804% increase from the previous year’s 55. Of particular concern is that celebrities did not provide evidence of due diligence in 97% of the processed ads, as mandated by the Consumer Protection Act. This lack of diligence exacerbates the issue, given the substantial impact that celebrity-endorsed ads can have on consumers.

The Future of Sports Sponsorship in RMG

The stringent regulations imposed on real money game (RMG) apps, prohibiting their advertising during live sports events, have presented a myriad of challenges and limitations for these platforms. 

The restrictions, aimed at curbing potential negative consequences associated with gambling, have ignited conflicts among RMG apps striving to gain visibility and user engagement. Notably, several states, such as Tamil Nadu, have gone a step further by outright banning RMG activities. 

Despite these obstacles, RMG apps have found a workaround by leveraging advertising opportunities on platforms like Cricbuzz and Inshorts, where promotional content is permitted. This strategic approach allows them to circumvent the live sports restrictions and still connect with their target audience through alternative channels. 

The evolving landscape of regulations surrounding RMG continues to shape the industry, prompting a delicate balance between adherence to legal frameworks and innovative marketing strategies.

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Shrobana Rakshit

A passionate writer and feminist, who believes in the power of words to challenge social norms, break barriers and inspire change. With scattered thoughts on window panes I'm in constant need of coffee and fresh nutrition for my brain (I'm a book-butterfly indeed). When I ain't lost in the world of words, I find solace in the art of dance, where movement becomes my muse.

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