Sports with a ‘Commercial’ tag, a perfect ‘Conduit’ for business and employment, says Udit Sheth, MD TransStadia

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Sports is the only field where we can have the infrastructure, finance, human resources development, entertainment, hospitality, everything around it.

There should be a commercial tag attached to sports as it could be a perfect conduit for business as well as employment opportunities. 

Our biggest challenge lies in how these facilities could be made use of beyond sports

Sports is the only industry that can give jobs to men and women alike.

Stadium monetization should be a key component in rejuvenating any city.

For Udit Sheth, it was not a spur of the moment decision when he took up a gargantuan project worth Rs 529 crores in his home state, Gujarat – the TransStadia multi-purpose stadium.

The young entrepreneur was aware of its implications on how it could redefine the management lessons in sports facilities (a concept, our country is yet to be acquainted with) and how its judicious use would not only build a strong sports business ecosystem but also makes sports, an industry that could churn out huge chunks of revenue.

Ready to shoulder the responsibility, he dived in.

Five years down the line, he affirms that there should be a commercial tag attached to sports as it could be a perfect conduit for business as well as employment opportunities. 

“Show me an industry like sports that can give jobs to both men and women alike,” he asks. 

When Udith decided to put his farsightedness, expertise and knowledge into the making of TransStadia, he was barely in his 30’s. It was a meeting with Paul Fletcher, a former English footballer and a stadiologist with more than 40 years of experience that proved instrumental for him to undertake such a colossal project. 

Udit says “Sports has to become an industry that can contribute 2 % of the GDP. Our biggest challenge lies in how these facilities could be made use of beyond sports.”

Udith is also the president of the National Sports Yogasana Federation which is recognized by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports.

Let’s hear from the man himself on how sports facilities management can be used efficiently.

1. In India, the Government is the major investor in Sports. By building a stadium like TransStadia, you have now become a major investor too. What made you take such a risk? Do you think it’s a risk?

Udit Sheth: Risk is where you put your capital. But I look at it as an opportunity to invest in something substantial. And by investing in TransStadia or the space that we got into, the risk is no doubt high. But it was not an uncalculated decision.

See, unlike America where the sports ecosystem is very mature, India sadly has a fragile one. However, on the brighter picture, India has the greatest urban density. Hence, those facilities we build or take over or have been allocated to us by the government have several uses beyond sports.

Today, the utility of sports facility management is 1 to 2 % per annum, globally. Even the National Football League (NFL) or the National Basketball Association (NBA) use their stadiums only when they have home matches. So, when they talk about 72 games in a league, only half of them happen in their home city.

What happens to the United Center when the Chicago Bulls are not playing the season? 

I mean, how these sports facilities can be put to use beyond sports when there are no matches is the challenge.

This is where we come in. We tell them, listen this is a jewel in the crown of any city. Make use of it. And for that, we have to rely on our creativity to add value to the sports ecosystem. 

2. India has 179 stadiums and we stand fifth in the world when it comes to the number of stadiums. With such facilities around, why are we still lagging in this area?

Udit Sheth: Yes, we have 180 stadiums outside of cricket. To make the best use of sports facilities, there should be education and awareness in this direction. I believe sports is a melting pot for many opportunities and it is the only field in the world where we can have the infrastructure, finance, human resources development, entertainment, hospitality, everything around it. It’s a packaging exercise.

Unfortunately, a lot of the people work in silos with no connection, appetite or vision. That has to change. Many essential compartments in sports still stand divorced. Sports and education are the two sides of the same coin and it has to be brought together.

I have experimented with the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation. All the municipalities in the countries have schools. The attendance of the students jumped from 54% students to 87% when we included sports.

Besides, it’s time we tell our experts to package and market ourselves better and connect with the stakeholders on the ground. 

Secondly, economics and planning were hardly given any importance while building a facility. Usually, in the tender system, the entities that designs, builds and operate would not have any connection with each other. Now, such a project is designed to fail. That shouldn’t be the way. Economics has to be looked at and planning is a prerequisite. It has to be built and operated keeping its day-to-day commercial aspects in mind.

We have to understand that around 700 districts across the country have sports facilities. Good or bad is another question. Even then, we have opportunities to go into PPP model across India where you can even add another ‘P’ which stands for Panchayat. Hence, the facilities could cater to different palates.

If you want to make any changes, the time is now. The government of India has already announced in this budget that the stadiums will be taken up on a PPP model, now through the national monetization policy that was announced by the PM, Finance Minister and the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI)Ayog, the stadium monetization will be the key component in rejuvenating the city.

3. America’s sports industry is full-fledged and can stand on its own. You have made such a huge investment for TransStadia and have the resources and expertise. So why can’t private parties like you play a more dominant role in the Indian Sports industry?

Udit Seth: We can. There should be a commercial tag attached to sports. That’s why the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model is also very important. The government has the asset and the private players can take it over.

You have assets in the country. We have 180 stadiums. All these facilities should not be wasted. As a brownfield project, like the airports, were modernised, these stadiums can be modernized. Here, the private parties can come in.

Now things are changing. The encouragement is coming from the highest authorities. The RBI and the Government of India have defined sports stadiums as infrastructure. Even six years ago, it was not even defined by the Ministry of Finance.  

Now you can get finance from the banks for 8% and not 12 % or 14%, you have extended payback opportunities. People are now starting to warm up to these concepts. We have an important role to play.

It’s high time private players assumed the wider picture in Sports. Having said that, our aim is not to trample any federations but be partners when it comes to working with federations and governments in making sports more visible.

4. For people or the authorities concerned to get used to the idea of sports facilities management, there should be a sports culture. How can we create a healthy sports culture in India?

Udit Seth: Most importantly, every one of us should celebrate sports. The sports culture is not about when somebody goes and wins any championships. Winning and losing is a part of life. But we as potential fans should take the effort to tune in to the channel or take our family to the stadium. Make it an experience. We need to build that culture. Once people have gotten into that groove, they will go towards some sport. Everyone in the country should give some time to sports.

5. From where do we start, if we want to create awareness about sports?

Udit Sheth: Of course, sports should be given a priority in education. Besides, families should be encouraged to take up sports that suit them. There can be competitions around it. This would bring the participation of that community.

There should be federations around those sports and should come forward in making their sports exciting, visually appealing so that they can get some media points. Everything can’t be on Friday night live. You can have an OTT platform, stories around them, prize money around them.

What I am saying is you don’t need an IPL to say that you are a sporting nation.

Besides, 70% of the sports facility should be built around sports – to the development of sports. It could be for sports science, sports education, sports high performance, sports academics.

The government has done their job. Now what is important is that the private sector should come into it and they should look at it as an industry and as an opportunity to sell their brands. It’s very important to have smart marketers in sports to connect what the federation is doing with the masses.

6. You run TransStadia institute. What are your plans for sports education and research especially in sports science?

Udit Sheth: There are several projects that we are into. Primarily, we are focused on creating an ideal diet for those who want to get into a particular sport. Our sports industry acts mostly on the research done in the US, UK and Europe without even realizing that our DNA is different from those countries.

Ours is poles apart from what they eat, what they do, do not do and what they believe in. 

For instance, for 70 years we have been under British rule. We have been starving for generations and our DNA has been suppressed. It takes generations of healthy eating to make any difference. 70% of the athletes are not made in the gym but in the kitchen. It is what and how you eat. It influences your entire physiology.

Hence, this is an area into which we want to delve deeper when it comes to sports science.

Besides, India has Ayurveda. Lots of research is going on in this area and we want to connect Ayurveda and sports through our research.

7. Promoted by TransStadia, India’s first Sports Arbitration Centre was launched recently. Tell us a bit more about it?

Udit Seth: It is an independent body acknowledged by the government of India. If there’s a dispute, you can either go to a court or an arbitration centre. The court will take its own time and they have their expertise or lack of with regards to a particular sector.

While the arbitrators and judges centre here are known for their expertise in laws pertaining to sports. Once the settlement is done, it can’t go back to court from the arbitration centre. Arbitration might be a bit expensive. But arbitration ensures the system settles things in a time-bound manner and amicably.

8. Finally, Kerala is huge on Football. Would you like to collaborate with us?

Udit Sheth: I have been to Kerala several times and saw all of your stadiums. The Kerala model is more enthusiastic about sports and you have a strong sports ecosystem. And you have innovatively put your traditional boat race in the mainstream.

We are happy to come to Trivandrum and Kochi and take up stadiums there and show the government and people of your area what we can do with sports.

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