India is a country that follows cricket passionately and ardently but newer sports are making their foray into the living rooms of the average Indian viewers. Here is why brands and marketers should sit up and take notice
Roshni Nair | Mumbai | January 27, 2017
A cousin was visiting us for the summer vacations. The days were long and to spend the empty hours we would speak of everything under the sun. During one such endless conversation my cousin happened to mention that she was a state-level kabaddi player. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh in her face or tell her that kabaddi was a game we played on the school grounds and with our friends in the building compound and was not a sport like cricket that had state and national teams. Looking back, today I am glad I chose the third option and smiled politely and let the comment pass.
It is not news that India is a cricket-obsessed nation and that cricket is not a sport but a religion for us Indians. But recently, sports other than cricket have been creating quite a few ‘dangals’ of their own.
According to KPMG’s ‘The business of sports’ report September 2016, during 2013-15, eight major league-based sports tournaments were launched. These include ISL (Indian Super League), Pro Kabaddi League (PKL), Premiere Badminton League (PBL) and Hockey India League (HIL).
While the Indian Premiere League (IPL) is still the big brother of all leagues, ISL and PKL have also tasted success and cashing in on this rising popularity of other sports are brands and marketers.
According to Darshan M, Director, Vuvuzela Retail Private Limited and Investor and Board of Advisors, Sportytrip Experiences Private Limited, the rising interest of brand and marketers to associate with sports other than cricket can be narrowed down to three reasons.
“Brands have finally begun looking beyond cricket. There are three main reasons for this phenomenon. Firstly it is due to the exploits of young stars like Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu, Dipa Karmakar, Sakshi Malik etc., at an international scale. Secondly, cricket has become very expensive and stars like Virat Kohli are not within the marketing budgets of most brands. And finally the third reason is the increased media exposure to smaller sports like kabbadi, etc., due to the increased number of sports channels. In the last decade the number of sports channels has nearly doubled.”
Sanjay Tripathy, Senior Executive Vice-President and Head Marketing, Analytics, Digital and E-Commerce, HDFC Life, however, feels it is a case of 'bogies following the engine'
"Yes. It is true that today brands are willing to associate with sports other than cricket. However, it is, in my opinion, essentially a case of bogies following the engine. I mean, today the Indian consumers actively associate with many other sports and where consumers go brands will follow. Take for example, the recently concluded Olympics where the Indian contingent captured the nation's attention and imagination, with their performance and human stories. It's natural then that brands today would love to be associated. A PV Sindhu or a Dipa Karmakar are household names today in large parts of the country and it is obvious that brands would want to cash in on that."
"Essentially I see two things happening here. The Indian consumer today is open to consuming more sports than a decade ago. This is visible even around us as today, you see children getting actively trained in so many sports and other activities. Education hasn't remained the sole domain either. Given this attitude shift, we are steadily seeing an increased consumption for other sports. On the other hand, we have seen brands and media actively investing behind other sports with properties such as the sports leagues and several sports have received a boost this way as well," he added.
Another reason that brands are reaching out to sports such as football and kabaddi is that it allows them to reach out to a different set of audience.
Elaborating on the point Indranil Das Blah, Founding Partner, Kwan Entertainment & Marketing Solutions, said, “While cricket remains the number one sport and the biggest platform for a brand to market its products, but the fact remains that cricket is really expensive and it is also cluttered. So, the other sports provide a good platform for brands to reach out to other kinds of audiences. For example, if you look at football, which is largely an urban phenomenon, you have the ISL, for a more ‘massy’ product we have the PKL. These sports leagues cater to different set of audiences.”
We are seeing a lot of brands bringing sportsmen and sportswomen who are not cricketers into their ad communication. JSW Steel featuring Geeta Phogat in its ad film, Mountain Dew bringing wrestler Sushil Kumar on board and Sania Mirza and Saina Nehwal holding their own as far product endorsements go, examples of brands roping in star players from other sports are galore.
Explaining why this works for a brand, Jigar Rambhia, National Director, Maxus Global, said, “When you see a P V Sindhu or a Sania Mirza doing well in their chosen sports, for a parent or a kid, winning tournaments globally becomes an achievable target. Then for parent and kids alike, picking a sport outside cricket becomes a doable thing. Otherwise, every parent wants their child to become a Sachin Tendulkar, which frankly is not possible. If you go to Shivaji Park right now there will 1,000 kids playing dreaming of becoming the next Sachin but there can only be 11 players in the team. But with people like Sindhu, Mirza and Nehwal there is some incentive of picking up another sport and for a brand to take a sportsperson outside cricket would make sense.”
Rambhia also feels that the number of brands and marketers wanting to associate with other sports will increase in the coming years.
“There are more and more world beaters in India. For example, in badminton there are some five or six Indians in the top 30. We have kabaddi world champions, we are doing well in tennis. So, we are doing well in terms of other sports. But we have to up the ante. From the top 15, we have to go to the top 10 consistently and that will ensure more and more brands come to other sports.”
But when should a brand bring in a sporting personality?
Arvind Iyengar, CEO, Sportz Interactive, says that it has to be a ‘right fit’.
“The biggest thing when getting a sporting personality to endorse a product is to ensure that it is a right fit with the brand value. So, there are obviously certain brands for whom it will make much more sense to get a sporting celebrity on board like sporting accessory brands and shoes, etc. So, someone like Rahul Dravid is seen as a reliable cricketer, so brands wanting to build reliability should look for those qualities. The other thing brands should keep in mind is how well is the sportsperson doing. So, if you pick a cricketer and he is no longer in the playing 11 then it is not worth the investment.”
But despite the risks involved, sponsorship money raised by other sports has seen a steady increase.
According to KPMG’s report, on-ground sponsorship in 2015 increased to a noteworthy 300 per cent in kabaddi, 91.6 per cent in football, 53.5 per cent in marathons and 32 per cent in tennis. ISL was able to double its central sponsorship pool from the first season in 2014 to the second in 2015 – earning approximately Rs 100 crore. PKL also generated a sponsorship revenue of Rs 45 crore for its broadcaster and investor Star India.
This visible increase in sponsorship also comes on the back of ever-increasing viewership numbers. KPMG’s report states that in 2015 TV viewership of PKL and ISL grew at 20 per cent and 26 per cent, respectively.
Although cricket still attracts much of the advertisers, other sports are catching up.
“Sports broadcast in India is significantly dependent on advertising revenues unlike in other markets that are more subscription driven. Advertising on sports in India has shown strong growth with cricket accounting for the lion’s share. According to a GroupM report, 2015 saw sports accounting for 10.4 per cent of the total media spend, which is a 12.3 per cent increase from the previous calendar year. But in our view, there is still considerable potential for growth. Ad rates and overall ad spends in India still lag considerably behind global averages and we remain very optimistic about this market. E-commerce, telecom, mobile handsets and automobile are some of the main categories in this genre. The consumption of this genre has expanded beyond cricket with sports such as basketball, MMA, wrestling, tennis and football. Both the domestic and the international leagues are finding advertisers,” said Rajesh Kaul, President, Distribution and Sports, Sony Pictures Networks.
Yannick Colaco, Vice-President and Managing Director, NBA India, says there has been a significant increase in the popularity of basketball in the country.
“Viewership of NBA programmes increased significantly over last few years and our fan base on social media has grown 400 per cent in the last year. The league will continue to engage with like-minded brands to create partnerships to grow the game and bring the NBA experience closer to our fans. We currently have fantastic partnerships with Sony SIX, Reliance Foundation, ACG, Gatorade and Jabong.”
Sony Pictures Network India, which has eight dedicated sports channels, of which three are HD, is a network that is bringing lesser known sports such as UFC and NBA to the Indian audience.
Kaul said, “Cricket still dominates sports viewership in India and contributes to around two-thirds of all sports viewership. However other sports have been on a high growth trajectory in the recent years and have now grown to take up around one-third of the total sports viewership. This growth in the viewership of non-cricket sports is across a wide spectrum of sports. WWE has an extremely strong consumer connect. Local leagues have also driven the viewership growth of non-cricket sports. A number of key initiatives have also been major contributors of growth, for example UFC and NBA have enjoyed a viewership range of 130 to 145 million viewers each in the last year.”
There has also been an increase in the number of female viewers of sports, paving way for brands like Zivame and others to milk the opportunity.
“If you look at the numbers for most of these leagues, a large part of the audience comes from family viewers. If you look at the kabaddi league the number of female viewers is huge because a large number of families watch the league. Interestingly while it is popularly believed that football is a male dominated sport, actually almost half of the audience of the IPL comes from families, women and children. So, families and women are major drivers for these leagues,” said Blah.
But a lot of responsibility lies with the broadcasters as well.
Elaborating their role in making a sport famous and ensuring that it reaches its audience, Iyengar said, “Broadcasters are critical because TV is still the largest medium from a reach perspective. It is important that broadcasters are willing to invest. A classic example is kabaddi. Just the role Star played in popularising the sport and investing to build up the sport was great and they made it a great sport for fans to consume. In India with channels like Star and Sony willing to invest in other sports will play a crucial role in furthering these games.”
Seconding Iyengar’s views, Colaco, said, “Broadcasters play a significant role in reaching out and engaging with the audience. Our broadcasting partner of over five years, Sony Six, has successfully delivered comprehensive coverage of the NBA to our fans. The popularity of the NBA continues to grow and, through the diversity of NBA programming on Sony Six, we’ve been engaging with our viewers across India. For example, the last season the NBA and Sony Six introduced a customised, local live NBA wraparound programme called ‘Around the Hoop’ that brought viewers closer to the game.”
SPN’s marketing game when it comes to its sporting leagues has been pretty strong. Taking us through a few of them Kaul said, “We are committed to aggressive marketing of sports and bringing in new viewers. When it comes to SPN, we are known for our all-inclusive innovative campaigns and aggressive marketing. We have designed and executed local and national campaigns for our marquee, seasonal and calendar sports events in order to create awareness and build up the excitement. Some of our memorable campaigns have been for the Indian Premier League and the Extraaa Innings show. Other all-inclusive campaigns include ‘Time to Switch’ for UEFA Euro 2016 and as well as our on-air campaigns for NBA and La Liga in the past year. Our campaigns are integrated across print, on-air, OOH and digital platforms. We also have used the strength of our network to launch intensive on-air campaigns across the multiple genres, garnering high visibility with TV viewing audience across all demographics. Sony Liv, our digital arm, has also supported in promoting sports to its audience and this is also attributed to the strength of SPN,” said Kaul.
But today sports marketing is also a lot about on-ground activations. Elaborating on the point, Vinit Kranik, Business Head, ESP Properties, said, “Sports drive passion and engagement, builds affinity and pride, hence is considered one of the most effective platform for innovation and consumer engagement. One of the recent and most innovative brand activations in sports that come to my mind is of what Himalaya Men did with Royal Challenger Bangalore (IPL), Chennaiyan FC (ISL) and Patna Pirates (PKL). For the first time ever Himalaya Men Pimple Clear Neem Face Wash gave up its logo presence on the respective team’s cap/jersey and replaced it with a campaign idea but just placing the word ‘Pimple’. This built curiosity among consumers and after a couple of games, the space changed to the brand name ‘Himalaya Men’. Two different creatives were released for the audience to connect with the changes and the campaign. This in my mind was the most innovation campaign that caught my attention in the recent past.”
Sandip Tarkas, Independent Management Consultant, feels that although sports marketing is growing in India, there is still a long way to go.
“A lot of marketers are afraid to touch sports that they don’t understand. They come with their own preconceived notions on what the sport is about and things like that prevent them from participating and it becomes a bit of a limiting factor sometimes.”
He believes sport has to become a culture in India if we are to see more improvement in the field and better participation from brands.
“We have to have a lot more investment in ground level sports and that will happen when it becomes a culture. It will be good for the country as a whole and the health of the country as a whole, if sporting becomes a culture. That will happen with increased exposure to all sports. When people watch sports more and more, kids will be encouraged to pick up something and then there will role models coming from each sport and they will only further influence the coming generations.”
All said and done, Blah warns that brands should be careful when they are investing in sports.
“While these have helped marketers, I think there needs to be some sort of consolidation of these leagues because every sport now wants to follow the IPL model and start a league. We don’t know how many of them will be sustainable and how many of them will work in the long run. So, marketers should exercise some sort of caution when they get into sponsoring these leagues. Yes, these are a viable option but marketers need to be careful about what they want to be a part of.”