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In-depth: What goes behind the selection of a sport by a brand

IPL, FIFA and PKL are three different star-marked events on every Indian advertiser's calendar. But every brand has a different reason to associate with a particular kind of sport. What are the reasons behind this selection? A BestMediaInfo analysis

In 2015, when Paytm struck a Rs203-crore sponsorship deal with BCCI, it left many marketers baffled. A fintech start-up that was still limited to metro cities and yet to be a household name was ready to pay an astonishing amount for cricket sponsorship.

Three years later, Paytm has no less recall than the country’s largest bank, State Bank of India. Experts say sports sponsorship wields transformative power that is capable of driving exponential growth in brand awareness and affinity. Brands with specific objectives go for different sporting events to reach out to their target audience.

But with so many investment opportunities, including sponsoring leagues, sports teams, individual players and activities to choose from, how do brands ensure which sports and what format to choose?

Experts say that it isn’t a very tough choice. Brands as a company that is more premium in its offering would choose the on-going FIFA World Cup. Whereas a company such as Escorts tractor or Mahindra trucks would go for the Kabaddi league that has more reach in north India’s farm belt.

Samar Singh Sheikhawat

“Ideally, every brand should have a different reason to associate with a sport, but that’s not the reality. The reason usually is that sports guarantee you a certain amount of eyeballs and brands sit in this bandwagon. And the reason why we have associated with IPL for so long is that it is a single largest event in the country. I don’t call it a sport; it is like the biggest reality show in the country,” said Samar Sheikhawat, UB group, Senior VP of Marketing.

Sheikhawat thinks brands don’t have a particular reason for associating with a sport but Indranil Das Blah, Founding Partner, Kwan Entertainment, believes the opposite.

“It completely depends on the brand and what its objectives are. If you are looking at a mass product, then you will go for cricket while if you are targeting a metro, you will go for football. It totally depends on the budget and brand’s objective,” said Blah. According to a recent report by ESP properties, the overall media spend on sports increased by 16% from Rs 3,511 crore to Rs 4,065 crore.

Last year, Parle Products was an associate sponsor for IPL. Parle also came up with a campaign called ‘Naamtohsuna hi hoga’ and it ran extensively during the 2017 IPL season.

BK Rao

Explaining the reason behind choosing IPL, BK Rao, Deputy Marketing Manager, Parle Products, said, “IPL is not just a sport, it is an overall entertainment package. If you are launching a new campaign or a new product, you can get an instant reach with IPL. Niche brands target a niche sport like football or tennis though not kabaddi yet. However, if you invest in cricket, you become a talking point if the ad is really exciting.For example, people say, “Uskanayaadaaya, dekhakya? This is the kind of engagement. General entertainment channels don’t give the kind of viewership as IPL does because of the sheer excitement that it generates.”

However, Jigar Rambhia, National Director, Sports and Entertainment Sponsorships, Wavemaker India, feels that there are many more reasons for selecting a sports association for a brand. He explained, “The reasons for the choice of sport go beyond the target audience. It is equally about the locale and seasonality of the sport, about the time of the day that the sport will be telecast at (in India), the communication and messaging of the sport and many such things. In fact, the global events have a global sponsors too, but a national brand from the same category might not want to sponsor the same sport property. The brands have to weed out competition and conflict of interest both."

Though cricket still remains to be the first with high viewership and ad rate, it is not true that cricket always leads to better results. So, when advertisers pitch in a lot of money, the fear of under-deliverance follows back.

“When you are signing up for the world cup, there’s a fear of under-delivery. However, in IPL, irrespective of whichever team wins, the advertisers also win. While in the world cup or T-20, if the Indian team doesn’t play well in the first half, people switch off their television because they don’t want to see India losing. They do follow IPL till the end,” said Rao.

India is still the same country that worships cricket, but with new emerging sports and newer brands, the sports marketing and its ecosystem is changing. According to Star, the first day of PKL 2017 reached over 50 million people, leading to an increase in viewership by 59%. It saw big sponsors like Vivo and Gillette. However, old premium brands still continue to stick with the well-known sports.

“Kabaddi is not considered premium; it is about speed, stamina, strength and masculinity. It has done a brilliant job of packaging it, but it is still seen as a brand that has a rural appeal. We evaluated it ourselves, and we decided to not do it as it represents youth, power, but it is not considered premium. So it will make sense for a tractor or brands that represent strength,” said Sheikhawat.

However, after IPL, PKL is the second-most popular league in India and as these sports gain more popularity, sports marketing will continue to prosper.

Vinit Karnik

Vinit Karnik, Business Head, ESP Properties, explains why sport is a great medium to reach the mass. “Advertisers look for consumers who match their passion point as the connection of the platform is strong. Sports is a popular culture because a lot of people who are not fans of sports, they still follow the game. This audience can be divided into three types – fanatics, fans, and flirts so advertisers have to meet their passion point accordingly,” he said.

Rambhiya interestingly pointed out examples of few big brands that are investing in multiple sports. "Vodafone spends on IPL and FIFA both, similarly, Vivo has spent big on IPL, FIFA and Kabaddi. It is not necessarily either-or situation for brands."

In fact, it might not always be the money that is driving the choice of sport. A lot of people feel that the bigger brands with deep pockets will spend on cricket, but that is not entirely true.
Rambhiya cited examples of Ceat associating with Table Tennis and even on badminton, there are big names.

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