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Sponsoring sports properties is not just about branding but offering ‘Priceless’ experiences: Manasi Narasimhan of Mastercard

In a free-wheeling chat with BestMediaInfo.com, Narasimhan, Vice-President and Head, Marketing and Communications, South Asia, Mastercard, spoke about the brand’s focus on sponsoring sports events, its recent association with DGC Open and how it differentiates itself from its competitors

Manasi Narasimhan

Tapping on to one of the important passion points of consumers - Sports, Mastercard has been globally associating with sports properties, big or small.

Quite recently, it became the presenting sponsor of the Delhi Golf Club Open for the second time, which will see 138 players (almost 50 of them would be Indians) from around 35 countries. 

Most of the brands associate with sports properties to garner reach and brand building. For Mastercard, associating with sports properties is not just about branding. As per Manasi Narasimhan, Vice-President and Head, Marketing and Communications, South Asia, Mastercard, it is more about offering consumers a ‘Priceless experience’ which is the brand’s core philosophy. 

She said, “Different sponsorships have different goals in our brand sponsorship strategy. Cricket is of course a religion in India. Not just it has mass, but a very unifying appeal. Golf is an area where those who are passionate about golf absolutely love the game. One of the goals for MasterCard as a brand is to bring people closer to their passion areas and connect them to ‘priceless’ possibilities.” 

For the record, ‘Priceless is Mastercard’s famous campaign that was launched in 1997. The campaign is based on the proposition that life’s enduring moments cannot be bought with money and therefore such moments are truly priceless. Since then, it has almost become the brand’s slogan "There are some things money can't buy; for everything else, there's Mastercard".

Globally, Mastercard has been sponsoring several golf tournaments, including ​PGA Tour and Champions Tour. The brand also has a few golf players as its brand ambassadors globally. “Therefore, it was a natural extension for us to get this to India,” added Narasimhan. 

Narasimhan further said, “When we look at golf and club as iconic as DGC, there are two things we can do. One is obviously the branding which happens in any sponsorship tie-ups, but it is also about offering priceless experiences to our consumers and delighting them. In a world which is getting crowded with advertising messages, sponsorships and getting people to experience your brand is the best thing you can do. Branding is a given when one sponsors an event. One can get reach by even buying TV spots. But our efforts here are to offer great experiences to our customers that differentiate us. ”

As part of the sponsorship, the brand has set up a Mastercard experience centre at the venue and also placed paintings of Delhi Golf Club for sale at the DGC lounge. Proceeds from this will go to Akshaya Patra Foundation. Mastercard will also be hosting its key customers at the event. The brand has also sponsored the prize money, which has gone up from $500,000 to $750,000 this year, a 50% enhancement.

Commenting on the increase in prize money, she said that it’s not about the prize money but the value Mastercard sees in the partnership with DGC. “We will remain invested in the partnership. It is more than just a sponsorship. I actually call this a partnership with the coming together of two entities with similar values.” 

As part of the partnership, Mastercard will also be supporting women golfers. Narasimhan said, “One of the biggest areas for Mastercard is women in sports. We believe that given the right encouragement, women can win laurels for India and that would be a moment of great pride for us.” 

In the past too, in a first, BCCI and Mastercard jointly launched the #HalkeMeinMattLo (don’t take it casually) campaign to support gender equality on and off the field. The films developed under the campaign depicted the journey of top Indian women cricketers Shafali Verma, Harleen Kaur Deol and Renuka Singh, highlighting their struggle, hard work and determination to do well.

The campaign ran during the India-Australia Women’s T20 series to be played in Mumbai from December 9-20, 2022.

Narasimhan said, “In my entire career, it was one of the most gratifying campaigns I have done. We also did a cricket clinic for girls with MS Dhoni, our brand ambassador. Now, we’ll be doing a golf clinic for women with seasoned golf pro Shiv Kapur. Like this, we also make our ambassadors help female talent.”

Last year in India, Mastercard acquired title sponsorship rights for all BCCI international matches (featuring both women and men) held on home grounds, domestic cricket tournaments like Irani Trophy, Duleep Trophy, and Ranji Trophy, and all junior cricket (Under 19 and Under 23) matches held in India. 

Through DGC Open sponsorship, while Mastercard will be achieving branding and engagement goals, when asked about how the event will cater to the brand’s business goals, Narasimhan said, “When it comes to marketing, it’s very difficult to isolate an impact of any particular activity. Through the DGC Open tournament, we have seen a business upside, but how much is difficult to quantify. We will get our customers here who will get to interact with our senior executives. Over here, people will get a chance to have detailed conversations which itself is a rarity. For affluent consumers who like Live golf, this property is a great destination.”

While Mastercard is a massive believer in associating with cricket properties, Narasimhan told BestMediaInfo.com that this year, the brand won’t be associating with Indian Premiere League and as well as Women’s Premiere League in any form.

Without shedding much light on why the brand refrained from associating with IPL and WPL, Narasimhan said, “There are strategic decisions keeping in mind, cost, budget, resources and also where the brand is. BCCI partnership has given us incredible brand uplift. We’ll be taking that forward as much as we can and then decide what to do next.”

When asked if the brand prioritises associating with on-ground sports events over sponsoring and advertising on TV and digital for such sporting events, she said, “Even with the BCCI sponsorship, while it’s on-ground sponsorship, the pick up on air is incredible. From a viewership point of view, we have got 350 million odd Indians watching our branding on the BCCI pitch in the past. Another advantage of on-ground events is that we can make our consumers watch the match on-ground, give away player of the match award and create ‘Priceless’ experiences around that, which we can’t do through purely TV and digital sponsorships.”

Globally, the brand associates with both niche and mass sports properties, but when it comes to deriving ROI through both properties, the end goal is very different. “From mass properties, we get incredibly high brand visibility along with layering on-ground experiences. For affluent and niche sports properties, while the reach will be smaller, the level of engagement will be very high. The affluent segment for us is really important and is rapidly growing.”

Cricket is like a religion in India, but when it comes to sports like golf and F1 racing, we don’t see much interest from media vehicles to buy their media rights as they don’t find it cost-efficient. But if the advertisers start showing interest in such properties, probably media channels also start picking up their media rights at justified prices. 

Commenting on the above, Narasimhan said, “It is a price value equation at the end of the day. When we did the women’s cricket campaign, one of the issues we picked was why women cricketers get less sponsorship money than men cricketers. Although, BCCI has now given equal match fees to both men and women. It's a vicious cycle, where people don’t come to watch them, therefore no eyeballs and no sponsorship. And to break that cycle, such sports need sponsors that support the game. During the India-Australia women’s cricket match, not just the entire stadium was sold out, but it also had the highest number of views on Hotstar. When such things repeat, sponsorship money will automatically flow in.”

When asked about how Mastercard differentiates itself for customers and how it matters to customers whether they use Mastercard, Amex or Visa, Narasimhan said, “It’s a common notion that it doesn’t matter which sign is there on their cards. At the end of the day, people associate brands with certain attributes. When it comes to Mastercard, there is a strong association with safety and security. Our association with ‘Priceless’, a proposition that we have been building for the past 26 years now is very strong. People love the brand Mastercard as it provides experiences that are beyond regular offerings. We cater to their passion areas.”

A few common passion points that brands are tapping into to engage with consumers are sports, music, Bollywood and food. But as per Narsimhan, wellness as a passion point is something that brands are not utilising to its full potential. 

“People have become keener on taking care of their physical and mental well-being after the pandemic. But I think here too, brands have begun to make efforts,” she said.

Traditionally, the brand’s competitors are Amex and Visa, but for Narsimhan the common competition for the brands in this space is cash. “Our goal is to take people away from cash. It is costly, difficult to manage and account for etc. As digital payments are growing, our aim is to go beyond Tier 1,2 and 3 cities.”

According to GroupM’s TYNY recent report, the Indian adex will grow by 15.5%, reaching Rs 1,46,450 crore in 2023. 

Sharing her opinion on the growth of adex in India, Narsimhan said, “While I hope that India has left the worse behind, the fear of the recession is still there in the US. The fear among MNC brands is still there because of the Russia-Ukraine war and what’s happening worldwide. But I think India will remain buoyant and the economic conditions will continue to grow better. The growth of digital payments will also lead to increased consumption. The way brands’ interest in IPL is growing, I do think these are good times.”

Narasimhan concluded, the biggest challenge she faces as a marketer is to truly make the brand stand out amidst the clutter of brand messaging every day.


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