“Cricket is religion in India.” If we had a rupee for every time we heard that, we’d be Ronaldo rich. That Indians love cricket is not news. The new break, however, is the advent of other sports on the back of emerging leagues and formats. As per a recent GroupM-ESP report, cricket witnessed significant upsurge in 2018, jumping 6 percentage points to 56% share of the total on-ground spends across all sports. However, Kabaddi had a lucrative year and the sport is growing well. Football has been on an upswing even though 2018 saw de-growth of 17% in domestic football. 2018 was a good year for Hockey as India played host to the World Cup. The Odisha Government even announced a five-year sponsorship deal (valued at approximately Rs 150 crore or $22 Million), with Indian Hockey.
While the economics and the narrative are still heavily skewed in cricket’s favour, other sports’ growing popularity is good news for Indian marketers attempting to break the clutter and cost in cricket.
The Indian sports marketing landscape forever changed when the Indian Premier League launched over a decade ago. Other dramatic changes in consumption were brought on by snapchat-size formats, new technologies and social platforms and the exodus to smaller, mobile screens where people also tweet and Swiggy between overs or in half-time. And with the arrival of more sports leagues and a glut of content, marketers certainly have had their work cut out. Still, while the ways marketers’ can reach and engage audiences through sport have multiplied, how they take to these new avenues varies based on everything from popularity to professionalism.
All leagues are not born equal.
The question now is what will it take for newer properties to leap into the big leagues? Abhishek Ganguly, MD, Puma India believes, in terms of success, football’s Indian Super League and Pro-Kabbadi have gained ground due to a combination of factors like the growing interest in sports beyond cricket, pure passion for that sport and celebrity or brand endorsements. “What’s important is that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Some leagues have even failed because they have tried to replicate a commercial model instead of focusing on a sustainable model to build further interest,” Ganguly tells Brand Equity.
Most critical to league success is quality of the game. Says Ganguly, “Professionalism is very important. If leagues don’t step up they will lose relevance and popularity. In the last 5-6 years, Bengaluru FC has become the largest and best football club in India. They are very professional – focusing on the right players, right coaching staff and have teams across age groups. They even have a school program and approach the game in a very structured manner. Puma’s partnerships with clubs and leagues depends on various factors like sharing a common vision for the sport and professionalism.”
One of the IPL’s more important contributions to the world of sport was generating interest among female fans. Now non-cricket leagues and fresh formats are getting new audiences to sports, especially women. That will go a long way in assuring the health of new leagues and tournaments, and eventually the sport. Says Amit Doshi, chief marketing officer (India and South Asia), Lenovo, “Almost 40% of viewership today is women and the league administrators and broadcasters need to create more engagement options for brands that want to reach them.” According to Doshi this is how the leagues stack up: Indian Super league (ISL) has managed to get a foothold in football states such as West Bengal and Kerala but the appeal beyond these markets seems to be limited. In his view, the mindshare of football aficionados is still dominated by European leagues and ISL has still not been able to garner a meaningful share of the chatter. Meanwhile Pro Kabaddileague’s model with its short format, entertainment value and the vibrant game and atmosphere are its biggest strengths. Says Doshi, “I feel it is an under-leveraged property and brands can use it creatively for engagement.” Lastly, given the strength of Indian players in the world order, according to Doshi, Premier Badminton League (PBL) has the potential to become a much bigger force in India sports and marketing arena. The challenge for all sports platforms outside cricket is reach. That is critical for brands and a challenge for almost all of the non-cricket leagues to thrive in long term.
For marketers, sports is the new fuel for their content engines. Manish Dubey, chief marketing officer, ICIC Prudential says when the power of sport is combined with the latest media accelerators of mobile, data and regional language, it opens up a whole new league of opportunities for marketers. From branded visibility to engaging local communities to gamification to branded content, the ways to engage audiences are endless. But, says Dubey, “The sports leagues should go beyond selling air-time and brand logo visibility and create a new generation of multi-axis marketing solutions for customized audience profiles. Then Indian marketers will lap it up.”