Key Drivers of Success for Sports Marketing in India
The 2012 London Olympics had sponsorship revenues of GBP 1,404 million (USD 2,178 million).
Sports Marketing is not a novel concept. In fact sports have always been a great channel for marketers to reach new people. Tiger Woods earned USD 1.3 billion in endorsements with companies like Nike, Accenture, Rolex and many others. Among the key spenders on sports marketing have been Chrysler Group spending USD 115.4 million, Ford spending USD 197 million, AT&T with spend of USD 226.7 million, and Anheuser-Busch InBev spending a whopping 309.2 million dollars.
Even in India, the concept of sports marketing has been a well-used one, since the onset of Mass Communication revolution in India post coming of Doordarshan. One of the most popular ads of Sports Marketing in India was of Dinesh Suitings which featured Sunil Gavaskar. Even today, cricketers are the choice for sports marketers in India. Business Insider India reports that Sachin Tendulkar earns up to USD 18 million in endorsements and MS Dhoni earned 25 million dollars in endorsements. Indian companies may not be anywhere among the high rollers of sports marketing in West but even in India context, they are really aggressive.
Let us have a look at some of the reasons why sports marketing is so effective in India.
First and foremost is the mass appeal of sports people in the country. It may largely be dominated by cricket but other sports people also form a large fan base in India and among their fan base, these sports people hold a lot of clout. Sushil Kumar, the two times Olympic winning wrestler holds a strong connection with people in rural areas of North India and is the embodiment of mass appeal of a sportsperson in the Indian masses.
Second reason is continuous and mostly positive media exposure to sports persons in India. Across the country, Sachin Tendulkar is recognised with qualities like hard work, honesty and silent, yet relentless pursuit of excellence. No wonder companies like MRF, Britannia, Fiat and VISA are just some names on a long list of brands he has been associated with.
Third reason is that sports events by their very nature are at the same time both global and local. People who are sitting in the stadium are mostly comprised of local audiences who travel a few kilometres to actually witness the event in person. Yet the core focus of sports marketing is on the people who watch the game on TV. The penetration of TV has become near universal in the country and it allows marketers to catch a huge set of audience in an engaged and attentive mode. One case of how sports marketers have used TV to reach a huge set of audience has been that of Accenture which by some quirk of facts was able to ‘’advertise’’ on BBC , a network that is known for being commercial free.
Fourth reason is the duration of sports event. In this case, Indian sports marketers have been really lucky. Unlike most of the countries where mass following is for games like football, India has people following cricket where one match can last up to 8-9 hours a day. They get a completely chair bound, focused audience which will be religiously sticking their eyes to the TV screen or ears to the radio set. This means any in-stadium advertising will be a continuous brand exposure. Imagine a football advertiser getting that kind of exposure- it will be doors of heaven for them.
To put the matters in a nutshell, sports marketing in India has been a true success story and it has been because of almost all stakeholders in the proverbial ‘game’ – be it because of players, marketers, audience or the game itself.
Sports Marketing – the Various Facets
Sports marketing encompasses various activities that are directed towards the promotion of the sports events and the promotion of other brands through these. In addition, Sports marketers play the role of servicing the professional assets that a brand has on board. For example, adidas Sports Marketing teams would look into the equipment needs of its roster of athletes – a cricket bat for Kohli, specialist squash footwear for Dipika or specialist apparel for a marathoner, a Sports Marketing manager is a servicing expert looking into the needs of the plethora of assets in the daily sense.
Secondly, a Sports Marketing team is the bridge between Brand Marketing and the assets in question. At the micro level, managing assets’ availability for brand promotions is the most basic of the functions. A store visit by Rohit Sharma, a fan interaction with Kieron Pollard and a Master-class by Dipika Pallikal, are examples of how managing these assets carefully helps augment a brand’s presence and positioning. If adidas today is the brand that assists the budding athlete maximize his/her performance, access to these assets only helps cement the positioning of the brand through a real on-ground experience.
Sports marketing can be considered different from the other branches of marketing because in this the buying behavior of the consumer is probably influenced more by the left side of the brain i.e. emotions, relational, intuition, passion etc. The sports marketer doesn’t deal so much with a rational consumer who wants to maximize his monetary utility but more so with a consumer who bases his decision on sentiments.
Right from the customer buying behavior, the purchase processes, promotions, product content and distribution, everything in sports marketing follows a different path from the normal purchase of typical goods and services.
One of the key tasks in sports marketing is to deliver relevant product to a captive fan base. In the fan spaces, the scope for merchandise to be marketed is immense, but daunting. Figuring out trends in consumer interest and spending, is by itself as big a challenge as deciding what product to ship where. Generic and popular things such as jerseys are an exception.
A good starting point for sports franchises in India (and modeled after the American system) is to build fan-bases based on geographical proximity. As by creating an association of the team names of Indian premier league, Hockey Indian League, Kabaddi league etc. with the names of the states or cities they are able to develop a natural sense of belongingness and among the people towards these teams.
The product content in terms of sports which are followed around the globe like tennis, football remain consistent however the products of global brands like KFC, Pepsi differs in terms of content, packaging and other aspects which are localized. However with initiatives like Pro-Kabaddi League the sports marketer are developing products with the local customers in focus. The challenge faced by Indian franchises across all the leagues that have been developed, is to market compelling products, which a proven success story like the IPL also hasn’t been able to, in its eight-nine years since inception.
Sports brands also have a quicker cycle in terms of the ups and downs faced by a wavering fan-base. Consumer spends are heavily influenced by the performances of the franchise/asset in the ‘recency bias’. While some ‘fans’ might be immune to this, it is proven in the recently concluded friendly of an erstwhile powerhouse of football – England; when they played at Wembley – only half the stadium was full!
Sports marketing strategy is centric around generation of revenue by capitalizing on fan passion; often this leads to very quick turnaround time around events. It certainly doesn’t help that assets can sometimes be made available at a few hours’ notice! Developing licensed merchandise, arranging fan access and deciding what product to put forward (!) are just a few of the things that are a source of this last minute haberdashery. It eventually creates a feeling for fans that they are a part of a larger community connected with other fans and the team; and that, in essence, is the crux of being a sports marketer.
Private Sports Leagues: Two sides of the same coin
The day 18th April, 2008, will go down as a red-letter day in the history of Indian Sports. That was the day when the inaugural edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) T20 cricket tournament commenced. There has been no looking back since and Indian sports changed forever. Yes, there have been many hiccups and hurdles along the way, but IPL has managed to steer clear of all that and is going stronger than ever. The growth of IPL has been phenomenal and what it has done to the business of sports in India is beyond comprehension. IPL is today a global sporting brand worth over $3 Billion. But the real success of IPL lay in the way it has opened the doors for other sports to emerge in the country.
Internal sporting leagues involving franchises have sprung up in every sport. Modelled on IPL, these sports are able to emerge from the shadows of cricket through these leagues. Increasingly, the corporates are looking to invest in these sports other than cricket. A case-in-point is the recently concluded Pro-Kabbadi League. A brain-child of the former cricket commentator Charu Sharma, Pro-Kabbadi League took the traditional Indian sport of Kabbadi to newer heights in a commercialized format. It attracted some big investments from corporates like Reliance Industries, Mahindra & Mahindra, the Future group and also from celebrities like Abhishek Bachchan. The league was broadcasted live on Star Sports. Not only did the league attract good crowds on the ground, it also attracted a significant TV viewership. However the flipside to this is that these leagues haven’t added much to the sporting infrastructure of the country and are just seen as investment options by the owners.
Another big league that is waiting to happen soon is India’s own franchise-based football league named the ‘Indian Super League’. The popularity of football has significantly increased in India over the past decade due to the telecast of the European football leagues. Now a football league of our own would only add to the clamour for the sport. The ISL has already attracted some big investments from celebrities like Sachin Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly and Salman Khan.
Indian Badminton Federation also started an Indian Badminton League, the first edition of which was a huge success in terms of the audiences it could pull to the stadium. However it lacked the penetration in terms of TV viewing audience and the match that witnessed the maximum viewership was Sania v Sindu and it just had a penetration of 5%. What the success of these leagues has done is that it has established India as an attractive destination for commercial sporting investment. Thanks to the IPL, all these sports are now learning how to market themselves to the corporate world. The corporate world across the globe is now coming to terms with the fact that India is an attractive destination for commercial sporting investment and is beginning to invest in improving the sporting infrastructure in the country.
These leagues have also made the general public look into sports as a viable career option as more and more youngsters get picked into these squads to represent a franchisee. The lack of money which was once seen as a deterrent to taking up sports as a career, have now been replaced with corporate houses pumping in money into sports.
While there’s no denying the positive impact that the success of these leagues have had on Indian sports other than cricket, it is too early to say if this phenomenon is here to stay. Whether the success of these non-cricket sporting leagues actually signifies the start of a new era in Indian Sports or if it is just another flash in the pan, is something that only time can answer.
Benglauru FC: An exemplary case of Sports Marketing
Bengaluru FC. Founded: 20 July, 2013.
First I-League title: 21 April, 2014.
Known as the new men in blue, the rise and rapid success of the Jindal Steel Works (JSW) owned Bengaluru FC as the champions of India’s primary football league in their debut season has got more than just heads turning. Indian football, long under the shadow of a sport tenfold more popular in the country, has begun to take a peek into the curious void left open by a nation still reeling under the aftereffects of retired cricketing heroes. It is in these times that a group of unsung heroes, both on and off the field, has gotten Indian football to emerge as a culture, driven by some of the most innovative marketing minds working at Bengaluru FC.
With established names such as East Bengal and Mohun Bagan grabbing the headlines over the past several years, it took more than just the appointment of Ashley Westwood, the former English league footballer, for Bengaluru FC to secure the ultimate prize, the I-League title. This was planning.
Realizing the value of footballing fanaticism that was prevalent in Bangalore, the club marketed its entry by holding successive events during pre-season for the youngsters and late-20s alike. They visited colleges, malls and restaurants and even schools. Their eye-catching competitions increased the awareness among the youth. This was positioning.
The club’s special Match Day Programmes, the first of its kind in the I-League, has made waves among the supporters who took to the stadium in flocks of blue with unprecedented attendance, game after game. The programme, given to the spectators, contains the team information, statistics, chants, flashbacks and a column from Westwood himself. The level of fan engagement, although not to the level of their superior British counterparts, has been effective in generating the kind of enthusiasm that club sought during its initial days. This was packaging.
Tickets were sold in Café Coffee Day outlets several days before the actual match. The club had its first tie up with a local pub, the Arbor Brewing Company, where matches were screened every week and over a 100 fans turned out to cheer with their novel chants and slogans. The competitions and promotional events came with incentives and offers that pulled crowds like never before, generating the highest average stadium turnout in the I-League last season. All in their debut season. Fancy that! This was perception.
The BFC Bazaar is another example of successful sports marketing where the fans were incredibly surprised to find the players themselves selling personalized club merchandise. The Club consultant, Mr. Tamhane, has been gregarious in expressing the plan to add events such as BFC Care and BFC Awards in the pipeline for the coming years.
Building up on their on-ground promotional activity, the club simultaneously developed a vigorous social media presence, on both Facebook and Twitter, where constant updates of day-to-day events, innovative posts and match reports began to gather a loyal online following. They opened a forum for discussion among fans and administrators alike that pulled the supporters into a close knit bunch with the club. The extent of the mixture of online and on-ground association between the club and its fans went to the extent where over 500 fans travelled to Goa and Kerala for the away matches, a record turnout for the club, leading Puma to sign a deal with the club as their official kit sponsors from the coming season.
Next, the club went a step higher in securing its place among the headline grabbers. They signed Sunil Chettri, arguably India’s finest and most marketable footballer at the moment. To have in the club rankings, the most coveted player and a leading brand name even before the first ball was kicked, is a plan that, while costly, will reap long-term benefits in perceiving Bengaluru FC as a club that can attract quality players with all the right incentives.
Striking a fine balance between its on field footballing extravaganza and off-field marketing phenomena through social media, and on-ground promotion and perception strategies, Bengaluru FC has now established itself as a force to reckon with in the I-League.
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