Sports marketing hasn’t been very big in India, till Indian Premier League (IPL) happened, and suddenly corporates are putting in mega bucks on players and teams, all in the name of the game. A huge share of the corporate spend is on cricket, more of a religion than a sport in India, but the game has been giving maximum return on the ad spend, of course, largely tied to Indian team’s performance, and the new format of Twenty20 cricket.
But what about other games like hockey, football or tennis? Given India’s dismal show in these games, corporates have been shying away from mega spends here. While tennis still has some presence in the corporate spending radar with Sania Mirza and the Lea-Hesh pair in the reckoning, imagine them getting the same billings as cricket newcomer Ishant Sharma!
With a lot of money being pumped into cricket, other sports federations are anxious to attract corporates as well. Whether sports marketing gains momentum in India depends a lot on the success of IPL and ICL. This could encourage other sports federations in India to create leagues of their own. Of course, their success is closely tied to India’s performance, a case in point is Premier Hockey League, which was started with much fanfare, but fizzled out after some poor performance by India.
Need to look beyond cricket
Contrary to general opinion, Sashi Sinha, President, Lodestar Universal, feels that cricket does not give much value for money. He said, “Cricket delivers high ratings, but I personally believe that it increases the advertising rates of cricket. With its popularity, cricket today has become very expensive, and it does not give a fair value for the money spent.”
For other sports to become popular, it was agreed by all sports analysts that ‘icons’ were important, as youngsters look upon them as demi gods. The likes of Sania Mirza in tennis, Vishwanathan Anand in chess, PT Usha and Anju Bobby George in athletics, and Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore in shooting, are all examples of good talent in sports other than cricket.
Then what is the problem?
The problem is that these names haven’t got enough adulation, simply because their sport isn’t as well-recognised or as popular as cricket.
Moreover, there are not many professional sports marketing agencies in India. When asked where India stood in the sphere of sports marketing, Yannik Collaco, Vice-President, Nimbus Sport, said, “Generally, sports marketing in India is unprofessional. Over the last 10 years, it is largely seen as agents of brokers doing marketing under the guise of sports marketing rather than professional sports marketing agencies. Basic principle of a sports marketing agency should be to develop a sport to maximise its value. The problem with sports marketing in India is that there is lack of professional sports marketing companies.”
According to Gaurav Seth, Business Head, VGC Sports, sports marketing in India was stuck in a vicious circle. He explained, “For any sports to do well it requires money, infrastructure, and infusion of power. Sponsors only tend to invest in a sport that is doing well, and thus in such a situation, it is like a vicious circle for any sport other than cricket to get the desired popularity and attract a lot of money.”
Football has been around in this country for the last 130-odd years, and has been a dominant sport in Goa, Kerala and West Bengal for the last 60-70 years. But, according to Seth, it had not yet evolved in other markets. “Football will become more popular for sure, but will the market go for less cricket and more football or other sports immediately? No, I don’t think that is going to happen, it may take sometime,” he added.
20:20 Leagues: A step in the right direction?
VGC Sports’ Seth said, “As far as the domestic league goes, both ICL and IPL are steps taken in the right direction to encourage talent to pick up any sport knowing that there is money at the end of the day. What has hit Indian sports is that there is no money in sports, you cannot make a career out of it, even though sportspersons have excelled in a sport, they are largely unknown and unheralded. So, I think the Leagues would help, the domestic players would see a lot of money, and other sports are expected to take a cue and start organising Leagues, which would benefit domestic sport, not only in cricket but, also other sports like hockey, football and basketball. So, I think it’s a step in the right direction.”
Sunil Manocha, Executive VP for Advertising Revenues, Neo Sports, said, “I don’t know if the IPL would do well or not, it’s too early to comment. However, the format is interesting enough for India. The whole challenge would be to get viewer involvement. We are very sanguine about 2008.”
Threats and opportunities
Seth was of the opinion that the biggest threat sports marketing in India faced was the dominance of cricket. “Marketing is not just about sponsorship of events it is also about cultivation of domestic talent, so setting up of academies where sports person can do well is a major avenue, so that is also where next steps are going to arrive for cultivating domestic talent,” he added.
For Collaco, the biggest opportunity is probably the biggest threat. He explained, “Unless and until you have a long term vision of developing a sport whether football, tennis or hockey, you are never going to get any where. So, you require all the stakeholders, coaches, the players and even the federations to come together and share a common vision and then develop a sport. The threat is that not every one has that vision,” he said.
With the Commonwealth Games 2010 in Delhi, we can only hope that in the process of hosting the event, infrastructure for various sports would improve and that sports marketing companies would then step in to promote sports other than cricket.