Every Indian cricket fan’s worst nightmare came true on March 12, when India lost its first match in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011. Even as the match with South Africa was a fight to the finish, this World Cup has not been India’s best yet – not as bad as the last World Cup, but not as good as the previous seasons. India has had a tough time competing with teams such as Ireland and the Netherlands, which were otherwise seen as simple challenges. Some media observers had even gone on to say that India-Ireland or India-Netherland may not even be 100-over matches, given India’s “good form”. I am sure most are reminded there is a reason why cricket is called “unpredictable”.
Now, all hopes are pinned on the India-West Indies match as that, along with the performance of some of the other teams in Group B, decides whether India makes it to the Quarter Finals or not. And if India fails to get into the Quarter Finals, then this World Cup will be another disaster for advertisers – a lesser disaster than 2007, given the manner in which the matches were spread out, but a disaster nonetheless.
Until now, advertisers have every reason to be happy with the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011. ESPN Star Sports sold the series in a manner that gave access to the India matches in most advertising deals. The cumulative ratings across channels have thrown good numbers as yet, allowing better cost per rating points (CPRPs) than what many were expecting. And none of the deals are of the nature that advertiser pays more if the match has thrown better than expected numbers.
In a way, India’s bleak performance helped too. England, South Africa and Bangladesh were amongst the matches that were tough and would have generated huge interest. The Netherlands and Ireland, on the other hand, were kids’ play. But India’s struggle in these matches ensured that the full 100 overs were played and more importantly, it had audiences viewing the match till the end, just to be sure that their heroes were not dropping off the charts already.
Both Ireland and Netherland matches ended up showing good numbers, and hence good for the advertisers that associated with the World Cup. Whether this was good for ESPN or not is a separate point, and not one we are discussing here. Coming back to advertisers, a weak India performance is also not very good for advertisers who associated with players, including even Indian Captain MS Dhoni, who has seen some very bad press this World Cup.
One big question facing advertisers who seek sports celebrity as brand ambassadors is that the brand is dependent on the celebrity performing well. A bad play, a bad over, a bad inning leaves a bad taste with the audience and then that cricketer is not the best person selling your brand.
The advertising after the India-South Africa match on Star Cricket was very interesting in this regard. Immediately post the match, the Pepsi campaigns featuring Harbhajan Singh and Reebok’s Sachin Tendulkar creatives were on – despite a defeat, these cricketers had played well. Have advertisers actually worked out a way on which creatives should be aired depending on the match – honest answer, I don’t know. But the thing about cricket is what while it is, and for some time will be, a sure-shot bet to reach a cross-section of audience, it comes with an equally extreme set of risks.
The game is not just on the pitch or the field and it is not only the cricketer who is playing, the brand manager is also playing and as one would know from the India-South Africa match, one over – good or bad depends on who is talking – can change the game. And not necessarily in your brand’s favour.