At the unveiling of the Pitch Madison Advertising Report 2017, Sundar Raman, CEO of Reliance Sports delivered a talk on ‘Sports beyond Cricket’ where he touched upon the sports structure in India, how brands can take sports ahead and how India can do well in sports.
“For a country to do well in sports, the sports in the country need to do well, which is tricky. Marketers go after successful sports more often than not. The core of the sports starts with fans whether it’s commercial success or even infrastructure and players,” said Raman.
He quickly went into how marketers, advertisers and professionals interested in sport business can contribute. “Substantial number of brands and large amount of sports are built on the back of grassroots. Successful brands have continuously invested in sports whether it’s Coca Cola, Heineken or Adidas. KFC invested in sports in South Africa and Australia. There are opportunities available in plenty but we need to be open to growing beyond GRPs, TV ratings, and visibility to actually invest in this cause.”
He also spoke about the complexity of India’s sport structure, which itself is a huge challenge. He touched upon Olympics sport structure which has Olympics Federation, International Olympic Association, National Sports Federation and State Sports Association, among others. Raman also mentioned the non-Olympic sports, which are governed by Federation and state association.
With all the models of sports (Chinese, American and European) he has observed that success can only come with focus irrespective of which model it is. India is a young sporting nation, he pointed out. He said, “Tennis tournament ATP is running for 20 years. IPL is in its 10th year. There are other sports, which grow on the back of the success of IPL in terms of its model.”
Though in the last two years India saw accelerated action in the world of sports, Raman pointed out a problem over here that comes in the way of the development of sports. “Professional leagues are mushrooming in every sport. On the other hand kids are falling out of sports when they are 14. So there is nothing that fills the void in between. You can't have a successful sporting league without the pipeline. The key is to rely on local heroes. If you want to build an affinity towards state, region, district, city, you have to have your brand recognised to get your consumer excited about the sport. I think we are far away from that.”
He used the example of cricket on how the sport has grown successfully with a pipeline. Raman said, “Lot of hours and passion are spent towards building that sport. There are under 15, under-17, under-19, under-21 respective state and district teams. How many other sports have such an organised structure, which allow the pipeline to grow?”
Raman also shared how Reliance Sports is doing its bit to grow sports by arranging more than 2600 football matches with participation from 2500 teams across eight cities. “We will soon expand footprint. We had city level winners and national championships. Each of the matches were shot for coverage and streamed on digital media. The idea is to get the parents to support their kids by being there and they should make it a habit. We need to have the ability to get people who know how to grow the sport in schools and colleges. The good old days of college and school fests need to become sports fests.”
Player journeys starting off at grassroot level is another crucial point to be taken into consideration. Raman explained, “The age from six to 12 define grassroot where they (the kids) can pick up any sport. So you need to identify them at that level if they have interest in any sport.” Raman also explained the importance of pipeline saying, “You have to create pipeline. Unless it grows roots in schools and colleges and people get to experience the game, you are not going to build a successful sport. For a country like India we need to experiment with both American and European sports model and still have headroom for growth on all fronts.”
Raman mentioned that the stakeholders in sports such as the broadcasters and sponsors, among others seem to be selling sports as TV rating. “That mindset needs to change. They have to come into the strategy of sports.”
He also raised important questions on the growth of sports, “How to grow sport without necessarily focusing on TV on radio piece? What do we need to do to make it more successful?”
The other problem he threw light on was the challenge to get more people to the stadiums to experience sports. “Last 50 years of cricket saw no more than 4 crore people going to the stadiums. TV is the biggest competition for live sports viewing so it must compete with TV to deliver a better experience. Unless you're able to do it I don't think we will have more fans flocking to stadiums,” he added.
Raman even pointed out that India’s lack of infrastructure is another area for concern and that commercial investment is not going beyond cricket. “Football is trying to make an existence. Kabaddi is doing well from the standpoint of commercialisation. We don’t know what's good or bad. But once we start defining that, we will see successful models emerge out of it. Parents, administrators, marketers and fans need to make a difference to sports. We will do our own bit but it will take its (own) time,” said Raman.