Till a month ago, Relay Worldwide from Starcom Mediavest was the sole player in the arena of sports marketing. Today, three other brands have joined the league with the launch of O&M Sports, Vyas Giannetti Creative Sports and Havas Sports under MPG. All the three newcomers believe that with non-cricket sports gaining foothold in the country and sports being inclusive of a whole array of activities than just the games, it is about time that some science was brought in the space.
Relay Worldwide, however, is of the opinion that while non-cricket sports can really be a good talking point, there really is time before Indian sports can be more than just cricket.
Sports Marketing – a fancy specialist or a revenue generator
Ravi Kiran, CEO, Starcom, (South Asia), once observed that market response to Relay Worldwide had not been as exciting as expected. Explaining more, he said, “Marketers were too cricket enamoured while we assumed that it is more productive to leverage other sports. Also, since we were the first media agency to start a sports practice, we thought we would get spontaneous attention from marketers. We realised later that evangelism needs patience and persistence.”
Speaking on how things have changed, he replied, “We continue to believe there is a lot of untapped potential in sports like tennis, hockey, golf and football, but we are no longer obsessed with non-cricket sports. Nonetheless, marketer approach towards cricket is changing. Most smart marketers know international cricket is already hot and will only become hotter in future. So, they want to take position in cricket outside of first class international cricket and in other sports.”
For Kiran, cricket getting pricey and new broadcasters entering the arena combined with marketers wanting to do more than just TV, had led to a wave of experiential marketing and that was where sports delivered.
Agreeing with him, Pratap Bose, O&M’s CEO, said, “Couple the growth in television with the fact that the sports viewer has an extraordinary level of involvement with the programme and you have a tailor-made communication platform. The success of sports stars and the aspirations they evoke make them great brand ambassadors, with a possibility to connect much greater than an average filmstar. Ground events in sport cause stadiums to be full; success in sports of the Sania Mirza kind evoke nationalism. Put all these together and you have a recipe for great communication.”
Atul Hegde, COO, VGC, pointed out that sports marketing in this country had hitherto been restricted to player management like endorsements or columns. He said, “The focus has been on individual player or at marketing sponsorship platforms on existing sports property, largely cricket. Marketers ignored the fact that gradually the interest in sports is spreading, the biggest indicator being growing popularity of F1, soccer or tennis. While there is still time before they catch up with cricket, there is a lot more consumption of other sports today and that was an opportunity waiting to be tapped.”
MPG’s Asia-Pac CEO, Vishnu Mohan, is clear that a division must be self sustaining for anyone to make a logical decision to step into it. He said, “While this may not happen immediately, it must have the capability of being so over time. We have data indicating the likely size of the market and expected growth over the coming years layered with an understanding of how the market might evolve with increased players in this segment and it is very positive.”
Kiran, too, doesn’t see much in terms of revenue as of now. He said, “Not much outside of cricket, but from where we are, we can only go up. If you make the right investments at the right time, revenue will follow. If you look only at revenue, you will get caught in your own trap.”
Hegde is more confident on the revenue front, as is Bose. Bose said, “Look at today's papers: they talk about a world number one in shooting; about a world number 42 in tennis, about how India has moved up in FIFA rankings. Sport is moving beyond the ‘traditional’ areas and success begets followers and audiences. The marathon as a genre is growing by the year. With successes in sport, the entire sports and leisure market explodes, and there is more revenue than the sports marketing companies can tap.”
Mohan pointed out here that sports marketing was an integral element of brand building, “Both the development of sports audience on live events and on television beyond cricket and the recognition of sports marketing as an organised professional discipline well beyond talent marketing amongst advertisers provided important cues for us to take the step.”
But is there space for four or more players?
Ravi Kiran voices some caution here. He said, “I think the near simultaneous announcement by several agencies is a coincidence. I also doubt if many of these players really have a long term roadmap. We have learnt a lot about sports marketing as a discipline in the last two years. I guess for many of these new players, the learning will begin now.”
Nonetheless, he opined that for a nascent practice such as sports, more evangelists would make the field grow. “Often, supply creates its own demand,” he said.
Bose, on the other hand, felt there could be more, “There is still a shortage of players. Take a Procam with the Marathon or ESPN-STAR Sports with hockey, the Scorpio speedster from IMG, the new golf and tennis tournaments, the many reality cricket shows that we will see shortly. All these require investments and risks, and we still have ignored discipline after discipline. Each untouched discipline presents an opportunity.”
Hegde presented a slightly different point of view. He said, “It depends on which pie you are looking at. If you are looking at investments in cricket and existing opportunities, then yes, the market is crowded and more importantly, the offerings have no differentiation. But if you are looking at the overall marketing spends pie – they are growing. Clients today are looking at new avenues to extract better ROIs. That’s the pie we are looking at. VGCS hopes to convert these additional marketing bucks, which are moving away from the traditional communication avenues. We do not see this segment at all populated, forget being overcrowded.”
Players don’t think the segment is too full. On the contrary, Bose thinks that the market will grow exponentially with more players and sports marketing companies will increase knowledge vertical by vertical as they “sense a kill.” He said, “Who knows, we might see Liverpool play Chelsea at the Eden Gardens. Because today we have the knowledge to pull off an event as big; we have audiences with sophistication and we have brands willing to invest in the battle for these audiences.”
Differentiation, however, in the offering would be the key and players believe that they would be differentiated. Mohan pointed out, “We will be at the forefront in terms of investment valuation that brands are making in using sports as integral to their brand building. We have the techniques and tools to do that and in this era of ROI, we believe it’s imperative that we provide our advertisers with what they get and what they are foregoing vis-à-vis other alternatives that the same investment could be used for.”
Hegde said, “Vyas Giannetti Creative Sports is India’s first sports concept firm. VGCS creates customised communication solutions for brands with sports as a backdrop. We are currently working with clients in as diverse sectors as media, insurance, and automobiles to name a few to create customised sporting communication solutions for specific business needs like loyalty programmes, talent retention or even internal HR activities. For us it’s a natural extension of our ‘creative’ core.”
With more sports channels coming in the picture and other international tournaments on the anvil, sports marketing is coming of age in India. Players appear to be clear that they want to monetise the opportunity to the fullest and everyone is hoping that their endeavours pay off.