There is lack of innovation and disruption in the merchandising space: Bhavik Vora, Founder, Black White Orange Brands

Vora and Indranil Blah, CEO, Mumbai City FC, ISL were key speakers for the session on merchandising and licensing in India at BW Applause Awards

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Updated: Oct 10, 2017 8:36 AM

Merchandising and licensing in experiential marketing, while being an important aspect, is often ignored. Shedding light on the same, experts Bhavik Vora, Founder, Black White Orange Brands and Indranil Blah, CEO, Mumbai City FC, ISL spoke about the present challenges in the field and it's future in Indian market. 

The duo was speaking at the BW Applause Awards ceremony organised by exchange4media in a session moderated by Kanika Sethi Babbar of Bespoke Events. Blah started out by saying that the sports industry in India does not primarily make use of merchandising. He said, “In specifically sports, it amounts to one per cent. Honestly, it is pretty negligible. If you look at a successful venture like IPL, merchandising won’t be more than five per cent.” While Blah gave a sports industry-centric analysis, Vora had a wider perspective on the topic as his agency has been associated with a number of successful projects in entertainment and media industry, like Baahubali and Game Of Thrones.

Vora said, “Merchandising industry in India is very nascent. There are hardly four-five agencies like us. This is because people think it's rocket science which it’s actually not. Merchandising in India is primarily seen as a kids’ domain. Everybody is looking at what Disney is doing in this sector and trying to follow them. What people are not realising is that times have changed. There is a large demographic in the country which is consuming a lot of different content like Game Of Thrones, soccer, cricket and Bollywood. Nobody is targeting them. There is lack of innovation and disruption in the space. In sports, I can’t imagine that an event like IPL, which has media rights going for Rs 60,000 crore, has the most underserviced merchandise programme. Frankly, the franchises are putting so much money in the event, but they are missing out on not monetising the teams which the EPL does brilliantly. The kind of revenue they generated out of this is unheard of.”

He further said that the kind of culture built around the franchises abroad is so aspirational that fans love to be associated with it. Blah objected to Vora’s observation and opined that many sports franchises have tried tapping into the merchandise market but they are mainly faced with the challenges of piracy and cost.

Babbar then posed a question to Blah asking him how ISL manages the balance between keeping costs of the merchandise low yet meeting the artistic, aspirational expectation of the fans. “We are at an early stage. Mumbai City is just a three-year-old property. We are trying to grow the brand. It is still page one for us. We are not looking at minting money out of it right now. It might be a controversial thing to say but when I go to Mumbai City team and I see a lot of kids wearing jerseys which are pirated, it still works for me because the brand is being integrated into the market.”

Babbar then moved on to Vora and asked him what their agency does when say a client comes to them with a Bollywood/Musical event. Do they have a style guide to go about? Vora said that the whole merchandising/licensing industry depends on fans. But it’s just a starting point, according to him. Giving an example of his agency’s handling of Baahubali in the merchandise space, he said, “Creative aspect is the most critical part of any successful merchandise. A fan would not want a jersey with 50 logos blasted on it because it is not aspirational. They are paying Rs 1000 for a T-shirt, it might as well look good on them.”

The next challenge faced by agencies, as posed by the moderator, is what other means are there to retail the merchandise apart from using the online medium? How does one encourage spectator interaction? Vora said, “With respect to IPL, the owners need to invest in brands to create a legacy. Players will come and go. They can use players like Virat Kohli to communicate to fans and endorse the merchandise.”

The panel then moved on to discussing licensing. Talking about ISL, Blah revealed that in India, licensing happens both on centralised and individual club levels. Coming back to their success story, Vora revealed how the agency got into the game with Baahubali makers very early on and for them, it was not about slapping the movie logo on T-shirts and selling. They tried to tell the story of Mahishmati, Bhallal Dheva and Baahubali through every product created by them.

The session ended on a positive note as all members of the panel agreed that good things are finally happening in the industry with regard to merchandising especially with brands like Being Human and Baahubali doing great work in the department. Both speakers reiterated that merchandising and licensing cannot be an afterthought but a well planned out process by the brands.

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