Why hockey players may not strike gold with brands
There is a need to develop a grassroot-level culture for the game and the brands first need to support the players’ journey, opines industry
It’s been a few days since the wrapping up of the Tokyo Olympics, in which India recorded its best performance in history, and the fervour is not dying out. The solo gold medalist of the contingent, javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, is rightfully ruling most of everyone’s feeds on social media. Other top performers, too, are getting a lot of love from the country, especially the hockey teams. While the men’s hockey team managed to secure a medal after a 41-year-long drought at the Olympics, the women's hockey team became the first in Indian history to play in the semi-finals.
And this could be a grand opportunity for brands to associate themselves with these players and garner a good reputation. IPG Mediabrands CEO Shashi Sinha says, “There is a lot of headroom for sports associations by brands in India. On average, brands in India are investing in sportspersons less than half of what global counterparts are doing. It is less than 20-30% of the overall spend. So, definitely, there is a big opportunity there.”
And individual players are up for a win for the longest time; Sania Mirza, Vijendra Singh, and PV Sindhu are just a few examples of what a good performance at the Olympics could look like for such players. Most recently, Neeraj Chopra is being touted as the new golden boy for brands and the likes of Saikhom Mirabai Chanu and Lovlina Borgohain are expected to garner brand recognition if they continue to maintain their performances. However, players from team sports like hockey will find it challenging to leverage their success, industry opines.
The biggest reason is the lack of attention the sports in general gets. Brand-Nomics MD Viren Razdan highlights, “Brands look for cut through values that they can transfer via their talent. The Olympics is a burst of glory albeit short-lived unless the sportsperson can sustain it through other events. Hockey reached a high at the Olympics but the harsh truth is it would now temper down and out from attention. So at best the recent success can be showcased by brands but it is unlikely that it will go beyond that.”
FoxyMoron (Zoo Media) Group Account Director-South Keerthi Kumar agrees, “The two (hockey) teams have played very well right through the Olympics and deserve a lot of credit. Surely there is going to be an increase in the influx of contracts, but brands need to look at it from a long-term vision. The trouble for a sport like hockey is that the team is only seen by people on occasions like the Olympics.”
Sinha further adds that the issue with team sports like Hockey is also that it is difficult to separate the players from the team. “It is not like cricket where individual performance eventually gets highlighted. I will place it closer to a game like football. But there has been a huge culture in the world out there around football. People know the clubs and their faces like Messi and Ronaldo too. A similar culture needs to be created for hockey in India.”
The industry feels that the right way to take it ahead and create some brand value for the game and players is to make hockey more mainstream.
Kumar suggests, “At this juncture, we need to use this achievement as the catalyst to establish the sport in a better way. If the sport takes centre stage, it will be a domino effect and the players too will receive the spotlight they rightfully deserve. It will serve as a great platform to build their individual imagery. Brands too will be empowered to consistently look at them as key representatives.
“Sporting brands could see this as a great opportunity and play a key role in the development of the sport and the players under the various CSR initiatives. A big brand could look at building academies for the sport, showcase and educate the new generation on the right way to train and get fit. If each of these brands could do their bit in every small way, over time, there is a greater brand story to tell for them as well,” he shared.
Another senior industry veteran highlights that he truly hopes that the moment leads to the creation of a grassroots level hockey talent cultivation by both the government and private entities to make the game more mainstream and supported.
The industry rounded off by highlighting that there are players like Manpreet Singh and Harmanpreet Singh (men's hockey) and Gurjit Kaur (women’s hockey) who have great potential to be trusted brand ambassadors, however, the brands right now should focus on supporting their journeys first.
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