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Guest Column: Rethink your strategy for sports marketing in 2016: Vinit Karnik

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Guest Column: Rethink your strategy for sports marketing in 2016: Vinit Karnik

The popularity of the second season of Indian Super League wasn’t just about flocking to the stadiums and watching top class players kick the ball. The very slogan itself was suggestive of bringing the sport home: “Lets football”! That is what sound product packaging can do to a sport and this is exactly the kind of connect that India needs, to up the ante of the sports marketing scenario in the year ahead. With Indian Premier League as the catalyst, the last few years has seen many leagues mushrooming in India, such as the ISL, PKL, IPTL and more recently PWL. While the success of the new leagues can be debated, needless to say, cricket is no longer the ONLY one on the block and it’s about time the other sports get their due!

Shining stars:

The necessity of glamourizing a sport is evident. While Indians have tasted success at the world stage on various occasions, it’s only in recent years with the arrival of Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu and Sania Mirza that Badminton & Tennis has achieved a glam status. Similarly, if the otherwise sidelined sports like squash, hockey and golf devote adequate amount of time to market themselves and their players, one would want to believe that it could revamp them all together. Further, with sports celebrities’ closer home emulating the business ways of their counterparts in western countries, players launching their own line of products has become a reality. Case in point, India’s current Test captain Virat Kohli launching his own brand - ‘WROGN’ has been well received by his fans. This is probably one of the reasons why cricket could stand the test of time in India; the cricketers here are not only players, they are celebrities. Brands hence could look at focusing on ‘catching them young & watching them grow’ and make the right investment.

Instant delights of in-stadia:

The best idea now is to offer sport fans an experience that they can take back home. The time is ripe for the right holders to start thinking about the in-stadia experience beyond the basics and allow the viewers to participate in the process and not feel like passive entities. The key is to understand that the sport fans no longer are restricted to considering themselves just as spectators; they want to be engaged in the process and make themselves count. And this in the current day and age has become all the more critical because a fan needs to have a strong enough reason beyond the sport, to flock to the stadium, which he/she can otherwise enjoy in the comfort of one’s couch. So, as long as the sport marketers are conscious about the execution, nothing can deter any sport from coming to the fore front.

A very effective way of executing this could be relying on experiential marketing techniques that automatically help in garnering a much closer connection with the viewers and consumers. Activations like ‘Tui Catch-a-Million’ executed in association with New Zealand Cricket board goes a long way in enhancing consumer’s in-stadia experience and helps build a connect with the fan. Similarly, South Africa’s National Cricket team visiting one of their biggest fan, with the help of Proteas Supporters Club, helps build an emotional connect with local and overseas audiences and earn loyal fans in the long run.

New media frenzy:

Apart from advertising the sport in broadcast and print media, marketers should make it a point to concentrate on promoting them also heavily on new media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other web and social media portals. With the advent of social media, sports media rights sale has developed new wings.

While the sports authorities started monetizing digital video & online streaming rights of their marquee properties only a couple of years ago; the industry has gone through a metamorphosis of sorts with ICC issuing tenders for Digital Clips licensee for ICC events 2016 to 2019. Add to this the Twitter’s recently launched ‘Amplify’ in India; the potential of digital media in sports is undoubtedly fathomless.

The onslaught of digital media interface has practically changed the way one could look at marketing. The mobile and tablet has become the new screen which you stare at perhaps every minute if not hour! There’s no denying the fact that smartphone users are huge and everywhere. So fan generated content, target tickets and merchandise sales offer updates rooted to the phones in a more strategic manner would make immense difference.

The gold is in the old:

Viral marketing! The Paytm-BCCI deal is testimony to how a news piece significantly released at the right time can create the right buzz. This was followed up by a very aggressive PR and Digital strategy by the brand which helped make the brand a household name overnight. By using effective marketing and tie-ins, brands can create virality without the conventional techniques. The ‘Paytm se Stadium’ campaign is one such unique initiative that offered consumers product delivery in the stadium by an Indian cricket player.

Sports merchandising:

May be jerseys are not always enough. Especially in a country like ours where the fans, at large, are used to buying counterfeit merchandise at an appallingly low price compared to an original Nike or Adidas jersey. One can only imagine the plight of a Nike personnel heading to the stadium for an India match and seeing counterfeit Team India jerseys being sold like hot cakes outside the stadium! 

The trick is to think beyond apparel – player figurines, team related collectibles, fashionable accessories – merchandise which any sports fan would always love to flaunt. Merchandise pertaining to their favourite club or sports person in their daily life, create the brand, like a Chelsea or a Manchester United would do by going beyond the sport & connecting with a potential fan at various stages of their lives residing across the globe; branding is the first step to sports merchandising and licensing. Arriving at catchy slogans, names and logos for the teams, leagues or players are vital for that. Also, while zeroing in on what merchandise to sell, don’t forget the female fans, because, the male youth, though quintessential, is not enough to have in mind as the only target group.

Sports tourism:

Sports tourism as a concept, though not alien to India, hasn’t received its due share of attention here yet. In countries like South Africa, Germany and UK it has contributed to a major share of the revenues and it’s about time that brands in India start rolling up their sleeves as well. Sports tourism has immense potential to promote a sport and is growing fast even in India. So the need of the hour is to market India as a sports tourism destination.

With India hosting the U-17 FIFA World Cup in 2017, the wheels have started rolling already and with other major sporting events being hosted in the country in future, the industry is set to grow manifold. The idea is to convey the message that sport enthusiasts can enjoy the thrill of watching their favourite sport live along with spending some quality time with their family and friends in exploring the place.

The passion and frenzy around sports always runs high and the emotional connect and bond it helps to forge remains strong. Indian sport enthusiasts are waiting with open arms to accept anything new and innovative that could add to their basket of experiences. So define a new high for sport marketing, change your own landscape and enjoy the attention!


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