Is ISL too slow to score with brands?

With less than three weeks to kickoff, the Indian Super League is still struggling to get enough sponsors on board

e4m by Collin Furtado
Published: Sep 24, 2014 8:00 AM  | 7 min read
Is ISL too slow to score with brands?

The Hero Indian Super League (ISL) is ready to kick off on October 12, 2014, hoping to make the most of the rising interest in the sport. According to a study by TAM Sports in 2012, the viewership for football is 155 million and is second to cricket, which was 176 million. In fact, football viewership has increased significantly since 2010, when it was only 83 million. The first edition of the League initiated by IMG, Reliance and Star India, which has eight franchise teams, is definitely looking to ride that popularity. But are brands crowding the goal post yet?

Expectations from ISL

Hero MotoCorp, which is the title sponsor of ISL, has signed a three-year deal with the league’s promoters. Pawan Munjal, Managing Director & CEO, Hero MotoCorp said in a statement: “Football is not just the world’s most popular game; it is a phenomenon sweeping across continents. Like every other part of the world, India is also in the grip of this magic called football as millions of youngsters across the country are taking to the game with enthusiasm. The Indian Super League, therefore, is a timely initiative, and we are very pleased to be partners in this journey for the common goal of promoting football in the country. As the Title Sponsor of the League, we are happy being catalysts in bringing in much-needed professionalism and promoting the game at the grass roots level to help identify and promote local talent”.

Though the two-wheeler company did not disclose the financial details of the sponsorship deal, a recent media report by Mint quoted an unnamed source close to the development saying the three-year deal was worth Rs 60-65 crore. The associate sponsorship price for the league is also expected to be between Rs 8-10 crore. However, there are just a handful of brands that have been confirmed as associate sponsors.

One of the confirmed associate sponsors for the ISL is PUMA India. The German sportswear company has been associated with international football tournaments the world over and has also tied up with top English Premier League club Arsenal, which has a huge fan following in India too. Issac John, Marketing Head, PUMA India said that they were convinced ISL was a good property to invest in. “It helps build credibility for the brand with the relevant section of the audience. In line with PUMA’s vision to be the fastest sports brand in the world, an association with the Indian Super League only furthers the vision. Football is one of the most viewed sports in the country. The numbers from the broadcasting industry show that the interest has only been peaking year on year across all foreign leagues,” he said.

Another brand that has been associated with the ISL as a franchise team owner is Videocon. The brand currently is a co-owner of the FC Goa franchise along with Dattaraj Salgaocar and Shrinivas Dempo, who also own their football teams (Salgaocar FC and Dempo) in the I-League. Speaking about why it decided to be a part of the ISL, Anirudh Dhoot, Director, Videocon Group said, “My partners Dattaraj Salgaocar, Shrinivas Dempo and I shared a common dream to make a valuable contribution to Indian football and elevate the standards of the sport. That’s how FC Goa came about... We believe the ISL will be a landmark of an emerging new India and make us proud across the world.”

With regards to the brand’s partnership in the new club Shrinivas Dempo, Chairman and Managing Director, Dempo Group of Companies and co-owner of FC Goa said, “The Salgaocars and the Dempos have run football clubs in India for many years. We’ve been driven solely by passion. If you look at all the clubs in Europe, they are successful commercially due to their marketing and branding strategy. We have partnered with Videocon, who will help us achieve commercial success as well.” He further added, “We’ve tried to sustain football for a long time. Earlier budgets were not particularly high. We had to sit together and think seriously about the sport. How do we classify football? See if it is a part of CSR? Is it serious football? Will we ever be able to get returns on the investments one has made? And we realised that beyond a limit, football is a serious business and we had to make it one. ISL has come about at the right time.”

Not hot enough for brands?

According to Ravi Kumar, Founder,, an e-commerce site, which offers discounts and deals on sports goods for online shoppers, the ISL is a great investment for brands. “Indian Super League is a good opportunity for brands to create awareness about their product. With so many viewers for Football World Cup 2014 from India, everybody is expecting ISL to grab common man's attention. Also, the cost of association in any cricket tournament is too much for many brands. For those who are looking for a cheaper and uncluttered way for association, ISL is the best opportunity,” he added.

Though this may be so, the brands that have been associated with the ISL are currently too few. Star India, the official broadcaster for the ISL, recently announced that it will telecast ISL across eight channels (Star Sports 2, Star Sports 3, Star Sports HD 2, Star Gold, Star Utsav, Asianet Movies, Jalsha Movie and Suvarna Plus) and will be broadcast in five languages English, Hindi, Malayalam, Bengali and Kannada. The channel has been on the lookout for sponsors and according to some media planners the response from the brands has been cold. There have likewise been some media reports the sports property has been struggling to get sponsors. Despite repeatedly approaching the Star Sports, we did not receive a comment from them.

Earlier this week, Nimbus Sports announced that it was instrumental in closing a deal between Aircel and Atletico De Kolkata. Under the current sponsorship arrangements, the Aircel logo will be used on the front of team jersey and training kits. Speaking about the association with the team, Anupam Vasudev, CMO, Aircel said, “We drive business and build brand affinity by engaging with the youth in innovative ways, be it offering variety of products and services or associating with sports like cricket, tennis or football. Football is clearly kicking up a lot of buzz among young people. We are pleased to associate ourselves with Atlético De Kolkata, which is the biggest team of ISL with a large dedicated region spanning entire Eastern & Central India and Bangladesh.”

But with the event just round the corner, and only a couple of sponsors on board, there are some justified questions raised over the lack of interest in the sport and the event.

Speaking on this Ajit Gurnani, Head West India, MEC said that he sees some apprehensions about ISL. “They are not getting the top-of-the -line talent from the world. Indian audiences are used to watching the English Premier League, Spanish Premiere League or Bundas Liga with really top class footballers and clubs participating. But in ISL you are not getting that kind of talent, with some players who have passed their prime. So that is one apprehension. Second, in general, football is not such a television friendly sport for advertisers. What will be critical is the surround (promotion) that ISL is able to create. It is not only television, if it were going to be online, what they would they do on social media and on the ground? Brands will look at an integrated 360-degree (approach) rather than something that is about to happen on television. That I am not getting a sense of at the moment,” he said.

Deepak Netram, VP, Lodestar Universal said, “Brands have to see how ISL pans out before taking the decision on whether to sponsor. Some brands have already latched on, based on how successful they think the event will be.” He further added, “Football in India has been growing from a small base but the growth in football has been substantial."

What could draw advertisers are innovative properties. Star Sports for instance, created advertising space below the scoreboard during the EPL matches and even had ads run at the bottom of the screen when a player got injured. More of such clutter-breaking ideas could probably take care of some of the founded apprehensions about the property.

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