Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Potential for Sports Marketing in India

Sports have always been very popular in India. With cricket being the most popular choice by far, the other sports have suffered due to the overwhelming popularity of their more glamorous cousin, making it a no-brainer for young children to have a preference for cricket while choosing a sport- after all, they have been exposed to the incessant media attention surrounding what is now almost the national sport of India. The parents too felt that it is more beneficial for their children to take up cricket as a career, if they have to choose a sport at all. However, there has been a marked shift in the mentality of parents, who now seem to encourage their children to take up the ‘unglamorous’ sports and it is largely down to some of the great work that has been done by the different sports marketing companies.

Having been associated with a sports and media management start-up, I have witnessed first-hand some of the fantastic work that these companies are doing to promote sports at a grass-roots level, creating branding and marketing opportunities for sports persons in sports like shooting, archery, wrestling and badminton, and I am optimistic about their future.

Sports management and marketing companies is a new thing in India that has become popular in the last 6-7 years. However, it started way back in 1985, when Professional Management Group (PMG), India’s first sports marketing agency was formed. It was started by former Indian cricketer Sunil Gavaskar and advertising professional Sumedh Shah, it aimed to tap into the growing popularity of cricket in the country following the excellent performances of the Indian cricket team in the 1983 World Cup and the World Series of Cricket in 1985. 

Sehwag signs for PMG

The biggest deal, however, that turned media attention towards the possibility of sports management and marketing in the country was the blockbuster deal that Sachin Tendulkar signed with Mark Mascarenhas’ WorldTel in 2001: it guaranteed Rs.100 crore (Rs. 20 crore per year for five years), making him the richest cricketer in the world. The bold move was an attempt to put WorldTel on the map in the cricket management business. What it did the most was it allowed the ‘Little Master’ to focus on what he does best, play cricket, while there were professionals looking after his off-field commitments.

Since then, various other sports management and marketing agencies have been formed, and most of them were by former sportsmen themselves. The primary reason was that they felt the need to spread the awareness about the sports and at the same time provide a platform for the sportsmen to earn more money, with efficient handling of their profiles by these media professionals. The few notable agencies that spring to mind are Mahesh Bhupathi’’s GloboSport and Anil Kumble’s TENVIC, which have primarily worked towards endorsements for sports stars, mostly from some of the sports which have been left behind by the cricket craze that has engulfed the nation for the last three decades- tennis stars Sania Mirza and Somdev Devvarman, squash champion Dipika Pallikal and badminton ace Saina Nehwal are being managed by GloboSport  while TENVIC is managing badminton legend Prakash Padukone, table tennis champion Achanta Sharath Kamal.

Weightlifting Training Camp organised by Municipal Girls High School in Berhampur 

The role that these various firms play range from offering structured coaching to children in various sports, to training and mentoring sportspeople, to helping brands leverage sports in their marketing, to creating awareness and drive for sports and sporting events. The whole spectrum is available for these companies to make their mark, but the most focus has been on brand management of the sporting personalities and the marketing of sporting events.

Sports marketing is a growing form of marketing and being just another part of a company’s marketing mix, it needs to be analyzed in regards of its long term return on investment. If done correctly, it has shown results which are measurable in terms of soft metrics as well as financial metrics. Niche sports have the ability to raise a brand’s profile by creating a connection between the sporting property’s values and the sponsoring brand. The agencies are able to intelligently use the rights they get from a team or a sport by creating unique customer experiences that allow fans to experience the brand and help the brand in connecting with the target audience in a manner which is not possible by superficial advertising.

Sania Mirza during a promotional event 

The marketing agencies are looking towards more exclusive sports like golf, kabaddi, wrestling and even kho-kho as alternatives to the more popular sports of cricket and football in order to present a value-for-money proposition to advertisers. Sports marketing, just like advertising campaigns, should be seen as a long-term activity, and this sentiment is prevalent in the industry, with many brands considering their association with sports as a strategic long term decision rather than a tactical short term one. In fact, according to a SportzConsult study, over 70 percent of respondents counted TV advertising spots as the main component of their engagement with sports, while almost 95 percent cited professional event sponsorships as the best option for brands looking at stepping up their reach among the target audience. 

With the increased spending in sports sponsorships, various international agencies have entered the market, IMG’s joint venture with Reliance Industries to develop and own sports, fashion and entertainment properties being the most notable. However, the most encouraging thing has been the steady trickle of Indian entrepreneurs who have identified sports marketing and management as an opportunity to invest their time and effort in this field, especially considering its nascent stage and tremendous growth opportunities. Drawing inspiration from the success of PerceptSport, which was founded in 1995, these ventures have the opportunity to create value not only for their customers, the sportspersons and the brands, but the country as a whole by generating interest and awareness about the sports.