"India is & #BANNER1 & # not a sports-driven nation, but we show a deep mass following towards cricket," said Santosh Desai, managing director and CEO, Future Brands, while addressing the audience at brandscore, a sports marketing forum initiated jointly by ESPN STAR Sports and MindShare.
Desai addressed the Indian consumer and his association with sports, stressing on the fact that in India, the effect of media has caused a significant rise in sport spectatorship. There is also a strong desire among the Indian masses to belong to a cause, and sports gives them that cause.
He then went deep into the semiotics of sports in India, saying that sports in general are a "pursuit of uselessness". As sports don't really serve a productive purpose and because they don't, by their very existence, help humankind in any way, they become a means of entertainment. "If a sport were to be useful, it would cease to be fun," came the paradoxical remark from the veteran.
"Sports are the ultimate example of reality television," commented Desai. He went on to explain that a sport brings out an intensity of emotion within the viewer that isn't seen elsewhere. It almost drives the viewer to a level where the result of the sport equates with their state of mind. An India-Pakistan match is a case in point. "Amongst sports, cricket is the only sport where grown people weep, rant, rave and even break television sets," chuckled Desai. The involvement of the viewer, who has no part in the sport, is extreme. It goes on to levels where the audience lives the sport and starts to think that they own the sport and its players. As Desai put it, "Human abilities transcend."
Trying to understand why India identifies so much with cricket, Desai jokingly drew a parallel between cricket and the Indian caste system. The variant activities of batting, bowling and fielding in the sport could be compared to the Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Shudras, he said. This view holds the roots of cricket to being vaguely similar to our history, thereby creating an instant bond in the Indian mind. "The sport creates heroes, which the nation is starved of," pointed out Desai. Cricket with its action and drama makes for intense moments, which are remembered over time. The popularity of cricket in India, said Desai, saw new heights with the onset of one-day international cricket, television and consumerism.
These factors brought about a change in the mindset of the consumer. Over time, the emotional connect has become so strong that viewers feel they own the sport, and that the sportsmen are answerable to them. "Show titles such as 'Match ke Mujrim' are an example of that; we almost feel like we are paying these cricketers from our own pockets, such is the craze," Desai observed.
Next, Desai highlighted the fact that Indian sports and sportsmen have given the nation a sense of confidence. "It allows an average Indian to prove what stuff India is made of… a show off (point), almost," he said. Sportspersons represent our feelings and emotions - the picture that we wish to portray to the world, so to speak.
Desai neared the end of his analysis saying that the popularity which sports has gained in the country has even brought about a change in the traditional way of thinking. A new relationship between children and sports is emerging. "Earlier, children were scorned when they took sports seriously, now they are encouraged," he said. And both parents and brands are giving importance to this new relationship in today's day and age.
Lastly, Desai said that movies such as ' Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander' (based on cycling), 'Lagaan' (cricket) and the recent 'Chak De India' (hockey), which have sports-oriented story lines, are a reflection of the fact that sports are not only influencing consumers, but also industries such as Bollywood and entertainment.