without saying that in India, sports marketing is a hugely unexploited area. The Indian marketer still equates sports marketing with cricket, something that has been a subject of debate for a long time. At brandscore, an event on sports marketing organised by ESPN Star Sports and MindShare, industry experts debated over the Indian marketer's obsession with cricket, and whether any other sport was a feasible option in such a cricket-crazy nation.
To begin with, globally, $38 billion is spent on sports marketing every year; in India, this figure is $300 million. That still amounts to 9-10 per cent of the total ad expenditure pie (counting television spots on sports events, the use of sports celebrities by brands, and live on-ground activation during matches). According to Vikram Sakhuja, COO, GroupM Asia, India's sports marketing ad spends figure is far from dismal. "Sports gives brands an authentic platform to connect with their target group," he said. He cited the examples of LG, Coca-Cola and Pepsi, which have all used cricket rather well from time to time.
Some other speakers were of the opinion that not enough has been done to understand sports marketing in India. "Not nearly enough," said an emphatic Rahul Welde, GM, media, Hindustan Unilever. "It is only recently that advertisers have started looking beyond cricket. Associating with other sports usually happens as a corporate/social responsibility step to show to the world."
Sandeep Tiwari, head, marketing, LG Electronics India, agreed with that and said, "We're nowhere close to exploiting this medium; we are, at best, exploring it." However, Tiwari confessed that as a medium, cricket has delivered well over the years for advertisers because it transcends language barriers while delivering entertainment to viewers in their homes. "As Indians, we prefer to watch than play, therefore, television has delivered for us," added Tiwari.
Also present was Anirban Das Blah, vice-president, Globosport, who condemned the marketer's fixation on cricket, saying that investment in sports is not just about eyeballs; it's about developing new platforms to connect with the Indian consumer. "For instance, an average Mumbaikar may not remember who sponsored the last cricket series, but he will definitely recall that Standard Chartered was behind the last Mumbai Marathon," he said.
This met with a lot of turning up of noses, taking the debate on a different spin. Welde jumped in, "It's all a challenge of scale for the marketer. The Standard Chartered Marathon idea works well, but it may not work so nicely everywhere, just in the way the Premier Hockey League is much of a fuzzy area." Welde emphasised that the ICC World Cup and the Olympics offer scale, and in India particularly, the scale and reach of cricket overrides everything else.
"Ultimately, a marketer needs to see his long-term strategy/association with a sport, and not just a short-term goal," agreed Sakhuja, while Tiwari of LG got a bit emotional: "We owe what we are to this game," he said.
Although outnumbered, Blah wasn't deterred; he attacked the very definition of 'scale'. "For Unilever and LG," he said, "scale is paramount. But the problem arises when brands follow the scale strategy without deep pockets to support it." He posed a question before the audience, asking it whether a forgettable sponsorship worth crores of rupees is better than marathons or other innovative properties/platforms across several cities at a much lower budget. Tiwari had to reverse his stance at that, when he said that cricket as a medium is becoming so expensive that it is impossible for any one brand to dominate it, which was the case in the 1980s as well. "If you want RoI, look towards cricket, but if you want domination, turn to another sport," Tiwari summed up.
Welde, too, admitted that marketers are quite lazy about trying out properties apart from cricket. "We should probably learn from Rexona's work on Manchester United," he said; the brand hadn't directly associated itself with football, but leveraged on the spirit of the game. In India, he pondered, Sunsilk could have associated itself with 'Chak De India' as the film is essentially about a 'gang of girls' with hockey as the backdrop. "Don't ask me why we didn't do it," he joked.
Blah insisted on sports other than cricket - particularly football - doing well with the masses (and not just Kerala and West Bengal, as is assumed by marketers), adding that perhaps properties around the game, be it consumer engagement programmes or ground activation, should also be leveraged.
Tiwari concluded the session by saying that a marketer should clearly decide which side of the fence he wishes to be on - using the sports star or a more significant use of the game itself.