"Sports & #BANNER1 & # is an integral component of the business of brands today; and I am not in the business of sports, but into the business of brands," Subhinder Singh Prem, managing director, Reebok India started his presentation with this comment at the 'Sports Marketing Summit' - an event organised by afaqs! and SportzPR - in the capital on September 5.
Prem talked about Reebok's strategy behind its association with sports. He touched upon subjects such as the origin of sports, what it meant, its nuances and finally the do's and don'ts of sports marketing.
Unlike a movie, the drama and thrill in sports is real. First because any sports is played out in real time. Second, unlike movies or fiction, the end result is unpredictable, which adds to the excitement. Besides, Prem said, it's impossible to watch a game or match without taking sides. A viewer or a consumer might shift loyalties, but at any given moment, he/she has to support either of the team
All this lead to a situation where sports persons are worshipped as real life heroes.
However, this relationship between the sportsperson and the consumer also goes off field. "Consumers want to understand and know more about their heroes; people are always keen to know what Dhoni does off the field," said Prem.
Sports as a visibility enhancer
On the business of sports, Prem said, "Sports is great platform for brands to communicate their point of view to consumers. It can be used as a visibility enhancer." According to him, the visibility that a 37 inch bat provides to Reebok means great business to for Reebok. He stated that currently, eight out of the 11 cricketers in the Indian team use bats with Reebok stickers.
For a sports brand, visibility is not just putting a logo on the player's chest; it is a business driver. "A way of defining success while associating with sports is how much sales one generate as a result of sponsorship," said Prem.
Worldwide, Reebok is the kitting and merchandising partner for 32 NFL teams and generates revenue of more than $200 million through this initiative. In India, Reebok sponsored four IPL teams - Rajasthan Royals, Kolkata Knight Riders, Chennai Super Kings and Royal Challengers Bangalore. The company sold 100,000 jerseys related to these four teams in 30 days.
Sports help brands to connect with consumers
Prem said, "Sports icons are not only popular, they are also revered in India. And a sports brand should know how to tactically use this iconic status of sports stars at various levels." Citing an example he said that Reebok used Dhoni to launch its stores at various locations in India.
Stating that sports can also act as a public-relations driver, Prem drove the point with amount of press coverage Reebok received when it got cricketers, Dhoni, Yuvraj and Harbhajan to open stores, launch products and interact with consumers. He said, "The media takes a lot of interest in sports stars. So, whenever they interview them or cover them on the field, you get extra exposure and visibility, which might result in business as well."
He pointed out that even Bollywood personalities are taking interest in the business of sports. Shahrukh Khan bought the IPL team, Kolkata Knight Riders, not as an actor but as an entrepreneur. Khan monetised the ownership and promoted merchandise related to his team at various retail stores in Kolkata.
Sports enhances fashion
The line between sports and fashion is now getting blurred. Prem questioned, "Is Dhoni a sports icon or a fashion icon?" Elaborating, he stated, "If Pakistan's ex-president, Pervez Musharaf appreciated Dhoni's hairstyle on a TV channel, it's sure that Dhoni is also a fashion icon."
A sports brand can also use sports stars to promote fashion just like Reebok used Yuvraj Singh and Bipasha Basu as brand ambassadors to promote its classic stores, which were launched at various locations.
Prem also elaborated upon Reebok's strategies for managing sponsorships and endorsements? "Sports marketing is like portfolio management," he stated. He compared portfolio management with an iceberg, in which the peak is represented by the superstars, such as Dhoni, Yuvraj and Dravid. The middle portion represents emerging stars, such as Yusaf Pathan and Robin Utthapa. And the lower portion is represented by players like Shikhar Dhawan and Ajanta Mendis.
He said, "We even go to the grassroots level and visit sports academies to identify new, young talent and figure out how we can use them to grow our business."
Prem pointed out that, for a sports brand, a brand ambassador becomes a brand user which is unlikely in other beverages or FMCG product. For instance, he said, "nobody knows which cola, Dhoni drinks. But when he plays on the ground and scores runs with the Reebok bat, the message goes out that this brand is used by real players."
Prem concluded the presentation by stating that sports help make the world a better place. He pointed out that Delhi and Mumbai marathons raised over Rs 50 crore for charity. "Dhoni is planning to start a business in the next four to five years, which will eventually help poor kids to get into sports," said Prem.
Sonali Chander, who is a sports editor with NDTV 24X7, anchored the session.
The event was sponsored by Kingfisher, Neo Sports, and Neo Cricket.