Sports Marketing Summit 2008: Sportsmen should see themselves as brands

By Justin Thomas and Neha Kalra , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Marketing | September 08, 2008
At the end of it, it's about the games - the game of sports and the game of brands. Which one is bigger? Which one overshadows the other? And who is the winner - the sportsmen or the brand?

The Sports & #BANNER1 & # Marketing Summit 2008, an event organised by afaqs! and SportzPR in the capital on September 5, without any doubt, had the entire hall at The Oberoi, New Delhi buzzing with various subjects and questions around sports marketing. The last session saw a panel discussion about sportspeople as brands.

Moderated by Samir Kale, president, SportzPR, the panel for the last session consisted of Latika Khaneja, director, Collage Sports Management; Rohit Ohri, managing partner, JWT and G Rajaraman, sports writer and commentator.

Talking about sports stars being brands, Latika Khaneja began with an industry fact that all sportspersons didn't lend themselves well to endorsements. Through her presentation, she sought to look at national as well as international examples of sportsmen turned brands.

Latika Khaneja

Rohit Ohri

G Rajaraman

Samir Kale
"Sportspeople around the world reiterate the message and build a separate character for the brand. Generating a high level of interest and recall value for its customers, they are to increase the chances of customers wanting to purchase the particular product. The impact of sports endorsements is seen as a patron for good stock income," she says, introducing the subject of the effect of sports endorsements.

Endorsement is a channel of brand communication, and sportspersons acts as the brand's spokesperson, certify the brand's claim and position by extending their personality, popularity and stature in society or expertise in the field to the brand. The idea of utilising sportspersons as brand endorsers has been that of providing differentiation to the brand. Khaneja threw light on Nike, one of the world's popular and valuable sportswear brands, which used Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods for exemplifying its brand. Some of the biggest sportsmen endorsement deals include Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Allen Iverson (basketball), David Beckham in soccer, George Foreman in boxing and Tiger Woods in golf.

With Abhinav Bindra becoming the hottest sensation in the country, after his win at the Olympics, the ace shooter is to supposedly gain a status like that of Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar and his brand value could be anywhere in the region of Rs 5 - 8 crore, says Khaneja, who is handling endorsements for Bindra.

She spoke about some brand lines being names after sports persons - Michael Jordan's shoe range from Nike, Air Jordan; a clothing line, Eleven in the name of tennis star, Venus Williams in 2007; an underwear range launched by Brett Lee; clothing line D7 launched by Reebok in the name of Dhoni; or Gatorade Tiger, an energy drink named after Tiger Woods.

Khaneja spoke about some do's and don'ts of the business of sports endorsements and also about the fact that a brand shouldn't permit a celebrity/sportsperson to become bigger than the brand, in a manner that it would overshadow the brand itself. She cited the examples of Sunil Gavaskar becoming bigger than Dinesh Suitings and Michael Jordan becoming so big for Nike that something as basic as the brand's logo was lost in the entire scheme of things.

Rohit Ohri brought out the truth of brand endorsements by sportspersons in India - they are not seen as brands, but as gods. The fact that Shah Rukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Dhoni, Sachin and many more have a long list of brands to endorse only proves his point, he says.

Ohri pointed out an interesting fact that the Asian continent is quite fond of celebrity advertising. Amongst the many countries that use celebrities in their communication, according to a report by Millward Brown, Japan ranks the highest with 23 per cent of their advertising consisting of celebrity advertising; China follows in the second place with 20 per cent; Thailand stands fifth (after Taiwan and England in the third and fourth place respectively) with 10 per cent and India stands sixth with nine per cent.

According to Ohri, India and China have similar demographics, and the change that is coming about is creating a mass section of 'strivers' in both countries. The strivers crave for vicarious living, are confident and suave, like to live unreal realities and are glamorous and flamboyant; which in all sense and understanding, is similar to that of a celebrity's life, which they wish to ultimately lead.

The strivers comprise more than 50 per cent of the population, who are young, ambitious and working individuals, and are knowledge and achievement driven. According to a consumer report, the percentage of strivers stood at 40 per cent in 1999 and has gone up by 12 per cent over the years, to reach 52 per cent in 2005.

G Rajaraman brought out the fact that the media of India was responsible for the recognition and portrayal of sports stars - Abhinav Bindra is supposed to have played a large number of matches, but the Indian media wasn't present at all locations to provide him coverage. To get the media to tell his story, did he necessarily have to win at the Olympics; would he never have been recognized otherwise? He gained all media attention only after winning a Gold at the Olympics. Sportspersons become brands if one sees them more on television and hears them more on radio, he says.

He also pointed out that India doesn't recognise its sportspersons as brands "We all know Michael Jordan, but who knows about our Indian sportspeople?" he questions. It is the responsibility of brand managers to look into how a brand needs to be developed and taken forward in the context of endorsements. "It is ironical that Vijender Singh, as a boxer, who stands for toughness, should be endorsing something strong and tough, but is endorsing a life insurance brand!" he exclaims.

Khaneja and Raja agree that it is not only sports management companies or brands that do the entire talking for sportspersons; it also depends on how the celebrity/sports star projects himself, as he is the main custodian of his own image as a brand. While sportspersons need corporate support, they also need to realise their own potential as brands and that they are brands in themselves, says Raja, providing a boost to sportspersons.

Following a discussion, Khaneja said that the endorsement career of a sportsperson runs parallel to his existence in the game that he plays, and not to his performance. There is always a risk involved in using a sportsperson as an endorser. Ohri gives the example of the Blue Billion effort by Pepsi, which fell apart, following the Indian team's early exit from the last World Cup. He added that neither Pepsi, nor any other brands, have the onus of building any particular sport, as they look at quick returns.

So, at the end of it, with agencies shifting the responsibility to brands, and a lot being pointed out to the media, government bodies and state federations, and even celebrity and sports management companies having a role to play in the depiction of sportspeople, who is it who takes the first initiative to build sports and the players? No takers yet.

The event was sponsored by Kingfisher, Neo Sports, and Neo Cricket.

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