FICCI Frames 2010: Would IPL be 'all that', without the Bollywood quotient?

By Surina Sayal , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Media | March 17, 2010
Sportspersons and marketers discussed the glam quotient at the IPL, the intertwined nature of sports and Bollywood in India, and how sportspersons need to market themselves better

Day one at the FICCI Frames 2010, held at the Renaissance Hotel in Powai, Mumbai, saw some big names from the industry address the gathering of national and international delegates. Shah Rukh Khan and Yash Chopra made the opening remarks of the day, followed by advertising veteran, Sir Martin Sorrell.

Almost a dozen panel discussions were lined up for the day. One of these was on 'The Co-relation between Sports and Entertainment'.

The speakers for the panel discussion were: cricketer turned actor and model, Ajay Jadeja; rugby player and actor, Rahul Bose; Viren Rasquinha, former captain of the Indian hockey team turned MBA, who has joined hands with the founders of the Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ); and former chief executive of Multi Screen Media (earlier known as Sony Entertainment Television), Kunal Dasgupta, who has floated his own company, Crown Infotainment (that won the theatre rights to the IPL). The session was moderated by sports editor and anchor, Sonali Chander.

Chander began the discussion on the flavour of the season, the Indian Premier League (IPL). She pointed out that TV ratings of a match see a spike when Shah Rukh Khan is in the stands. Her first question to the panel was, "Does the Bollywood quotient add to IPL's glory, and would it have been all that minus the stars?"

Jadeja felt that Bollywood did add to the glamour. "It draws people in. For example, women tune in to watch Shah Rukh in the stands. The attempt has been to expand the market and viewership. So, people who would never watch cricket are now coming forward. After the initial thrill of actors and stars, it is solely the game that will hold." He stated that marketing is what has taken IPL to where it is.

On the question of whether sports and entertainment are intertwined, Bose explained that a sport becomes entertainment, when one is not emotionally invested. "When you are, it is pure sport, it is a duel, when you are rooting for a person or a team or a league. When you are not emotionally involved with the sport, you'll go get a glass of water, take a break; that's when it just means entertainment to you."

Chander pointed out how the channel, Sony, gave Indians the 'noodle straps' and Mandira Bedi during the 2003 ICC World Cup. She asked Dasgupta whether those moves added to the glamour of cricket back then. Dasgupta pointed out, laughing, that that was just an evolution, and it wasn't planned that way.

He added, "As Indians, our mentality is to get 'two for the price of one'. Marketers know this well; but now, broadcasters also think about how to give a viewer a two-in-one benefit. Taking this mindset, the glam of Bollywood was brought to the sport of cricket, thus giving viewers both."

Chander also asked the panel, "Why are stars the face of sports now? And is this a cause for irritation and annoyance amongst sportspersons?"

Bose made a pertinent point, saying that while a tournament like the IPL is being marketed all over the world, with ad rights in-stadia, YouTube, TV rights and much more at stake; the organisers are looking for people who can transcend Indian boundaries, and Bollywood stars are, in fact, bigger stars than some sportspersons outside the country.

He added that barring Sachin Tendulkar, stars such as Virender Sehwag, Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid are not such big icons anymore. So, games can't be marketed on their backs alone.

Bose stated that unlike the way Shilpa Shetty represents a team here; internationally, they wouldn't have an Angelina Jolie representing a Boston Celtics team, or any other sporting team, because there, sports stars are as big, and sometimes even bigger, than actors.

"We are still a very Hindi film-centric country. We have not grown up with sports as much as with cinema. It was all about cinema and Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor post independence. We are looking at a serious legacy here. Maybe 10 years down the line, sportspersons will have as much heft as actors, in terms of the advertising pie," he said.

Comparing actors and sports stars, Jadeja also shared his thoughts on how movies are make-believe and people accept that -- thus Aamir Khan, even in his 40s, can play a 22- year-old collegian. But in sports, that's not the case. "Sachin's age is all people talk about. People don't want anything, anyone old. It's all about the new, the young. Even ads are all about the new, fresh, young, like Pepsi's Youngistaan."

Chander also posed a question as to why in an ad like Seagram's, the entire cricket team had to run behind Saif Ali Khan; or in the Airtel digital ad, Zaheer Khan and Gautam Gambhir had roles like props? She also quoted the example of badminton player, Saina Nehwal's, whose overall performance has been better than tennis player Sania Mirza's; but still, Sania has had more luck with ad campaigns and the like. She questioned the panel on whether sportspersons needed to market themselves better.

Jadeja added that sportspersons don't have proper representation and aren't marketed well enough, as actors are. "It would definitely be an add-on to get a manager, who can create a brand image for you and market that well."

Rasquinha pointed out that actors have an inherent understanding of how to market themselves, but that is not the case with sportspersons and athletes. For sportspersons, their performance on field is primary; if they don't perform well, they wouldn't be stars or achieve any kind of stardom, any which way.

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