Can cycling in India ever become a serious sport? ID Sports, a Mumbai-based sports management company, certainly thinks so. Within a couple of years of its launch, Godrej Eon Tour de India has become a major multi-crore event. The cyclothon has spread over three cities; has gone from Salman Khan to John Abraham as the face of the event; and, people pay to take part in the event.
What started off as a cyclothon in 2010 in Mumbai and Delhi, continued the following year with the addition of Nasik. By 2012, the cyclothon was christened as Tour de India and continued with the three city format, including Srinagar along with the two metros. This year, Jaipur is the third city. In fact, the event also picked up a lead sponsor in Godrej Eon.
The 2013 Godrej Eon Tour de India kick-started on December 15 in Mumbai, followed by Jaipur and concluded in Delhi on December 22.While in Mumbai and Jaipur, the bicycle race runs through the city, the Delhi leg of the event is held on the F1 racing track, Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida.
Around 11,500 people across all ages registered for the cyclothon in all the three cities, this year. While Mumbai and Delhi received over 5000 (100 international and 50 national professional) participants each, Jaipur recorded over 1000 cyclists.
The event is divided in four categories - Champion (5 km for children and senior citizens & 2.5 km for specially-abled), Green (18.98 km), Half (18.98 km) and Full (25 kms). Participation fees vary between Rs 300 and 2000, depending on the category.
As for the prize, the Full cyclothon winners receive Rs 1 lakh as cash prize, Half category winners receive gift vouchers worth Rs 90,000 in addition to trophy and medals, green category winners get certificates and champion category winners get gift vouchers worth Rs 45,000, with trophy and medal.
Dr Akil Khan, chairman, ID Sports and vice-chairman, ENSO Care, a healthcare diagnostics company, admits that it took him time to convince companies to invest in the property.
"Initially, when I had organised the cyclothon, the brand managers used to ask me, 'Is cycling a sport?' Initially it was difficult to get sponsors for Tour de India, at times even frustrating to convince brand heads," recalls Dr Khan. However, he believed that cycling could be promoted as a serious competitive sport in the country, as it was a major sport abroad. Yet, not many people in India know much about it, Dr Khan laments.
In early 2009, after witnessing few bicycle races abroad, the idea began to germinate in Dr Khan's mind to organise something similar in India. While marathons have become really big in the country, what was left out was swimming and cycling. "Now, I could not push people into the water and ask them to swim. So, I opted for cycling," Dr Khan smiles and says.
However, he was not in favour of using the name 'cyclothon' (although he patented the name). He was afraid that over a period of time, cyclothon would become generic for any cycling event and become what Xerox is to photocopy in India. Therefore, Tour de India is used as the umbrella brand under which various cyclothons could be organised.
Of course, the challenges were not to blindly copy the international event and convince people to look up to cycling as a competitive sport. Having celebrity association, therefore, helped immensely.
ID Sports organised its first cyclothon event with actor Salman Khan's Being Human as a partner. "When Salman Khan partnered with us three years ago, we got 6,000 people participating in the event over a span of a week. The next year, the actor became unaffordable. So, we didn't have any celebrities. However, the PR value came down by half and even the participation decreased by 30 per cent," Dr Khan reveals.
The third year, it got a mix of celebrities from across different fields to promote the event. But it still didn't match up to the response that Salman Khan had generated. Dr Khan also felt celebrities were using it as a platform to place themselves or their causes. So, although the event got media coverage, the focus on cycling was not caught.
So, the 2013 version of Tour de India signed up John Abraham to be its face; he will be associated with the event for the next three years. The decision was ad hoc.
Even the marketing of the event has undergone a metamorphosis, this year. Instead of selling the property on its own, ID Sports has partnered with Total Sports Asia, Singapore, to take up the event's sales.
Initially, it cost a single event Rs 3 crore but this year the cost exceeded Rs 15 crore. Also, the number of sponsors has increased from just 10 sponsors last year, to nearly 25 brand partners, this year. While some are direct sponsorships, the barter deals are in the form of category ownership. "We have packaged the event very well. I have treated it like a movie (in terms of packaging and promoting it to the sponsors)," Dr Khan states.
Godrej Eon, which is the title sponsor of Tour de India, said the association would be fruitful for the brand considering the cycling event shared the same philosophy as the brand's. Ramesh Chembath, associate vice-president, Godrej Eon, says, "As a brand philosophy, we have always promoted 'green'. We have made products that are energy efficient. For instance, we were the first to make the green AC and the first to shift to green gases for refrigerators. Green is part of our DNA and cycling by itself is a green activity." Considering most people have grown up cycling, the event merely urges people to switch to a new lifestyle.
From a brand's standpoint, Tour de India helps the brand to reach out to youngsters. To better connect with this audience, it is essential to create platforms, where the brand can connect, interact and create discussions around its TG, Chembath believes. Since cycling is also not a cluttered sport at this point in time, it gives a brand certain exclusivity to be associated with Tour de India.
Shashank Joshi, managing director, MoneyOnMobile, says, "We have been promoting paperless payment through our service, which makes us an environment friendly company. Since cycling is an event that is energy efficient and environment friendly, we partnered with the event." MoneyOnMobile is the payment partner and associate of Tour de India. The company has been partnering the cyclothon event since 2010.
According to Joshi, when a person registers for Tour de India, MoneyOnMobile creates an account called MoneyOnWallet for them. In terms of the advantage to the brand, Joshi says that the company's present aim is to reach out to more people and make them aware of its services.
Yadvinder S Guleria, vice-president, sales and marketing, Honda Motorcycle & Scooter India, has associated with the cyclothon for the first time. Stating its reason to sponsor Tour de India, Guleria says, "Globally, Honda is synonymous with challenging spirit and the positive power of dreams. We felt CBR 250R Repsol edition is the perfect partner to lead the participants to glory. Looking at this perfect brand fitment, Honda tied-up as exclusive 2-wheeler partner of Tour De India 2013." In fact, Honda will reward the overall winner of Tour De India 2013 with a special Repsol edition of CBR 250R.
At the end, Dr Khan says, "For India to be in the bicycle map, it is the sheer power of our population which will make the overturn faster."