Prajjal Saha

Indian advertisers refuse to play ball

agencyfaqs! spoke to a couple of media planners and advertisers and most of them seemed to be unenthusiastic about the sport and the forthcoming events

Did you wince in pain when Japan gave a 7-0 drubbing to India in the pre-World Cup football match on Wednesday?

Probably not. In fact, India's soccer performance has been largely pathetic - save for a few recent wins against similarly weak teams in South East Asia.

Given such a record, can the Indian viewer be really excited in this game?

Notwithstanding ESPN STAR Sports' efforts to market Euro 2004, to be followed up by Ten Sports for COPA America - viewers (and naturally advertisers) are not very enthusiastic about the game. The scenario would probably have been very different if India was competing with Brazil or France in the world stage.

In fact, the huge following that cricket enjoys today is largely due to the emergence of the Indian team as 'world-beaters' - especially after the Prudential Cup of 1983 - and the presence of icons like Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly.

Coming back to football, when agencyfaqs! spoke to a couple of media planners and advertisers, most of them seemed to be unenthusiastic about the sport and the forthcoming events.

Sulina Menon, chief executive officer, north and east, Carat Media Services, says, "The football tournaments might be a mega property worldwide but in India, it fails to create enough enthusiasm."

Concurs Gopinath Menon, vice president, media, TBWA India. "Football will never be a hot media property as it's never promoted by channels. As a consequence, it never generates significant audiences....its TVR is below 0.5 per cent compared to cricket's average TVR of 12 per cent."

"...the only saving grace is that the major football events occur once in four years. So, even though the viewership of these football matches cannot be compared to the cricket matches, there is some amount of viewer interest," says Satyajit Sen, media president, MediaCom.

One method to gauge the advertising industry's response to a particular genre of programming is to check out the response of big advertisers like Hindustan Lever, a Coca-Cola or a Pepsi.

When agencyfaqs! spoke to Coca-Cola and Pepsi, none of these huge spenders seemed to be interested. When pressed further, a Coca-Cola India official answered diplomatically. "It's not that we are against football per se. But it's not possible to advertise during each and every event. So we decided to skip it this time," he said. The response is rather strange as Coca-Cola is one of the eight official sponsors for the global event.

So, if this is the advertisers' general response to football properties, why are channels trying to push the game? The reason could be linked to money matters.

International television channels pay huge monies to football tournament organisers for telecast rights. UEFA reportedly has negotiated a $582-million deal with the European Broadcasting Union for the European TV rights of Euro 2004.

ESPN STAR Sports, on the other hand, bagged the tournament's telecast rights for the Indian subcontinent, including India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan for only $4 million. So, compared to the European Broadcasting Union, ESPN has little at stake.

This probably explains why ESPN started selling space for Euro 2004 just a while back. For the record, while Samsung is the presenting sponsor for the event, Airtel and Hero Honda are the associate sponsors.

Media planners say, Ten Sports has adopted a different strategy in marketing the COPA America property. In the past, it had packaged the recently concluded Indo-Pak cricket series along with other events, while selling ad-space.

For instance, 70 per cent of the media spend was for the cricket series, while the balance was for other sports events. It is expected that Ten Sports would be doing the same while selling spots for COPA America.

Sports channels, meanwhile, are keeping their fingers crossed. Says Sharmista Rijhwani, managing director, Ten Sports, "We have been very closely monitoring the soccer viewing habits of the Indian viewer over the last two years. And, we have come to realise that soccer countries like Brazil and Argentina have a fanatical fan following across India." She further adds that the attractive style of play by these countries appeals to Indian tastes and it has been observed that viewership of a Brazil or an Argentina match is above average.

Would advertisers and TV channels get to finally score some goals? That's the million dollar question. © 2004 agencyfaqs!

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