Debashish Chakraborty
Brands and Sports marketing

Fans and brands look forward to scoring big as Premier League returns…

A marketer and fan clubs share their experiences of association with the league and how are they keeping their hopes high in the new normal.

Football has the second-largest following in India, next to cricket. While the latter is a massy sport, the richness of football lies in its niched audience – the teen screamers, the young fanatics and the matured antiquarians.

The league has over the years built a remarkably strong brand value fuelled by wide and diverse broadcast, and its fan clubs and supporting clubs across the country in every state and city, even extending to Tier-2 cities. As per recent BARC data, the total reach of the Premier League in India has surpassed 6.2 M crore fans (an increase of 50% y-o-y). Over the years advertisers have shown a growing interest in the league and its audience. But, that’s not the sole reason, the typical Premier League fan is a young ambitious urban dweller—three out of four viewers fall in the NCCS A1 category—and they are extremely passionate, tech-savvy and follow the latest trends. This TG fits perfectly for a substantial chunk of marketers, especially the ones looking forward to target millennials, Gen Z and even beyond.

According to public social listening, the league has a high male millennial audience (85%) whose prime interests are online/video gaming, music, food & drinks and travel. The social media chatter was inclined towards beer brands, fantasy sports and online shopping with reference to the league. This not just gives an understanding of a ‘Premier League fan’ but also marks the league as an ideal platform for the brands in the above domains to leverage the league to reach out to their TG.

We spoke to Mayur Bhosale, head of marketing and Events at Chelsea FC India Supporters Club, Asia’s biggest and India’s first Chelsea F.C official fan club. On the pivotal role of broadcast, he shares an interesting anecdote, “I remember the early days i.e pre-DTH when sports broadcast was limited to one channel and was broadcasted as per the cable operator’s preference. And watching a specific match was a daunting challenge; the operator had to be lured in and various jugaads had to be put into place to just watch a single match. Considering today, when almost every major league can be watched live on the big screen, broadcasting has played a considerable role in taking world football to the households and hearts of the Indian audience.”

Set up in 2006, the Chelsea FC India Supporters Club today has over 40 chapters in various cities across India and boasts of a combined 1.5 lakhs active members. Mayur, a devoted fan of the team since 2002 says his club’s mood is already hefted with the return of the league.

On the other side of the field, historic Chelsea rivals Manchester United have a massive fan base of their own. Manchester United is the most popular club, with 21% of Indians nominating it as their favourite club, as per Brand Finance. The club has over 14 official fans clubs in India (as per MANU official website) with a combined fan base of over 1.5 lakhs. Dhruv Dua, president, MUFC-D (Delhi), who started the group with a friend seven years ago. The group, officially recognized by the club in 2015, now hosts regular screenings for all big fixtures that involve Manchester United. In a livemint story, Dhruv, a lighting designer by profession, shared “Attendance-wise we are huge. We don’t put up any advertisements. We just create an event on our Facebook page and people show up. That’s how much people love United here in Delhi."

Throwing light on the growth Premier League in India and brand associations, Alexander Lambrecht, VP Marketing – South Asia at AB InBev, shares, “Data indicates that the second biggest fan base for the coveted club - Manchester United, is here in India. Platforms and brands affiliated with the league have also worked to bring the whole stadium-esque experience alive for consumers. Conversations by many renowned celebrities—most of whom have been onboarded by Premier League clubs as official ambassadors—around their favorite team or player, has only added to the excitement.”

Another contributing factor is the long duration of the league with games every weekend when compared to only a few months of other events. As per a recent GlobalWebIndex report on Premier League, 57% of fans showcased brand loyalty and 30% of the audience (PL fans) on an average strongly identified with the perception of being ‘ambitious and adventurous’ and ‘tend to buy brands I see advertised’. The data revealed that PL viewers are active advocates of users and advocates of sports, electronics and luxury brands. The report also suggests that the average fan is an affluent 29 years old; a bracket that is lucrative for advertisers across multiple sectors.

But, what about brands; with no onground activation or fan engagement, how are associations being carried out successfully? Alexander said, “We are working towards providing for more in-home experiences, giving our consumers similar avenues to engage with the game and celebrate their favorite teams and players. Be it working with official fan clubs across key markets for exciting contests, enriching the match-viewing experience with exclusive player/game content and various other collaborations, we are committed to bringing alive the passion for football as much as possible, even at a distance.”

Recently, Budweiser celebrated the historic victory of Liverpool FC, as they were crowned the 2020 champions, after 30 years with their fans, virtually. A watch party in association with ace comedians and fans of the Reds: Anirban Das Gupta, Kumar Varun and Rahul Subramanian was curated. A few lucky fans got a chance to get their hands on a replica of the Premier League trophy, IRL.

Fans and brands look forward to scoring big as Premier League returns…
Fans and brands look forward to scoring big as Premier League returns…

Amidst multiple international and homegrown leagues, from a brand’s perspective, what does an event like PL hold which others fail to attract? Alexander reveals, “As a brand, Premier League gives us an opportunity to engage with and explore opportunities that fuel unity and bring people together – this is at the very core of our brand philosophy. Given our commitment to football, we saw an opportunity with Premier League to further connect with fans and engage with them not just once in four years (AB InBev is also a FIFA Partner) but year-round through immersive experiences around the sport through partnerships, digital content and innovations.”