The league clocked a massive reach of over 130 million with increased brand activations; surpassed the previous season in terms of TVR, TSV, social buzz and brand integrations.
As live sports return to the stadium, due to the pandemic-induced haul, the wrinkle on the sporting events ecosystem seems to be fading away. India’s top football league, the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) is one such event. Home to over 130 million dedicated fans across geographies, the league has played a crucial role in shaping up the football scene in India. And with such massive participation of a loyal audience, the league has been commercially successful with a myriad of brands partnering with the event.
Last year, amidst the pandemic, Hero ISL was the first event to be held on Indian soil. This not just added a kick to its fan base of millions who have been yearning but also gave an opportunity for brands to grab these eyeballs. Hero ISL 7’s opening game clocked in a massive 0.96 TVR while the time spent per viewer (TSV) for the entire season shot to 28 mins (16% growth over season 6).
As far as the chatter on social media is concerned, in comparison to the sixth edition, the latest season had created quite a buzz. ISL social chatter has registered a 137% growth over Hero ISL 6. Google search index saw a growth of 87% over the last season.
With a year-on-year increase in viewership, the league today is the fifth biggest football league in the world in terms of audience attendance. It has been a harbinger in uplifting the sport to global standards, creating infrastructure, uplifting young talent – and today holds a significant position on a marketing plan.
Sandeep Juneja, VP, Sales and Marketing, DHL Express tells us, “With several efforts undertaken to promote football in India at the grassroot level, the sport has witnessed a steady growth in the country. With Hero ISL, we see greater professionalism and quality being introduced into the sport. This allows brands like us to not just be a part of the growth story of the sport, but also nurture young talent.”
Hero ISL is backed by brands like Hero MotoCorp, DHL Express, Apollo Tyres, Castrol, Himalaya Pure Hands, Nivia, Byju’s, Lenskart and Dream11. But what do these brands derive from such partnerships one could wonder?
On what is the brand objective behind such association, Jaya Jamrani, vice president – marketing, Castrol India answers, “Hero ISL has grown its viewership over the years and so has the fan following for each of the playing clubs. When we wanted to amplify the recently launched Castrol POWER1 ULTIMATE, a synthetic 4T engine oil for bikes and scooters, we were aiming to drive rapid brand awareness and create a high visibility impact amongst our core target audience. Castrol found it perfect to partner with Hero ISL to create a differentiation for Castrol POWER1 ULTIMATE as a performance brand. Hero ISL not only gave us the scale but also an opportunity to become synonymous with the end audience…”
She adds, “Football has been a much-loved sport in the country and has enjoyed its place amongst the top three sports that draw a large fan base. With the onset of the 2020 season, football has become the second-highest viewed sport after cricket in 2020. Thus, for Castrol, Hero ISL was a preferred choice for Castrol POWER1 ULTIMATE, as it fits well with the profile of our core target group making this partnership valuable.”
In addition to the massive reach, broadcasting and branding opportunities, to engage with the ‘at-home’ audience, the league has added more to its offerings. These include sponsor branding on stands, PPL shows from the ground, fan interaction. An interesting initiative spotted this season was the Physical fan wall near goal posts – a novel opportunity considering the current environment in mind. In recent times, customised activations have become a key ingredient for brands to make the most of their association.
DHL Express, the international logistics brand, has been partnering with the event for 6 years now consecutively. As part of the longstanding association, the brand has curated Hero ISL-specific campaigns like ‘DHL is the Way’ unveiling ‘Where there is a will, we are the way’, launched TVCs, co-brand delivery vans, run contests and more. The highlight of the partnership is their initiative of delivering the match ball, Hero ISL trophy and player jerseys. Responding to the ongoing coronavirus situation in the country, during season 7, the brand innovatively used a drone and an RC vehicle to deliver the match ball, and hence avoiding any physical contact.
Sandeep shares, “From adversity comes innovation and this season is proof of that. The drone Match Ball delivery was an extension of our business idea into a marketing innovation. To start off with, we developed a mini DHL van and delivered the Match Ball through this remote-controlled car, which was quite a TV spectacle. The Match Ball Delivery through the drone looks classy and has caught the attention of fans like no other campaign in the past - and is India’s first-ever commercial drone usage, ever.”
He adds, “With just the drone delivery of the Match Ball, we reached to 27 million users on social media. The video of the drone delivery has already garnered over 6 million views. That apart, the year-on-year growth in viewership of Hero ISL has helped us gain brand visibility, uplift, affinity and we have been able to tick all the other business matrices as well.”
Apollo Tyres continued with its campaign from last year - #GoTheDistance. The campaign highlights the stories of individuals who overcame hardships and gave back to society – giving a chance to young talented footballers and other sportsmen a chance to fulfill their dreams. Apart from recognizing these individuals, the brand also provides support to them to run their institutions. It also ran a social media campaign, enabling a home screening to the fans with their friends. The winners also got a chance to be featured on the studio fan wall for live interaction.
These brand stories are proof of what an association with a league like Hero ISL could turn out. Additionally, Hero ISL broadcasting is not just limited to metros, but a substantial viewership comes from tier 1, tier 2 and tier 3 cities. West Bengal has shown exponential growth with ATK Mohun Bagan FC and SC East Bengal both being local teams. There has been an acceptance for ATK and the historic rivalry of MB/EB has brought with it a plethora of enthusiastic fans. West Bengal continues to grow >50% with Kolkata growing at 85%. Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Odisha are emerging as promising markets for the league this season with massive growth across these states. This is indicative of growing acceptance of the league in non-football bastion markets which partner brands could leverage and reach out to.
All in all, the seventh season of Hero ISL delivered as promised to both its fans as well as partnered brands. While the massive viewership numbers are evidence of the league’s following, the increasing opportunities for activations have played a key role in building partnerships by delivering higher engagement and visibility via an organic approach. Since its inception in 2013, the league has been a prime contributor and supporter in evolving the ecosystem of football in India. From nurturing young talent to giving them a platform to increasing brand participation, Hero ISL has definitely come a long way and looks propitious in the years ahead.