Anirban Roy Choudhury

"It's not about the ad rates; it's about share of voice": Star Sports' Nitin Kukreja on Pro Kabaddi League sponsors

A look at the brand associations and marketing campaign around the Kabaddi tournament.

The fourth season of Star Sports Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) which is currently underway, has taken off with a baggage of expectations and challenges. As per television ratings and media headlines, the revenue Star is raking in from the innovated Indian non-cricket League has seen an upsurge and this has raised many eyebrows.

The first season of the Pro Kabaddi League saw no brands associated with it. But, for its second season the broadcaster managed to rope in as many as eight associate sponsors and two partners.

"It's not about the ad rates; it's about share of voice": Star Sports' Nitin Kukreja on Pro Kabaddi League sponsors
"It's not about the ad rates; it's about share of voice": Star Sports' Nitin Kukreja on Pro Kabaddi League sponsors
According to media planning experts, Star Sports generated revenue worth more than Rs 50 crore from Season 2. The success was driven by high viewership and commendable cumulative reach.

For Season 3, broadcasters continued with prolific packaging and innovations. Brands recognised it too, with the number of sponsors swelling up, and the revenue, too, rose to around Rs 60 crore (as per experts).

In Season 4, the number of brands associated with the League is 11. Airtel, State Bank of India, Gionee Mobile, Bajaj Electrical, and Vini Cosmetics joined in as associate sponsors, while Fair & Lovely Men, Nestle Munch, Castrol, Britannia, Bisleri, and Indo Nissin are associated as partners.

"It's not about the ad rates; it's about share of voice": Star Sports' Nitin Kukreja on Pro Kabaddi League sponsors
"I think there is a realisation that more and more sports are growing in this country. Whether it's kabaddi, which is now at a completely different level, ISL (Indian Super League), or badminton, we are witnessing increasing sponsor interest in sports as a category," says Nitin Kukreja, CEO, Star Sports.

He feels that the potential that sports has is finding recognition in India, and the entire ecosystem is valuing it. According to Kukreja, it is not the ad rates, but the association with a particular sport that is the key factor for any sponsor. "Whether it's cricket, or any other sport, what is essential is to build association for sponsors with a sporting event. Think how Barclays is associated, or rather recalled as a sponsor of the English Premier League. The advantage with PKL or ISL is that we provide the association both on and off ground, and across screens as well. That's the value we provide to sponsors in terms of sheer associations. It's not about the ad rates, but it's about how one can get a disproportionate share of voice by associating with a sports event," he adds.

On being asked that given the kind of association that Star provides to brands, is the property undersold, Kukreja dodges the question with a diplomatic answer. He says, "Sponsors are happy, sponsors are increasingly waking up to the proportion that sports delivers, and hence, I won't like to comment if sports is undersold or over sold in India. What is important from a media perspective, from consumer perspective, and from the advertiser's perspective is that there is a realisation that this country is ready to accept more sports."

Now that the League will take place twice a year, the revenue per season may not match that of previous annual seasons, feels a senior media planner. He says on the condition of anonymity, "There will be a number of packaged deals now, and hence, the revenue per season may be close to Rs 40 crore according to me."

He further adds, "The associate sponsor inventory will be around Rs 1.5 - 2 crore, while the partner slot will be pegged at approximately a crore or a little less. Anything over Rs 40 crore will be a great success for Star as it will mean revenue worth Rs 80 crore per year. And, I see Star matching such a number."

Talking about the 10-second ad slots, another senior media planner says, "For a 10-second slot, Star will charge around Rs 60,000 to 65,000, while if a brand buys the entire Tournament package, it will have to pay around Rs 35,000 to 40,000 for the same slot. The rates are good and after cricket, is the highest for any sport by a good margin."

Star has not left any stone unturned when it comes to packaging, whether it is Hariharan's rendition of the National Anthem, or signing actors Rana Daggubati, Puneeth Rajkumar, and Daljit Dosanjh to push the League in regional markets.

"Star's marketing campaign made it clear that they think kabaddi has the potential to convert GEC audiences in HSM markets. Its Asli Panga campaign, which straightaway took on the Colors' hit GEC show Naagin, as well as dubbed movies, the two most popular shows on television after cricket today, proves its intent. This clarifies PKL's positioning as a mass event," states a senior brand analyst.

Star Sports has rolled out two commercial videos so far under the #Asli panga campaign. The campaign urges viewers to watch real affairs and avoid fake fictions, with its tagline "Don't watch fake Asli Panga Dekh". One of the two videos mocks the hit show Naagin.

The other video takes on South Indian movies dubbed in Hindi. As per sources in Star India, the campaign has been conceptualised by an internal marketing team and is executed by an external production house.

It now remains to be seen how the fourth season of this non-cricket sport fares.

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