Benita Chacko

For IPL 2024, brands are looking for meaningful partnerships over sponsorships: Wavemaker's Shantanu Ghosh

Brands are looking to make the most of this year’s packed sporting calendar. The agency’s head of sports is here to tell you how.

The sporting calendar for 2024 is seemingly packed. There's Women’s Premier League (WPL) starting from February 23, Indian Premier League (IPL) scheduled in April, the T20 World Cup in June, the Paris Olympics in July, and in September, the women's T20 World Cup. Moreover, there are local leagues like Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) and Indian Super League (ISL) to add to the frenzy. These sporting events offer brands ample opportunities. For brands it is the reach they offer, while for some others it is a storytelling opportunity.

In an interview with afaqs!, Shantanu Ghosh, Head - Sports, Wavemaker India, says brands are now looking for more meaningful partnerships rather than mere sponsorships. He also speaks about the upcoming WPL and IPL, and the growing trends with regards to brand sponsorships.

Edited Excerpts:

How is the WPL season expected to fare this year in terms of partnerships?

This year, there's been a surge in brand interest, particularly notable with the Women's Premier League. Last year marked the inaugural WPL season, with three IPL franchises owning teams, driving heightened interest. This increased interest isn't limited to women-centric brands; household brands like Sintex are also onboard as official partners. With the upcoming T20 World Cup in September, the WPL serves as a crucial platform for female cricketers to showcase their talents amidst a packed bilateral calendar. Overall, WPL shows promise both from a brand and sports perspective.

When it comes to women's cricket is female viewership significant? Are more women watching it?

It's not solely about female-centric brands investing in women's sports; rather, brands with a long-term focus on engaging with women are showing interest. For instance, brands targeting professional women may choose to align with women's sports to reflect their brand personality and values. The association goes beyond mere reach; it's about portraying the brand's identity through showcasing women excelling in their fields. This shift in approach is evident, especially among beauty brands, which now highlight women's achievements rather than just their presence in women's sports events.

In the first season (2023) very few women-centric brands associated with the WPL. Is that going to change?

My firm belief is that the engagement of women brands in the WPL is expected to increase over time, driven not just by reach but by the opportunity it offers to enhance brand personality. Last time, the time frame, from the time the franchisees bought the teams to the tournament, was very short. They didn't have enough time to approach brands. With more time available for engagement, there's anticipation for a greater presence of women brands in the future.

My firm belief is that the engagement of women brands in the WPL is expected to increase over time, driven not just by reach but by the opportunity it offers to enhance brand personality.

Beyond sponsorships brands are looking at long-term association partnerships. Could you speak about that? What is the difference between the two and how are brands doing that now?

You've likely noticed brands adopting roles like "Smile Partner" or "Goodness Partner" at sporting events. These roles represent emotional attributes that brands wish to associate with the event. While traditional sponsorship might only involve logo placement or ads, brands now seek deeper partnerships. This shift, focused on storytelling and supporting causes, has been evident in recent years. Brands are increasingly aligning with sporting events to champion causes and connect on a more profound level. Nomenclatures like "Smile Partner" or "Hydration partner" allow brands to emphasise the causes they support through sports.

Brands don't merely associate with teams or sports because it's an opportunity; they seek alignment in brand ethos. Without this synergy, partnerships become superficial sponsorships focused solely on logo visibility. Nowadays, brands prioritise meaningful connections over simply buying media assets.

So you spoke about this trend for partnerships this year. What are the growing trends in brand collaborations for IPL or WPL?

In IPL sponsorships, the focus is shifting from logo size to the overall association's grandness and alignment with brand personalities. Traditional media planning grids are no longer sufficient; brands seek innovative ways to engage audiences, including AI-driven marketing, augmented reality, and enhanced fan experiences. While some brands stick to conventional associations during their peak selling seasons, many are exploring new avenues within the IPL landscape. With increased clutter, brands strive to stand out by embracing innovative activations to declutter their presence.

Can you provide examples of unique initiatives that brands are exploring this year?

In the last activation with Garnier Men, we collaborated on a digital video ad featuring John Abraham and three MI players, which garnered significant virality, ranking fifth in virality. We also aimed to enhance fan experience both digitally and on-ground. As part of this effort, we revamped stadium washrooms to five-star standards, addressing a commonly overlooked aspect of IPL stadium facilities. Similarly, in 2022, our partnership with Cadbury Dairy Milk focused on showcasing generosity. We expressed gratitude to the hardworking groundsmen by treating them as players, providing hotel stays, team bus rides, and personalised jerseys. This approach transcends traditional sponsorship, amplifying impact through player endorsements and unique activations beyond logo placement.

How much growth are you expecting in sponsorships for IPL this year?

There's a noticeable trend of sponsorship growth across various platforms, exemplified by the IPL's title sponsorship increasing from Rs 350 to Rs 500 crore this year. This growth is evident in all other forms of sponsorships surrounding the IPL as well.

There's a noticeable trend of sponsorship growth across various platforms, exemplified by the IPL's title sponsorship increasing from Rs 350 to Rs 500 crore this year.

What media recommendations are you making to SMBs and start-ups that want to invest in sporting extravaganzas like the IPL in 2024? 

Keep your objectives clear. Some startups may prioritise market share, making a big IPL sponsorship logical, while others may focus on internal goals like activating dealership networks, requiring a smaller partnership. Mind share in the marketplace is another objective some startups pursue. The key is clarity: IPL, or any other sports, offers solutions tailored to each marketer's objectives when objectives are well-defined.

Which are the categories that we may not see take part in the WPL and IPL this year?

I observe reduced spending or involvement from certain categories, particularly tech startups, which have slowed down possibly due to funding constraints. However, core categories like banking, FMCG, and auto remain active in sports partnerships. While real-money gaming may not spend as much as they did two years back, due to government regulations, they still allocate funds. Especially since IPL is a big event for the category.

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