Akshit Pushkarna

Mastercard bets on sports and e-sports sponsorships to reach young audiences

Raja Rajamannar, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer, Mastercard, talks about the company's AI-based marketing engine, and association with cricket in India and e-sports.

Mastercard is moving swiftly to secure sponsorship deals with sporting leagues - on the ground and online. The global payments enabler entered into a sponsorship deal with Board of Control for Cricket (BCCI) in September 2022. The company will be the Title Sponsor for home cricket matches for the 2022-23 season. Further, it sees e-sports as an important platfrom to reach out to Gen-Z consumers. The company plans to invest ad dollars behind sponsoring e-sports events next year. 

Raja Rajamannar, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer and President-Healthcare Business, Mastercard, sheds light on the company's plan to penetrate India's sports market deeply in the upcoming year. He asserts that sports marketing has taken the first seat in Mastercard's marketing initiatives around the globe. From sports like Baseball, American football, football, golf, and tennis, Mastercard has dipped its feet in the premier of tournaments, making its presence felt as a sponsor or backed prominent athletes names, according to Rajamannar.

For India, the country whose chief sport is cricket, the company has signed a title sponsorship deal with the Board of Control for Cricket in India. In the past, the company sponsored Mumbai Indians and has had endorsers like Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar. Currently, MS Dhoni is the brand ambassador of Mastercard in India.

"We were very excited and evaluated for the BCCI sponsorship. We thought it was going to be a terrific opportunity for us and we got into it," Rajamannar shares. The sponsorship is set to run till the end of March 2023. "We are committed to cricket as a space and we are currently evaluating every opportunity ahead of us, whether it is in the context of working with the players, sponsoring events and teams, etc. We are continuously looking at the entire spectrum and see what properties make the best sense for us to invest and where we can measure the ROI in a credible fashion," Rajamannar shares.

In terms of measuring the ROI, Rajamannar elaborates that the company is very analytical and has developed proprietary methodologies to gauge brand-related, business-related, and competitive edge-related metrics. Another interesting observation from the analytics of the ROI has been the response the company has been getting from sponsoring in e-sports tournaments. "We partnered with a company called Riot Games to become the exclusive partner for 'League of Legends'. The game has more than a hundred million active monthly users. With this, Mastercard is the title sponsor for esports competitions around League of Legends as well as within the game as well. Our partnership with Riot Games helps us establish a connection with the Gen-Z population which is critical for a legacy brand like Mastercard," he says.

Mastercard is present in the game in a very non-intrusive fashion, according to Rajamannar. "We create experiences for fans to get involved in the game. We have lots of merchandise that we create together with League of Legends for the fans to procure. We have also launched co-branded credit cards and co-branded debit cards with the League of Legends. We have got close to about 15 countries around the world that we have launched a League of Legends credit card or a debit card," he shares.

AI driven marketing initiative

Rajamannar also sheds light on the company’s plans of further developing sophisticated AI-based tools to drive its marketing initiatives in 2023. With the resources from a few external AI-based companies like Dynamic Yield, RiskRecon, Brighterion, among others,  that the company acquired in the past few years, Mastercard has been working on bringing forth a digital marketing engine that the company plans to bank on to a greater, global extent in the near future.

"Finding insights by looking at multiple datasets is fundamental to marketing. To derive actionable insights from these databases isthe major challenge for all marketers. We use an AI mechanism that can look at very disparate datasets and identify and render certain patterns in consumer behaviour in real-time," Rajamannar says.

Mastercard’s ‘sophisticated digital marketing engine’ can predict social media trends that can become the basis for short-term marketing campaigns. "There's a lot of discussions all the time across social media platforms about what are the trending topics that are engaging the audience in real-time. Our AI system predicts the next micro trend, a trend that lasts for less than three days based on social media chatter," he says.

What's interesting is that the AI's job doesn't end after the prediction of the trend. It further deduces whether Mastercard should join the conversation around it or not. If yes, then it further ponders whether the company should run a campaign around the emerging trend, or whether some sort of promotional offers should be run around it, among other options. "The AI maps Mastercard’s communication and marketing assets that the company should deploy around any particular emerging trend that it predicts," Rajamannar shares.

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