Beyond Cricket

Written by Anindita Sarkar | Updated: Jul 31 2013, 00:04am hrs
When it comes to cricket in India, very few can remain immune to the euphoria that takes over the country when the men in blue win. And if cricket has all along been a religion in India, the advent of Indian Premier League (IPL), the Twenty20 money-spinning brainchild of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), promoted it to cult status. Clearly, cricket is not just a game for us; it is a part of our daily life and daily conversations, and in all probability will continue to stay so. However, unlike the past, it is not just cricket anymore. There is growing evidence that even as the love for this game remains, ones (read brands and audiences) fondness for non-cricket sports is also witnessing a northward swing. Experts note that while cricket currently commands a major share of the annual R4,000 crore sports advertising and pay TV pie, the share for non-cricket sports is growing at a rate of 20% year-on-year.

Says a top industry executive who did not want to be named, In 2006, non-cricket formats were worth less that R250 crore. Today, that has grown to about R700 crore.

Earlier in a conversation with Brandwagon, Sanjay Gupta, chief operating officer, Star India had remarked that while everyone in this industry believes that India is a single sport country, this is only half the truth. Even for a big match where India plays arch rival Pakistan, consumers do not view the entire match, they view only 15% of the match on an average, he said.

And thats why last year, Star India took an important decision to not just look at cricket but beyond it to establish itself as Indias leading sports broadcaster. It invested a billion dollars into sports in less than six months last year; and while a major chuck of that investment went into cricket, it also launched a new domestic league in university hockey and renewed its broadcast rights to the English Premier League tournament for $145 million. For the record, Star India paid BCCI around $770 million to secure the media rights to all international cricket matches played between 2012 and 2018 in India and for domestic tournaments such as the Ranji Trophy.

Opportunities

There are primarily two kinds of opportunities that non-cricket formats exhibit. First, through the creation of domestic leagues which is still a new phenomenon in India and second, through international content acquisitions.

In May this year, badminton chose to robe itself in an IPL-style attire and announce a schedule. The $1million Indian Badminton League (IBL), an initiative of the Badminton Association of India (BAI), will launch on August 14 this year with six franchises. The Sahara Group, Daburs Mohit Burman, cricketer Sunil Gavaskar and actor Nagarjuna are among the businessmen, sportspersons, actors and realtors who have picked up stake in these franchises. The game will run for 18 days wherein each franchise will host a two-day leg. The league will showcase a grand total of 90 matches, providing broadcasters and in-stadia spectators with more than 100 hours of live content. The matches will be held during late afternoon and evening to coincide with prime time television and also provide a convenient time for the stadium audience. At the first auction held by IBL last week Saina Nehwal was bought by Hyderabad HotShots, for $ 1,20,000 while Lee Chong Wei was bought by Mumbai Masters for $1,35,000.

Meanwhile, Hockey India League (HIL), organised by Hockey India, the governing body for field hockey in India, launched its first season in February this year with two-wheeler maker Hero MotoCorp as the title sponsor and telecommunications services company, Bharti Airtel, as the associate sponsor. The first season telecast on ESPN was seen by 4.11 crore hockey fans and the fan-base on the leagues Facebook page exceeded 5 lakh (about one-third of the corresponding numbers for IPL).

Prasoon Joshi, executive chairman and CEO, McCann World Group India and president - South Asia notes that it is really up to the imagination of brands and marketers as to how best to exploit these avenues. Property owners and broadcasters are likely to be much more flexible and accommodating when promoting non-cricket properties.

McCann Worldgroup India is designing the creative campaign for the IBL wherein the creative thought intends to remind families and friends of the good times that existed on the court around a net. We showcase the tension that exists in the fabric of daily life and use badminton as a catalyst to erase the frowns and bring back the laughter. Using the game we played once, we get people to re-tie the bond that held together a few feathers and a lot of happiness. And ask people to watch IBL. Together, Joshi explains.

Many agree that outdoor team sports are best positioned to attract eyeballs. These provide a great environment and are the perfect setting for families to play, enjoy and be entertained. Therefore, football, hockey, basketball, volleyball, tennis and motor racing are some of the sports besides cricket that are perfectly positioned to cater to this. They have appeal for the common man, have a grassroot connect, can whip up enormous passion for the teams and provide a great opportunity for exciting entertainment. Such sports would logically attract eyeballs. Therefore, logically, they should also be attractive to advertisers who would want to reach those same eyeballs, says Sunil Bharati, headcorporate affairs and communications, Cairn India. Cairn has been putting its money where its mouth is. In February this year, the oil and gas explorer announced that it would co-sponsor the Indian hockey team for three years for $1 million per year.

Ravi Rao, leader - South Asia, Mindshare believes that the emergence of growth pockets for other sports in this country is primarily driven by youthespecially in the age group of 15-24 years, though skewing towards SEC A1 and A2 social classes. Interestingly, over 500 million of Indias population is under the age of 25 and sports is rapidly becoming a part of popular culture amongst this generation. Look around and you will see intense soccer fans as young as ten, he says.

If one looks at how fans have gravitated towards T20 cricket from older formats of Tests and one-day internationals (ODI), the demand from the Indian consumer is not dissimilar to that of more mature sports markets in the world. They want fast-paced, attractively packaged, and competitive sport in an entertaining, short time-frame. Indian sports fans also want to see the best players in the world, which is something only the top global sports leagues can offer, says Yannick Colaco, managing director (India), National Basketball Association (NBA).

Consequently, efforts to create and showcase products which move beyond cricket and are of international quality are also on the rise. In May this year Indias 12-time Grand Slam doubles champion Mahesh Bhupathi decided to infuse an IPLlike revolution into tennis. Bhupathi announced the launch of the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL), the franchises of which will be spread across Asia with player budgets of up to $10 million each. IPTL will host its first season in Paris in 2014-end.

In October 2011, telecom major Airtel bought the title sponsorship rights to the Indian Grand Prix on a payment of R 30 crore per annum for a period of five years. Brands such as Vodafone, Petronas, MRF, BPCL, Tata Motors, Bharti Cellular, Sony, Samsung, UB and Perfetti also signed up as sponsors. The event generated advertising revenues worth R50-60 crore, excluding the R125-150 crore revenue from ticket sales. ESPN Star Sports, the official broadcaster of the race, earned ad revenues of R 5-6 crore from the event. The channel commanded prices of R4-4.5 lakh for a 10-second spot, while the associate sponsors paid amounts estimated at R2-2.5 crore.

If Formula One was the first example of a somewhat alien sport finding a fan base in India, basketball too seems to be moving on the same track. Colaco mentions that basketball is witnessing a growing digital presence in India and is engaging tech-savvy Indian youth. India is at No. 5 on the list of countries following the NBA on Twitter outside of the U.S., he informs. It is pertinent to note here that NBAs viewership skew, just like that of Formula One, is more towards the metro markets, and therefore, its advertisers and sponsors are more urban centric. While the ad rates for NBA which was aired on Sony Pix last season ranged around R5000, sponsors paid R50 lakh-R1 crore.

As part of its foray into India, NBA has just announced JAM, a basketball tournament across Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad in September.

Says NP Singh, COO, Multi Screen Media (MSM), The fact that we now have a partnership with NBA to grow the sport in India will also help in giving the sport a boost. Given the rise in this sports property globally, we can see that popularity acting as an influencer and permeating down to Indian audiences, leading to a boost in overall viewership for the sport.

And it is not just NBA. MSM, which owns the broadcast rights of the cash-rich IPL tourney (estimated to generate ad revenues worth R1000 crore or $1.67 billion), also recently acquired the exclusive rights to UEFA Euro 2016 Europes premier football competitionfor $20 million. Starting with UEFA Euro 2016 qualifiers in September 2014 to November 2015, Sony Six, the sports channel from the MSM network, will also broadcast the 2018 FIFA World Cup (European) Qualifiers from September 2016 to November 2017. This arrangement with UEFA will provide the channel with coverage of 546 international matches across four years.

Observes Joshi, People, especially youngsters, now follow football clubs, the players and the stats. They know the Messi, the Ronaldo and Man U, their jersey numbers and their clubs by heart. The latest reports also say that India has the second largest online following for Wimbledon 2013 (people talking, following, sharing on Facebook). Evidently, other forms of sports are slowly and steadily gaining popularity.

The total reach for the first week ( 24-29 June) of Wimbledon 2013 in India went up by an approximate 45% over last years with 12.87 million viewers watching the tourney this edition (TAM, C&S 4+, All India). When it started, a 10-second spot on ESPN Star Sports went for about R15,000 but by the time the tournament reached the finals, the rates went up to almost R 50,000. While Rolex was the presenting sponsor, Thai Airways, Cadburys, Hyundai, IBM, Nokia and Micromax were associate sponsors.

Industry watchers note that newer sports and formats are opening up fresh avenues for engagement with consumers for brands and marketers; and while initially the opportunities may be niche, the cost of entry through acquisition or advertising is also quite low. Consider this: If one compares the ad rates of the Cricket World Cup with the Football World Cup, the former sold its 10-second slots for R4-5 lakh while that of the latter went for an estimated R1 lakh.

Says Indranil Das Blah, chief operating officer, KWAN and former vice-presidentsports, Globosports, While the acquisition price of non-cricketing formats is around one-tenth of that of cricket, their ad rates are not more than one-fifth or one-sixth of the game. Meanwhile, the spillover is also less thus bringing in a better return on investment (ROI).

Also, when it comes to acquiring international properties versus creating domestic leagues, it is better to head for the latter if the brand or broadcasters does not want too many risks. The domestic leagues are at a very nascent stage while the international formats are tried and tested properties and have a certain following in India. They also have a global track record. Hence, if the stakeholder looks at early monetisation, its better to associate with international sports rather than new domestic leagues, says Blah.

The Challenge

In a cricket-crazy country such as India it is definitely a challenge to make other sport forms catch the requisite eyeballs and build a following. Consequently, when choosing a non-cricketing game, property owners, advertisers and broadcasters would have to consider three important factors: That the game is doing well internationally; that there is an emergence of an icon within that game; and that there is requisite infrastructure to hold on to its international quality. The sport also has to be viewer friendly (hockey ball/badminton shuttle movement visible to the viewer) and has to be talked about beyond the sports pages too.

Short, crisp formats will always work well. An idea like the Hockey Premier League is something which will work. While the I-League (Indian Professional League for Association Football Clubs) has been around for a while, local football in India has not got the push because the Indian national team isnt really setting the world on fire. As and when you have Indian footballers taking bigger strides in the world, a league like I-League will automatically gain popularity, says Pratik Rathod, senior investment director of media agency Maxus Global.

But for shorter formats, it is sponsorships rather than plain vanilla advertising that play a pivotal role; and it is simply because there are fewer breaks and, therefore, less time to advertise. For instance, while in football, one would get about 600 seconds to advertise, a cricket ODI could have at least 6,000 seconds.

Scheduling is the other critical challenge that broadcasters will have to look into to ensure growth of non-cricketing formats in India. Take for example, the EPL versus the Spanish League. Both aired on weekends, the EPL is telecast after 6 pm while the Spanish League hits the screen after 9 pm; and while there is a general feedback that the quality of Spanish League is anytime better than the EPL, the latter is more popular in India because of its telecast timing.

Also, when it comes to such properties, there is no short-term plan to monetise them. Market experts feel that stakeholders in such games need to chalk out at least a five-year road map and keep their expectations realistic.

Each advertiser is driven by its unique needs and monetisation of such sports properties primarily depend on the advertisers objective. While for some it may be about positioning a product or service, for others it may be about conveying a message; it could be even a bigger goal which could be the game itself. Then there is the element of what was being advertised. Was it what the eyeballs wanted or was it something else So, it is pretty complicated to monetise by just advertising or by just selecting a sport to advertise on, says Bharati of Cairn India. Therefore, for a concept like the IPTL, while the potential is high, it will be fairly tough in the initial 2-3 years to monetise the game, as sponsors may not easily come on board.

The goal

Yes, monetising such properties is not an easy task, but then India already has a Mahindra NBA Challenge, fan clubs for Chelsea and Manchester United, Real Madrid Soccer Academy in Kolkata and the Liverpool Football Development Centre in Pune. Again, who would have thought that the $15 billion Indian conglomerate, JSW Group would earn a slot in the I-league of the All-India Football Federation (AIFF) and choose to make its maiden venture on the India football horizon with the Bangalore franchise

Rathod believes that advertising and marketing opportunities in concept leagues such as Hockey League, I-League and IBL should be high as the entire model is based on making the game more attractive to the viewers, thereby translating into TV ratings. This then makes it easier for an advertiser to invest in the tournament. A franchise based model has the entire team, jersey, etc., through which brands can converse with the audience. And broadcasters also go in for a advertiser friendly model of showcasing the sport, which makes it easier to sell to the advertiser. It is a long-term investment that requires consistent and continuous support until the monetisation becomes meaningful. They cant be a tactical winner, says Rao.

As Gupta says, Clearly, change will not happen overnight. It will require a lot of effort to break the status quo. We will have to ensure that we create compelling sports content, across multiple sports, across multiple languages, with an economic structure that will add value for all.