From the success of Indian Premier League (IPL) to the emergence of newer leagues across football, badminton, etc, sports is definitely catching the imagination of young India. With increased exposure, sports brands are actively eyeing the opportunity to build a sporting culture and experiences in India by encouraging participation in running, football, tennis, martial arts and more. Adding fuel to the fire are success stories of various male and female athletes from across the country, and the increasing awareness of health and fitness amongst various age groups. As Debosmita Majumder, head of marketing, Puma India puts it, “As a brand, we believe that creating exciting experiences for consumers will also help develop a sports ecosystem in the country.”
From Reebok advocating Fitness is Life to Nike’s Nike+ Run Club (NRC) and Nike+ Training Club experiences and adidas’ Uprising initiative, sports brands are going beyond just retailing their footwear and apparel to motivate consumers towards adopting a healthier lifestyle. Most of these brands are focussing on building running communities. adidas has, in fact, started a club called adidas Runners in Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru. It also has brand ambassadors and running captains in each of these cities to advise runners on the right exercise, schedule, footwear, etc.
Similarly, Nike+ Run Club has helped runners achieve goals by enabling them with adaptive coaching as well as motivation and interaction platforms within running communities. Puma hosts Ignite Your City runs to motivate people to take to running, besides being associated with the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon and Tata Steel Kolkata 25k, while Reebok claims to see high engagement with its Reebok Running Squad and Reebok CrossFit.
The goalpost and beyond
While running seems to be on top of the list, it is closely followed by football for most brands. Nike organises the Nike Premier Cup under the aegis of All Indian Football Federation (AIFF) for young footballers every year, while Puma was associated with the Indian Super League (ISL) as the official ball and boot partner for 2015, besides being the kit partner for some teams. adidas too leveraged its partnership for the FIFA U17 World Cup and was part of the Mission 11 which was a build-up to the tournament. Additionally, it has also invested in a football centre in Delhi — The Base, that hosts school tournaments.
Interestingly, with cricket being touted as a religion in India with a huge fan following, brands are not actively invested in the sport. There could be two reasons for this — either the sport is already very popular and does not need a community or cricket properties are very expensive and not every brand finds resonance or returns in such an investment. “In the past, we were involved in IPL but we no longer are. Some of these assets have become quite expensive and difficult to activate,” mentions Sean Van Wyk, senior marketing director, adidas India. “So we have shifted to other things and it is important from our perspective to create our own IP,” says Wyk.
Thus, properties like adidas Uprising make more sense for the brand. In its third edition, the property will be held this year in Mumbai, Bengaluru and Delhi featuring nine sports and special-needs athletes participating for the first time. But cricket is not completely off the list. Nike supports Indian cricketers such as Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana, while Puma Cricket Studio brings to the fore locker-room secrets of famous cricketers through videos. In fact, Puma also roped in Virat Kohli from rival brand adidas earlier this year.
With more women participating in sports, it is a very lucrative segment for brands. Silvia Tallon, senior marketing director, Reebok India highlights that the brand has a greater focus on the women’s segment as it sees a visible growth in this category’s fitness market with a skew in metros being as high as 40%. “We expect the womenswear segment to cross 30% of our business by next year,” she adds.
Experts state that in the past, the strategy of some brands was to take a man’s product and ‘shrink it and pink it’ to make it relevant for women. But things are changing now. Keerthana Ramakrishnan, marketing head, Nike India, says, “In a country where sports participation and women’s participation are at their lowest, progress is reflected with 70% of our runners at NRC below the age of 30 and over 40% participation from women in Mumbai.”
Brands are further enhancing the female connect through women-centric campaigns like Reebok’s FitToFight with brand ambassador Kangana Ranaut. This year, the campaign has an overarching theme of Girls Don’t Fight tackling eve-teasing and inequality in pay. Last year, Puma globally launched the Do You movement igniting a spark in the women’s segment for training and being themselves unapologetically. Brands are also activating their stores to up the ‘fitness’ cause. For instance, Reebok’s Fit Hub stores inspires people to get fit and have fun exercising in a gym-like environment built inside the store, besides other activities.