From IPL to ISL to Kabaddi League: Too early to ask about revenues of sporting leagues?

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Updated: May 3, 2016 5:00:29 PM

The sporting landscape in the country has been given a new lease of life, thanks to the proliferation of numerous leagues. But it may be too early to ask about revenues, as stakeholders play out the waiting game

The sporting landscape in the country has been given a new lease of life, thanks to the proliferation of numerous leagues. But it may be too early to ask about revenues, as stakeholders play out the waiting gameThe sporting landscape in the country has been given a new lease of life, thanks to the proliferation of numerous leagues. But it may be too early to ask about revenues, as stakeholders play out the waiting game

The year 2016 started with a high for cricket lovers. One series after another, then the T20 World Cup and now the ongoing homegrown cricketing league, Indian Premier League (IPL). The official broadcaster for IPL, Sony Pictures Networks India, is eyeing Rs 1,200 crore worth of revenues this season.

The use of sport in corporate and brand development in India continues to grow steadily. In 2015, sport accounted for 10.4% of total media spending at `5,185.4 crore, rising 12.3% from `4,616.5 crore in the previous year, as per Sporting Nation in the Making, a study by ESP Properties and SportzPower, in its third edition. This, when the sports genre contributes to about 3% of the total viewership pie. Recent reports on the sporting scenario in the country have numbers to prove that apart from cricket, other sports too have something to rejoice.

2016 marks the second year of homegrown leagues beyond IPL — Indian Super League (ISL), Pro Kabaddi League (PKL), International Premier League Tennis (IPTL), Hockey India League (HIL) and Pro Wrestling League (PWL) — which are not only witnessing more average attendance but also greater ad bucks from marketers.

For instance, ISL which had 10 sponsors in 2014, had 18 in 2015, which collectively contributed more than `100 crore towards sponsorship. Of this, Hero MotoCorp shelled out `18 crore per year.
Similarly, Pro Kabaddi League will enjoy a second season this year itself on Star Sports, come June; Star India decided to host the league twice in one year instead of annually after the league saw a jump in revenues to `48 crore in 2015 from `12 crore in its inaugural year (2014), a massive 300% hike.

These sports aren’t new to viewers. Apart from gully cricket, even football and kabaddi have been part of growing up. But what makes these sports so glamourous and lucrative to marketers now?

The right moves

The industry thanks IPL for being the successful example for others to learn from. India always was a cricketing nation, but IPL added the X-factor of entertainment to it. Though it too faced criticism and challenges in the beginning, over time it created local fans from across the nation. The whole structure was well packaged, which improved viewers’ experiences not only on television but on ground as well. And then come the extensive marketing exercises.

However, one won’t be wrong in saying that the sporting landscape has evolved to become much more inclusive of various types of sports. Several non-cricket sports such as football and kabaddi have become more mainstream because of the increased efforts at organising and hosting various events.

Says Vinit Karnik, business head, ESP Properties, “Take kabaddi or wrestling for example. The rules were tweaked to bring out sleekness in the sport. From muddy grounds to synthetic mats, the whole sport is packaged well to make it TV friendly and more compelling.”

To add to this, networks have changed the way sports is telecast in the country. It is no longer limited to just English and Hindi — the leagues are being aired in regional languages too.

High quality cameras capturing each move, sophisticated commentary and celebrity muscle power go on to show that broadcasters and organisers haven’t left any stone unturned to package the leagues well. “Of the new leagues, surprisingly, kabaddi shows most promise and Star needs to be complimented for packaging it well,” says Sam Balsara, chairman, Madison World.

Access to these various sports has also contributed to the increased adoption. People now have easy access and are looking for entertainment options that go beyond movies.

“We have seen this with all our ticketing activities for the Pro Kabaddi League, for example. Given the nature of the access we have been able to provide for example, match days have been sold out,” points out Neetu Bhatia, CEO and co-founder, Kyazoonga.

Social media will play an important role in the proliferation of the leagues among youngsters. The Indian sports enthusiast is tech-savvy, and belongs to the ‘mobile most’ generation. Almost 70% of fans bring their mobile phones to a stadium for check-ins, making videos and clicking photos. ISL teams, which have a six digit Facebook base, have used the medium well to create more buzz than the tournament itself.

Each season of PKL has grown in stadiums as well as on television, for both rural and urban audiences. Star is already seeing a renewed and growing brand sponsorship support for the fourth season scheduled for June 25. “With a World Cup following soon after, 2016 will be a landmark year for kabaddi with 80 days of the sport on television!” asserts Nitin Kukreja, CEO, Star Sports.

But there are a few who missed the bus. HIL and IPTL, for instance, failed to build traction on social media. Sad, considering IPTL has the who’s who of the tennis world (like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal) descending to the country to play. Creating a holistic experience is important. Apart from engaging with fans on social media, contests and merchandises too are ways to keep the communication two-way. Having said that, not every league can spend hundreds of crores like IPL does on marketing.

“We put our network’s might behind PWL; Star does the same for the leagues,” says Prasana Krishnan, executive vice president and business head, sports cluster — Sony

Pictures Networks India.

Catching the eyeballs

India has been predominately a cricketing nation, but different sports have been popular in smaller pockets of the country. Take football for instance. Goa, West Bengal and the eastern states are interested in the sport more than north India which supports wrestling. The localisation of teams coupled with regional language feeds has helped in penetration. Most of these leagues attract urban and younger males but football shows higher female skew than other sports. “While these leagues definitely offer much more to sports lovers, non-cricket sports like hockey, football and badminton have 0.1% ratings or less, except for kabaddi which is between 0.6-1%, depending on the TG. For ISL, men spend an average time of 15-20 minutes viewing it; it is 35-40 minutes for PKL,” explains Neel Kamal Sharma, COO, buying, Madison Media.

Sony claims to have got women hooked on to cricket through its IPL campaigns. If numbers are something to go by, then IPL did build on the women base. PWL tried to do so by getting women wrestlers. “When it comes to viewership, the leagues that are keeping pace with IPL are ISL and PKL, while others are still catching up,” says Karnik.

Nonetheless, advertisers are seeing the rise of different leagues as an opportunity to reach their TG at a cheaper cost. ISL and PKL have seen sponsorships grow by over 25% since their inaugural seasons and trends show that the sponsorships are poised to increase as the leagues mature. “Sponsors have woken up to the fact that while cricket is the number one sport in the country, India is no longer a one-sport nation,” asserts Indranil Das Blah, partner and COO, CAA KWAN, and CEO, Mumbai City FC.

Today, any sporting IP, league or event requires brands to associate for as low as `3-4 crore, right up to `35-40 crore. Non-cricket sports combined made up 29.5% of the team sponsorship pie in 2014. “It isn’t merely about the association with a league for a brand; it is more about amplification opportunities and even the media outreach the league or team enjoys,” says Vishal Gurnani, director, Prosportify. Take TVS; the two-wheeler maker has done it by associating with ‘cricket + non-cricket’. From TVS Cup to IPL, and now associating itself with PKL, the company feels that kabaddi captures the sweet spot between classes and masses. Says Aniruddha Haldar, VP, marketing — scooters, TVS Motor Company, “The quality of the game itself is at the highest level of the sport globally. It also lends itself very well to a televised viewership experience, due to its energy, speed and thrilling moves.” Happy with the level of buzz the association has generated, Haldar sees a continued association over a long tenure.

Future play

With so much marketing money being spent, sports sponsorships are becoming more nuanced, thus making it even more essential to gauge the ROI. However, industry unanimously believes immediate ROI is not something that should be expected. Every sporting league in the world requires investments and a waiting period lasting anywhere from between three to 10 years. “We are not here for the numbers. We are creating a portfolio wherein other global sports and local sports/leagues bloom,” says Krishnan. The momentum needs to be sustained. Also, extra entertainment factors must be thrown in for good measure so people use these matches as a family outing coupled with entertainment frills. The challenge will be getting popular/iconic players to engage with more people, especially youngsters, and continue to broadcast these matches on primetime on non-sports channels to garner higher viewership. A thrust on Digital India and increased 4G penetration will aid the creation of a critical mass for these sporting leagues.

“When it comes to viewership, the leagues that are keeping pace with IPL are ISL and PKL, while others are still catching up”

VinIt Karnik
Business head, ESP Properties

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