A slew of newbies across different sports is trying to replicate IPL’s stupendous success
On July 10 this year, the Indian Super League (ISL) threw up its first millionaire player when Bengaluru FC central midfielder Eugeneson Lyngdoh was hired by Pune FC for Rs 1.05 crore against a base price of only Rs 27 lakh. If that was not enough to prove that India’s nascent soccer league was off to a promising start, the country’s national football captain Sunil Chhetri donned the Mumbai City FC jersey for Rs 1.20 crore, as investors and advertisers got ready to bet on the beautiful game.
Till now, the Indian Premier League (IPL) has been the undisputed king of sports leagues in India. Owned by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the Twenty20 cricket tourney is an established moneyspinner with its heady cocktail of Bollywood stars, sharp-suited businessmen, and dashing cricketers. No wonder that other sports too want to walk that street. So today, eight years after IPL was born, we have a variety of sports leagues such as the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL), the Pro Kabbadi League (PKL), and the Hockey India League (HIL) besides ISL. And each league in its own way has managed to charm the Indian audiences.
“The success of any league is in the acceptance of the fans and we have been very encouraged by the response of fans – in stadia, on television and digital platforms. They have taken to new sports with a passion and enthusiasm. This is not limited to men as women and children have come out in equal measure to support their favourite heroes and sports,” says Nitin Kukreja, president, Star Sports, which has been behind the resurrection of many sports in India such as kabbadi and football.
Last year, 150 lakh people attended the 61 matches that made up the ISL tournament while this year 7.7 crore watched HIL matches on television. Advertisers too made a beeline for these leagues from the debut year itself. ISL, which has 10 sponsors at the central level with almost R50 crore as sponsorship amount, saw title sponsor Hero Moto Corp paying Rs 18 crore per year, while PKL and HIL contributed in driving on-ground sponsorship to Rs 794.8 crore in 2014 from Rs 164.3 crore in 2013. “What was unique in the first season was the way these prominent brands used football as a common language to communicate to their consumers. It’s encouraging to see that many brands see ISL as a platform to engage with the youth of the country. With the league lasting over three months which includes the build-up and the championship phase, it ensures a significant high return-on-investments,” says the Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) spokesman. RIL is one of the promoters of ISL, along with IMG and Star India.
The Indian sports industry has witnessed a 10% growth in the last two years, touching Rs 4806.9 crore in 2015 from Rs 4372.5 crore in 2013, says a GroupM ESP-SportzPower report. It further says that growth in sports has come mainly on the back of the emergence of new sports leagues. Meanwhile, cricket saw a dip in on-ground sponsorship from Rs 508.3 crore in 2013 to Rs 464.7 crore in 2015 million and cricket team sponsorship came down from a high of Rs 389.2 crore to Rs 347.8 crore in the backdrop of controversies miring the IPL, though it continued to rule the advertisers’ spend.
“Cricket, even in the future, will take away the majority of advertisers’ money. But having said that, the new football and kabaddi leagues have certainly created an impact and are reasonably viable options for advertisers to consider. The new sports properties will take a reasonable amount of time to grow, and we should, as advertisers and marketers, keep that consideration in mind,” says Shailendra Singh, joint managing director, Percept Ltd.
IPTL initiated by Mahesh Bhupati is another league that drew advertisers’ interest. The tourney made headlines last year after the Coca-Cola Company bought 10% stake in the league and the title sponsorship rights for a reported Rs 20 crore. “IPTL is fulfilling the increasing demand for top-level tennis in Asia and the Middle East by getting top professionals—current and past champions—to play in four countries, starting with Philippines, Singapore, India and UAE,” says a Coca-Cola India spokesperson adding, “We have the unique advantage of having several Indian and global brands that are unrivaled in their stature and distinct in their proposition. For us, it is therefore easy to have Thums Up associate with Pro Kabbadi League, given its action, adventure and masculinity quotient. Likewise, Coca-Cola sponsors the Coca-Cola Under-15 cup football and the FIFA World Cup football.”
Even as these leagues have found sponsors in the first year, the search for a business model that is sustainable in the long run in addition to individual franchises finding sponsors remains. Agrees Anirban Das Blah, CEO and MD of CAA-Kwan, an entertainment and talent management firm, giving the example of actor Ranbir Kapoor who owns ISL team Mumbai City FC. “Though Kapoor initially invested with the idea to fulfill his dream of owning a football team, post the first year the focus is now on developing these franchises into a sustainable business through sponsorship,” he says.
Observers citing the example of Indian Badminton League (IBL) which is now a defunct tourney say that the new leagues need to take a leaf out of IPL’s book when it comes to monetisation. “Despite courting controversies, IPL is a big success because the quality of the game has improved every year. All the leagues need to ensure that the quality of the game improves. The organisers also require to up the glamour quotient, just like IPL. The moment these franchises become an attractive proposition, advertisers will be more than willing to invest,” said Tuhin Mishra, MD and co-founder, Baseline, a sports marketing, branding and licensing outfit.
Organisers agree that a lot more needs to be done to ensure that these leagues flourish and keep fans’ and advertisers’ interest alive. “Every sport takes deep commitment to quality at every level – from the quality of talent and the game, to infrastructure, to in-stadia experience, quality of graphics, packaging, commentary, production and deep investment in marketing the game at every level. Through Star Sports Pro Kabaddi and Hero Indian Super League we have built infrastructure from ground up that never existed in kabbadi and football,” says Star Sports’ Kukreja. “We are encouraged and though it’s early days we feel convinced and validated that India will evolve into a strong and flourishing sports nation – where cricket and multiple sports will flourish.”
Even as the existing leagues gear up to take their brands to the next level, more sports leagues are springing up. Only last week, Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) and sports management company Pro-Sportify launched Pro Wrestling League (PWL). The new league will consists of six city based teams with the world’s top 66 wrestlers. As they say, the battle to be the bigger, better and richer league hasn’t ended.