Feature | Changing Games: Does Cricket take a back seat as investors open to other sports?

Gone are those days when India rooted for cricket only! While Indian sports lovers have opened arms to other games as well, companies and brands have also begun to try their luck and support games like Football, Hockey, Soccer, Badminton etc. A couple of weeks back, when Sahara discontinued its partnership with BCCI, the reason that emerged out was that Sahara wanted to reinvest in welfare associations and other sports.

While off-late Olympics have taken center stage, Hockey also seems to grab some limelight. Not only have big brands started to support the national sport, Bollywood is not far behind in associating itself with the game. Bollywood actor Suniel Shetty has been appointed as the brand ambassador for World Series Hockey (WSH), a Rs 10 crore prize money hockey tournament, starting from February 29, 2012. The popular Bollywood action hero is a passionate sports-buff and would involve in extensive promotions for the most-awaited landmark hockey championship.

Is it true that other sports like Hockey, Badminton, Soccer etc are slowly coming into lime light? Is it the beginning of a new trend of investments for brands? The curiosity is put to rest when Adgully takes a look at how clients and agencies are venturing into this space.

Responding to whether sports like Hockey or Soccer are gaining limelight, Sorbojeet Chatterjee, VP- Marketing, NEO Sports, said, "Hockey is the only sport after Cricket that has a pan national viewership. There is a need gap for a strong second sport in India and WSH will help achieve even greater heights."

Bhaswar Goswami, Executive Director, Celebrity Management Group Pvt Ltd, is of the opinion that, "Hopefully it is for the other sports but for Soccer, it is surely coming in lime light. Today we have much larger fan base in soccer than it was 10 years back. Soccer is growing in India and it will do so for coming years as well!"

Ajay Kakkar, Chief Marketing Officer, Aditya Birla Group - Financial Services opines that, "India has things that make them go crazy. When you think of music you think of Bollywood and when you think of sports you think of Cricket! It doesn't mean that we don't have beyond Bollywood and Cricket but unfortunately for those other sports in this genre are not fancy in the nation that we go beyond it. Today's generation is into Cricket. I am hoping that tomorrow's generation would be engaged in Football and Soccer and that too international level. Every brand has different objectives and TG's and you should tie up with sports or platforms relating to your brand and your audience."

"Yes it is true that other sports are gaining prominence and it is 'Metro' phenomenon, but the mass audience is still attracted towards Cricket especially in the rural market", opines Manoj Malkani, Vice President, Zenithoptimedia. Adding further he said, "In metros, Football has been taken up by the kids in the age group of 10 - 17 yrs. I regularly watch them playing in my colony, which shows the attraction towards the sport. In the earlier days during this season most the kids were playing cricket. Now this is live example. They have also started seasons like EPL etc and you can also see them addressing each other with the sports stars like Messi etc ! This, after a long investment done by various channels on the various properties but in the case of Hockey, the sport is almost wiped out from metros. You hardly find audience playing Hockey. The popularity of a sport can be drawn from these examples."

Narendra Kumar Alambara, Vice President, Starcom Mediavest Group, Chennai, said, "There has always been a fan following for sports apart from Cricket in India, however, only in recent times has there been notable successes and "strong media-friendly" personalities emerging to help showcase these sports. In the past, successes in these sports have not been covered as much as required, but now it is getting some prominence but still not as much as they deserve."

Citing a shift in trend and sharing some of the reasons for the same, Goswami said, "Growth of Soccer is primarily because of continuous availability of quality soccer broadcast of European Football. Also, the character of Soccer is such it has to be a success and that is the reason Soccer is the most popular sport across the world!" As a soccer supporter himself, he believes that Soccer is surely growing in India.

Whereas Malkani believes that the trends are set due to various reasons. "First being the performance of Indian team/player in the sport, secondly investment done by various channels to promote the sport and over a period of time generate interest and thirdly international players coming to India for a performance, for example F1, which slowly drill down in the Indian audience", he added.

Alambara is of the opinion that it is a vicious cycle that keeps repeating. "Media does not cover these sports, public has lower knowledge, lower awareness leads to minimal participation, low participation in turn leads to funding issues / infrastructure etc. Private initiatives like WSH is a good step in the direction making Hockey more accessible and exciting spectator - sport. Similar initiatives in Boxing etc will only perk up interest in sports not currently in public purview", he said.

Speaking about client's readiness in investing as they do for Cricket, Malkani believes that it is too early as the ROI on most of the property is low in the context of investment. "The price of these sports, Football for example, is derived from the international counter parts. Now globally Football has huge fan following and garners huge rates due to acquisition cost etc. And the ratings are low, which makes the proposal not viable for clients in India", he said.

Commenting in the same grounds, Alambara said, "Might not be as ready or large as Cricket, but there are corporate who are ready to fund and nurture these sports. But a lot more is required in terms of ready infrastructure and training / talent development to ensure these do not become short-lived initiatives."

Goswami believes that, "We all know that in India, Cricket is much bigger a sport in terms of marketability. However, globally Cricket has a negligible marketability compared to Soccer. If all the stakeholders of Soccer work properly with a long term vision, in near future Soccer will surely become as marketable as any sport even in India."

Talking about the percentage increase they see in terms of client spends, ratings and the kind of trends they see ahead, Malkani was of the opinion that, "There has been a decent shift in the client investments as compared to the ratings. All would agree to this, with the association of Hero group with Hockey and Common Wealth Games. Today consumers speak about association of Sahara with the Hockey team. All thanks to the Indian media to bring out the issue out in the open about the fights created by the sports management committee and also the performance of the Indian Cricket team has added fuel to the fire, but one good performance will bring back Cricket in the minds of the consumers. Rating is still long way to go but atleast the audience has started speaking about the games/contests, like Wimbledon, Football etc."

While on the other hand, Alambara stated that, "I am not sure of a number that client's might spend on these sports, but it will always be significantly smaller than Cricket! We should not expect or even discuss ratings / viewership. Interest and some fan base creation is a good enough step."

Be it Hockey, Football, Soccer, Badminton or F1; sports other than 'religiously followed' Cricket have always been here, and now with optimum assistance and encouragement from investors, advertisers and the media, these games are far from their finish time! | By Aanchal Kohli [aanchal(at)adgully.com] & Ankita Tanna [ankita(at)adgully.com]

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