Sony has been an integral part of IPL’s success: Rohit Gupta

The annual T-20 cricket extravaganza – Indian Premiere League – is all set to commence from April 5, 2017. And this year, Sony Pictures Networks is leaving no stone unturned to make the tournament – celebrating its tenth year – a grand event. As is known, this is the last year that Sony will be airing IPL as its official broadcaster, unless it wins the fresh broadcast rights which are slated to open later this year. 

Already, ad films have been airing across media platforms (‘10 saal aapke naam’) that pay tribute to cricket fans of all hues who have made IPL the festival of India. As per various media reports, Sony is targeting ad revenues of Rs 1,200 crore to Rs 1,300 crore for IPL 2017. The broadcaster is confident of roping in more sponsors this year than in 2016. 

Adgully spoke with Rohit Gupta, President - Network Sales and International Business, Sony Pictures Networks, and Vaishali Sharma, Head - Marketing, Set Max, to know more about IPL’s journey over 10 years, the tournament as a brand-puller, the communication and marketing strategy lined up for the 10th edition and much more. Excerpts: 

What would you consider to be the landmark and turnaround moments in IPL’s 10-year journey? 
Rohit Gupta: It was a successful journey and it has only grown from strength to strength. For the first five seasons, people were sceptical and everybody would say that it is not going to do well, but it grew amazingly and so the discussion was never about whether it will work or not and we are immensely happy about this association’s success. 

What have been the big gains for Sony with the association with IPL? 
Rohit Gupta: Sony has been an integral part of IPL’s success. Had we not partnered, I don’t think the League would have turned out the way it has. We gave it the look and feel, Sony has played a big part in making the property a success. We didn’t restrict ourselves to the realm of only sports enthusiast, we took it beyond that with a huge female viewership and the youth coming in, in large numbers. Sony has played a pivotal role in making this property stay at top of the mind. Every year we have been doing these campaigns. Our marketing campaigns are very focused, now IPL has become like a calendar where people look for it to come back every year. 

There have been various figures floating around regarding the ad revenues for Season 10 of IPL. With the inventory of the upcoming matches already sold out, what is your estimate of the revenues for IPL 2017? What is the spot rate for 10 seconds? 
Rohit Gupta: The inventory has been completely sold out. We sold the SD at Rs 6 lakh per 10 seconds, HD was sold at Rs 2 lakh per 10 seconds, and if the client bought both SD and HD, then it was at Rs 8 lakh per 10 seconds. 

Anything related to cricket attracts brands. But what makes IPL such a brand puller?
Rohit Gupta: IPL is very differentiated from other cricket leagues because other cricket tournaments only attract male viewers and so the brands associated with them are mainly male-focused brands. When it comes to IPL, we have a huge viewership from females. Hence, it attracts FMCG brands and that is why the range of IPL is far larger than other regular cricket tournaments. Also, it attracts youth in large numbers as it is a T20 format, so any brand associated with youth in any category has been attracted. Whether urban or rural, young or old – it is followed by everybody and so the advertisers are able to reach all kind of audiences. 

This being the final year of Sony’s association with IPL (unless it wins the broadcast rights in the next bid), what are the special initiatives that you have lined up – for brands, viewers, etc.? 
Rohit Gupta: The marketing campaign is all about the fans who have supported us in our journey throughout the years. We are doing surround system around the stadium, our campaigns are already out and it is all about the fans at the end of the day. 

Your comments on the growth of female viewership of IPL over the years. 
Rohit Gupta: It’s been growing every year and it is always more than the last year. Last year we touched around 360 million. When the rural data started getting captured, there were a lot of leaps in the market. It comes out to be popular in rural India as much as in urban areas. 

In what ways has demonetisation impacted ad spends for IPL 2017? 
Rohit Gupta: Demonetisation has not impacted IPL at all. It is a risk-free investment from advertisers’ perspective and that is what an advertiser wants. They know the impact of IPL on brands and so they are willing to invest in it as they know what the returns are. 

What have been the most remarkable moments in the marketing strategy for IPL over the years? 
Vaishali Sharma: There have been two very remarkable moments in IPL over the years:

The first one is making the big shift by arriving at a campaign theme - ‘Ek India Happy Wala’. The decision to take the direction of going beyond cricketainment and acknowledging the current state of the country is truly remarkable. Through the campaign we just highlighted once again that IPL is a unifier, a mood changer. 

The second would be our decision of going to LC1 markets through the on-ground engagement ideas and making IPL more inclusive through activities like ‘Score kya hua’. We went to the heartland of India through our activities during IPL and made sure we connect with the IPL fans. 

How has the communication strategy for IPL evolved from Season 1 to Season 10? 
Vaishali Sharma: We started with a strong positioning and created a distinct proposition for IPL. We used the spirit of entertainment and as it grew, it was essential to capture the growth story of IPL through the campaigns. Over the years, IPL presented an opportunity both to the viewers and broadcaster, the game saw addition of new players and broadcaster witnessed a phenomenal growth in the viewer base. Another turning point came when we stepped-up the entertainment and engagement game with the campaign ‘Jumping Jhapak’ and next was when we built the emotional quotient with ‘Ek India Happy Wala’. The message was loud and clear that ‘IPL is a unifier’ and in the state of animosity in the country, IPL can bring people together. 

How have you combated viewer fatigue? 
Vaishali Sharma: Through our strong marketing efforts and communication campaigns year-on-year, we have been able to build excitement and anticipation for IPL, it has been a multiplier effect. From on-ground engagement ideas to online activities, we have utilised every medium to its fullest. The fan base for IPL has been increasing, given that so many teams have won IPL and have proven to be a pure game of sportsmanship. 

What is the digital push for IPL in Season 10? 
Vaishali Sharma: Digital has been vital in our marketing campaigns over the years. This year, we went live through ‘Twitter Blueroom’ to launch our anthem, followed by TVCs and have received 100 million views so far. Digital is the way to kickstart the campaign and leads to the excitement. 


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