Will IPL’s suspension be football’s gain? Sony pulls out all stops for UEFA EURO 2020

With all sporting activities in the country at a standstill at present as India battles a devastating second wave of COVID-19, international sporting events are proving some much needed succour to sports enthusiasts in the country. Last week, IPL 2021 had to be suspended due to COVID-19 cases among the players and staff. This leaves the field wide open for other sporting events to fill in the gap.

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Along with cricket, football also finds huge traction in India, especially in the East and North-East, Goa and Kerala markets. However, the sport is finding growing traction in other parts of the country as well, as is evident from the FIFA World Cup tournament numbers in the last few years.

The next big football tournament is UEFA EURO 2020, Europe’s biggest football tournament, which will take place between June 11 and July 11, 2021. UEFA EURO 2020 was postponed in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Revised venues were approved by the UEFA Executive Committee on April 23, 2021. The opening match on Friday, June 11 will see Turkey take on Italy, which will be played in Rome.

In India, Sony Pictures Sports Network (SPSN) is the official broadcaster for UEFA EURO 2020. The matches will be aired Live Sony TEN 2 and Sony TEN 3 (in Hindi) channels starting June 11, 2021. In the run-up to the tournament, SPSN has been running teaser ad films under the #MeriDoosriCountry umbrella campaign.

Adgully spoke to Neville Bastawalla, Head – Marketing & On-Air Promotions, Sports Channels, Sony Pictures Networks India, about the broadcaster’s plans around UEFA EURO 2020, the #MeriDoosriCountry campaign strategy, the sports broadcasting landscape in pandemic times and more.

What kind of response and traction did you receive for the campaign?

We had received an overwhelming response from fans and industry peers alike for the FIFA World Cup 2018 ‘Meri Doosri Country’ campaign. The campaign resonated very well our audiences and helped us ensure that the World Cup was viewed by the masses. ‘Meri Doosri Country’ won multiple awards and received recognition both in India and globally across multiple advertising and marketing platforms. The campaign resonated so well with our audience that Sony Pictures Sports Network has decided to use this strategy and make it our signature campaign for all our international marquee football tournaments like the UEFA EURO 2020.

Since India is not represented at some international tournaments like UEFA EURO 2020, football fans in India will cheer for a ‘doosri country’. For example, we have seen a huge following for Portugal, France, Germany, England, Spain, Italy, Brazil, Argentina and more from different parts of the country during these international marquee tournaments and this was the sharp insight that we took forward for the UEFA EURO 2020. 

What kind of viewership did you see for the previous UEFA Euro tournament?

UEFA EURO 2020 is one of the most anticipated football tournaments, second in stature only to the FIFA World Cup and the previous edition of the EUROs received a great response from viewers. We are looking at FIFA World Cup 2018 as the benchmark for the upcoming tournament, which saw a viewership of over 177 million across our network, and aim to bring back a large percentage of those viewers. While EUROs will not be at the same scale as FIFA World Cup, it will be huge and aim to break viewership records for the upcoming tournament compared to 2016.

Apart from the campaign, how are you creating buzz around UEFA EURO 2020? What are your promotion and marketing strategies? 

This year, the EUROs will be back in six languages, which resonate and create connect with audiences from across geographies in India. We have a 360-degree marketing plan involving ATL and BTL platforms to ensure we reach out not only to football fans, but also the larger group of sport fans. We will be exploring a range of media platforms that would enable us to reach our viewers across demographics in the country. Additionally, we will be identifying partnerships and associations that we can leverage in order to not only reach out target audience, but engage with them as well. 

What is your media mix? How are you leveraging digital for UEFA EURO 2020?

We will have multiple media platforms, including special focus on digital amplification and all the digital platforms of Sony Pictures Sports Network will act as a key engagement driver during our campaign. 

What was the thought behind the 1st phase of the campaign? What is the communication for the current campaign?

The first phase of the campaign was to set the tone of our overall communication – get our audience ready for what is going to be an exciting football tournament. We know that Indian viewers “adopt” a second country in international tournaments where India is not represented, and that was the sharp insight behind ‘Meri Doosri Country’ during FIFA World Cup. For the EUROs, we have taken this one step ahead and evolved our messaging. We have not only showcased the fans of ‘Doosri countries’, but also the intense rivalries that exist between them. We wanted to showcase the passionate rivalry that fans exhibit in support for their ‘Doosri countries’ and took a bold and edgy approach with our campaign films. We have a received a great response and many have appreciated the provocative communication route we have undertaken in our films for UEFA EURO 2020. 

How do you view the evolution the sports broadcasting landscape in these challenging times? What are your views on sports viewership in India? 

A majority of the sports events are being held without spectators and broadcasters have been using technological innovations to bring back audience engagement. However, crowds or no crowds, sports events will not be hampered and are still attracting a lot of viewership. 

With the number of COVID-19 cases decreasing globally, audiences are being let back into venues, depending on their current situation and local guidelines by federations or governing bodies. WWE will allow fans back inside the stadium for the first time since March last year for WrestleMania 37. For the recently concluded India tour of Australia, tickets were sold out within hours. This was the first cricket series since March 2020 that allowed crowds back in in a limited capacity. The Australian Open was also the first tennis Grand Slam that allowed audiences in a limited capacity. The future is extremely bright because fans can’t wait to watch sports at the venues. As we progress, things will only become better. 

We have seen a considerable rise in viewership with non-India cricket and the England vs West Indies and England vs Pakistan series are among the highest rated test match series not featuring India. Non-India cricket has shown close to 200% growth compared to average viewership of non-India test match viewership before the lockdown. While Cricket remains the most watched sport in the country, Wrestling Entertainment and Football have also experienced positive growth over the last year. Niche sports like UFC have also shown a steady growth over the last few years and will continue with this trend for the next few years to come.

How do you envisage advertisers’ response in various sporting events?

We have received an overwhelming response from advertisers since live sports has come back into action and advertiser interest is all set to grow even more. Cricket has seen a huge demand, including non-India cricket from July 2020 when we started with the England vs West Indies, England vs Pakistan and England vs Australia series. We saw a lot of interest from brands like My11Circle, Skoda, Perfetti, Vini, BYJU’S, Denver, Head Digital Works, HDFC Life, AMFI, Reliance Ajio, Dafa News, Indo Nissin, ITC Engage, SBI Life, Policy Bazaar, Airtel, Denver Hand Sanitizer, Parle Products, Kia Motors and more, who came on board as sponsors during those months.

The India Tour of Australia was the first full-fledged series after a gap of nine months, where India took on its biggest rivals and we had brands like Maruti Suzuki India, My11Circle, BYJU’S, Payments on Amazon.in and Vimal Pan Masala as the co-presenters of the series, while the associate sponsors included Mondelez, Pernod Ricard, MRF, SBI Mutual Fund, Netflix and Ather Energy, to name a few. In addition to this, Dettol had been roped in as the presenting sponsor for the studio show, ‘Dettol Extraaa Innings’.

India is in the grip of a second COVID-19 wave, but alongside the vaccination process is also on full swing. Amid such a volatile situation, what does the future of sports broadcasting look like?

Sports broadcasting shouldn’t be affected and now, as the vaccination drive is intensifying across the world, both players and audiences will get themselves vaccinated. In the initial months, there may be a drop in crowds in select locations due to various local restrictions, but it will only get better in the months to come.

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