Broadcasters, event organisers and sponsors have tried and failed to crack the sporting code in India, in an attempt to reach the country’s billion-plus cricket-mad population. We hear from the insiders who have succeeded.
India's obsession with cricket has been considered at times by international sports marketing executives to be a barrier to the growth of the wider industry in the country.
However, as a result of the success of the Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 cricket tournament, which has helped to establish a competition format that has been replicated worldwide, there is a feeling that other sports are now starting to step out of the shadow of India’s favourite sporting pastime.
“Sports marketing is finally coming of age in India,” Tenzing Niyogi, Sponsorium’s director of business development in India, told SportBusiness International.
“Even though cricket has shown the way and continues to be the dominant sport, newer leagues are helping other sports to become great platforms for brands.
“The growth has come mainly on the back of the emergence of new sports leagues such as the Indian Super League, Pro Kabaddi League, World Kabaddi League, Champions Tennis League and Indian Premier Tennis League.”
India has been a one-sport country, but now the image is changing
All of those events tournaments – based on the franchise-based format of the IPL, which continues to attract the world’s best cricketers on an annual basis – held their inaugural seasons last year, illustrating a sudden burst of ambition from promoters and organisations aiming to tap into India’s appetite for live sport.
“From a single-sport country to a multi-sport country, India is witnessing a boom which will benefit the sports business ecosystem,” Niyogi said. “In 2015, I see a change in the way the consumers will interact in the realm of sports and entertainment.”
The Indian Super League (ISL) (see page 50) football tournament features eight franchises from across the country, while the Champions Tennis League and Indian Premier Tennis League (IPTL) attracted some of the sport’s top stars such as Maria Sharapova and Roger Federer alongside local players.
The Pro Kabaddi League features eight Indian franchises, but intriguingly the inaugural World Kabaddi League’s eight teams were from across the globe – including the UK, USA, Canada and Pakistan – and featured some games at the O2 Arena in London and the LG Arena in Birmingham, England before the final stages in India.
Prashant Singh, a general manager of Octagon in India, told SportBusiness International that India had been “very successful” in exporting its core sports and sports properties such as cricket to the world.
“Every cricketer in the world wants to play in the IPL, and every cricket fan in the world knows and follows it,” he said. “Its broadcasts have a global footprint.”
“Insofar as kabaddi is concerned, it has only been one year (for both the World Kabaddi League and the Pro Kabaddi League) but in this time kabaddi has gained traction wherever it has been played outside India.”
However, the success of such projects will be judged on their longevity, and whether they match the long-term establishment of the IPL, which was founded in 2008 and has helped to drive an approximate two-fold increase in terms of investment in Indian sports sponsorship over the past seven years, according to Niyogi.
“Sport in India has always been about cricket, and at the top level it operates on serious money,” Singh added. “Ideally, sports marketing businesses operate on long-term business model, which includes the creation of sports properties that take time to nurture.
Demand can be created through effective packaging.
“The best example of this would be the Mumbai Marathon, a city-based event, which attracts major partnerships and is promoted on the world stage, but I believe the biggest challenge here is to bring other sports deeper into this industry.”
— Mike Firpo (@MikeFirpo) June 29, 2015
Football is one fringe sport that has shown considerable promise recently, with the inaugural season of the ISL attracting average attendances of more than 26,000 after initial delays postponed the start of the tournament. With the domestic I-League already in existence since 2007, the country’s football outlook will be enhanced further when it stages the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup.
“There is a huge underlying potential here that is yet to translate into deliveries,” Niyogi added. “What is clear though is that if and when football makes that big leap forward, its rise will be phenomenal.
“The Indian Super League is all about creating a bigger wave behind football, with more professionalism, better players and an increase in the number of eyeballs on the game. What I find reassuring is that, according to the league’s charter, each of the teams will have to spend a certain amount of money on building a grassroots system for the game across the country.
“The domestic I-League has had its own share of problems, and a number of teams have ceased to exist during its lifetime. The problem is that football clubs have not been able to create any viable profits for investors to stay interested.
“However, at the same time professionally managed teams like Bengaluru FC, driven by India’s biggest steel manufacturer JSW, and FC Lajong Shillong have been extremely popular with spectators. It will be interesting to see whether these teams stand the test of time with fresher and entertaining leagues take a bigger slice of the pie.
“Football clearly has a way to go before it can deliver numbers anywhere close to distance running in India, let alone cricket. Although there has been a huge amount of traction with the growth of badminton, golf, basketball and tennis.
“India has been a one-sport country, but now the image is changing with more non-cricketing influx, and brands are finding newer avenues to reach out to the end consumer.
“The government has initiated new schemes to promote public-private partnerships to develop and manage sports infrastructure across the country.
“Many Indian organisations are partnering with international experts for insights and technological advancements across sports.”