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Through the IPL, brands have started to speak to the many Indias: Nikhil Bardia

The head of RISE Worldwide on what brands look for in IPL teams and how the battle for the No. 2 spot, after cricket, is hotting up

Published: Apr 12, 2024 12:33:19 PM IST
Updated: Apr 12, 2024 06:23:31 PM IST

Through the IPL, brands have started to speak to the many Indias: Nikhil BardiaNikhil Bardia, Head of RISE Worldwide
Valuations in multi-crore deals are no longer just the preserve of the corporate boardroom. Every sports team of the modern era is generating statistics that would once seem incredible. And I'm not just talking on field here. Consider that the Indian Premier League (IPL) has turned into a decacorn, valued at more than $10 billion.

Where do these numbers come from and how does one make sense of these extraordinary numbers? Nikhil Bardia, the head of RISE Worldwide, in an episode of Sports UnLtd, took us through the fascinating world of sports marketing.

RISE Worldwide is an independent sports, lifestyle and Entertainment company that has stitched team partnerships worth around Rs 300 crore for IPL 2024, including five front-of-jersey deals considered premium real estate on a team kit. It also exclusively manages some of India's most coveted cricketers, like Rohit Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah. In the interview, Bardia parsed the ever-expanding landscape of Indian sports and shared what it takes to manage celebrity cricketers in the age of social media. Edited excerpts:
Q. How is sports marketing different from marketing in other verticals?
Sport is one event where you do not know the outcome. Sport is exciting because you do not know what the results are going to be like and that, from a viewership perspective or experience perspective, makes it a very engaging platform compared to other entertainment opportunities. Sport brings various genres, diverse audiences together. It brings people together to support a certain team, athlete, country, or club. Because it is so exciting from a consumer perspective, brands start to look at sport as an option to market. Understanding the sports landscape and then looking at how you can integrate the brands or whatever monetisation options you have, makes it unique because of the emotion. It's not about how many times people see it, or do they register a brand, but giving brands a chance to associate with an emotion.
Q. Given the emotions involved, is it easier to sell sports?
Internationally, there is a marketing budget, a part of which is then split into a sports marketing budget. In India, we are still in the early stages when you look at sports as an industry, and from a player perspective, it's just a marketing budget. Today the split has become more about TV and digital, but I don't think a sports marketing budget is kept aside at the start of the financial year by brand marketers. We are typically fighting for that overall kitty and asking if we can find a part in that. Thanks to the IPL, the industry has really grown and I think in the next 5 to 10 years, we’ll reach a certain level of maturity from the sponsorship/partnership perspective which will then give everyone a lot more confidence to say let's allocate a certain amount of the marketing budget towards sport. In the West, you'll see brands like Coca-Cola, Visa, MasterCard, focus on sports partnerships. In India we're seeing brands just starting to do it.
Q. While sports marketing in India is still a fledgling industry, what we have now is very different from what we had about 5/7 years ago. Can you give us a snapshot of how the patterns of sports marketing have changed through these years?
The first, and the most noticeable one, is, initially, brands will look at this as just an awareness piece in terms ‘can I get fans to see my logo’, and everyone looked at short-term deals or quick wins. Now, it's evolved towards more medium- to long-term deals—people are ready to commit for three/five years. Second, when the IPL started, it was about a certain player and in which team is that player; now, it's about I support this team or this franchise. Third, the value on creating money-can't-buy experiences has evolved. Content and monetisation, and how you create content has again opened up an entire new opportunity which didn’t exist earlier on. And today, the activation spends for brands are rising, and they are beginning to spend at least a minimum of 50 percent on activating. Today, brands realise it’s not just about becoming a partner of a certain franchise, but it's about how do I leverage my partnership.

The other unique thing about brand partnerships in India is that brands have started doing multiple team partnerships, which does not really exist in other leagues globally. If you look at Jio, which has partnered with nine teams, BKT is on the back of six teams, Dream11 is on the front-of-shirt of four teams. This is happening because there are many Indias. You cannot apply one-size-fits all. If you look at the IPL, it's broadcast in 12 languages. If I remember correctly, 57 percent of the audience likes to watch it in regional languages. That tells us that you need to talk to each region as a brand very differently. It's taken us some time to understand, and that’s been a big win for us in terms of increasing the fan base. 

Also read: Why Adidas is betting big on Indian cricket
Q. Given the tough economic climate, what sort of brand partnerships have you stitched in IPL 2024?
Yes, it is a tough economic climate. There are the elections, there’s the funding winter for startups, traditional buyers are back again, but they are used to buying at a certain value because for them it's not just for IPL but IPL versus other marketing opportunities. Keeping all that in mind, we did a 20 percent growth when it comes to team partnerships and did 50-plus deals. We did five front-of-shirt deals, which is 50 percent of the entire quote, so that’s amazing. The key here is that we’ve invested a lot in working with the right partners over a long-term perspective. You will always have economic challenges, but if a brand is invested in a franchise or in the sporting ecosystem for a long time, that is the most valuable thing. The IPL teams and rights holders have been able to provide value to brands, which makes brands look at this for a long term.
Q. When brands come to you, what do they look for in partnerships?
The IPL is such a strong asset that everyone really wants to be associated with it. I've been in the business since the first IPL, and I've never seen any brand saying they don't want to do an IPL partnership—it's about whether they can afford it. It’s important for us to understand what is the objective that a brand wants to achieve through this partnership. Once the rationale is understood, there's enough data to justify your recommendations. For us, a lot of our partnerships are done pretty much 4-5 months before the IPL because brands need that time to build their creative communication to leverage their partnership.
Q. Why do some IPL teams become more lucrative propositions for brands than others?
There are multiple factors. One, the geography of where you are and how much inherently your audiences in the region support you. Second, having marquee players. Performance is key, but I think teams that stand out are those that have been able to put the fan at the forefront. RCB is a classic example, which, without any silverware, has focussed a lot on the fan, and fans have started believing that they are part of RCB. That relationship is the reason why the teams are able to command the extra value from a commercial perspective.
Q. The traditional levers of revenues for IPL franchises are media rights, sponsorship, ticketing, etc. What are the new-age revenue churners that sports marketers can monetise?
Media rights continue to be the biggest driver of revenue, followed by sponsorship and ticketing. The monetisation of content and the digital platforms are becoming very relevant, which did not exist earlier, and that’s the focus area for a lot of teams. It will continue to be so because brands are also enjoying partnering on digital content.

One area that’s in the early stages but is going to become relevant is licensing. It hasn’t taken off yet because culturally, India has always been more of a value buyer.

But, when Adidas launched the Rs 999 jersey during the ODI World Cup in 2023, it's amazing to see the number of fans who were wearing that because they realised its price is just a little more than the counterfeits that you were getting. And also tying up with last-mile delivery platforms made it very easy for a fan to access it. Merchandising is taking baby steps, and it will be a significant force in the future.
Q. In the world of sports sponsorship in India, how far ahead is cricket when compared to other sports?
Cricket, obviously, is the most dominant sport. But it’s very exciting to see the fight for the Number 2 spot between football and kabaddi. Both of them are fighting for viewership and sponsorship. Both still have to make a lot of strides but, if you look at the next 20 years, it will be interesting to see that the gap has reduced significantly. The other aspect that's generating a lot of commercial interest is the Olympic sports. The number of medals has increased, we’ve created a lot of heroes in it, women athletes have done better than the male athletes allowing for a new conversation for brands. I think that's going to become an exciting opportunity.

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