(From left) Neeraj Chopra, Olympic and world champion, England Test batting coach Brendon McCullum and Abhinav Bindra, India’s first ever individual Olympic gold medallist
IPL franchise Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) has always looked beyond cricket to build its brand. Consider that the Diageo-owned franchise has set up verticals in F&B, fashion and fitness to further its appeal as a lifestyle brand. In 2023, it launched the RCB Innovation Lab to grow the sports ecosystem through research and development. Now, in its first international tie-up, the RCB Innovation Lab has partnered with Leaders In Sport, a premier events and sports media organisation, to bring the Leaders Meet, a global sports conclave, to India. The two-day event will take place in Bengaluru on November 29-30, and will feature speakers like Abhinav Bindra, India’s first ever individual Olympic gold medallist, Neeraj Chopra, Olympic and world champion, Will Brass, chief commercial officer of the Premier League, football legend Alessandro Del Piero, England Test batting coach Brendon McCullum, and P Gopichand, iconic badminton coach.
In an interview with Forbes India
, Rajesh Menon, the vice president and head of RCB, and Laura McQueen, the managing director of Leaders In Sport, discuss why they are bringing the marquee sports summit to India and how they expect the meet to shape the conversation around sports. Edited excerpts: Q. What made you come to India, and what are you looking to get in this partnership with RCB?
Leaders In Sport has been in existence for about 15 years. Throughout that time, our goal has been to be the hub of the global professional sports industry. We are continuously looking at where across the world is there growth opportunity for the industry. Most recently, we have been thinking about India as a thriving economy with a huge population of sports fans. And we feel that India is a massive untapped potential for the growth of a sports economy.
We were organically introduced to RCB, and we loved its ambition about growing the sports economy in India, and not just specific to the IPL or cricket. It took a while because we spent a long time thinking through what the purpose of the event would be and how we could create something that really was unique within India. We felt that RCB was absolutely the right partner with the same ambition around trying to grow the sports economy in India, but also championing best practices, and we as Leaders will bring over the international organisations who can help stimulate that conversation. Q. Can you give us a snapshot of how the Leaders Meet: India aligns with RCB’s Innovation Lab?
The RCB Innovation Lab has multiple vectors to it, and the core of it is how do we expand sports in India, not just cricket. One of the vectors was dialogue and prescription to move sports in India—this conference sits bang on that, with a dialogue that’s not just on cricket but the entire sports ecosystem in India.
Apart from that, there are multiple other things that we are doing—we’re looking at getting into digital education, we’re getting into tech-based coaching for cricket. All these aspects can move sports and cricket in India. (From left) Rajesh Menon, the vice president and head of RCB, and Laura McQueen, the managing director of Leaders In Sport Q. Can you elaborate on the thoughts behind the selection of speakers and the themes?
When we began speaking, the overarching purpose was to be ambitious about what the future of the sports industry can look like in India. The key themes where we began thinking about how do we make that happen were technology, innovation, sports performance and the fan experience, areas that we can help drive the conversation. As we began to discuss with the speakers—for example, Will Brass, the chief commercial officer of the Premier League—we began to understand particular areas where there was interest. Fan experience, for example, is one that we were particularly excited about.
We then began to think through where are the stories that people may not know about India and its sports economy. Here, I'm particularly excited about some of the Indian athletes who are speaking, because I think they really bring to life the opportunity and the potential of the Indian sports market. This will be the first time that international stakeholders such as the Premier League, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United will be able to hear those stories. RM:
What we wanted to do was envisage how do you move sports in India. Hence, we identified the core vectors and within that we felt we need to have representation from each of the main sporting bodies to understand what's happening outside and see how we can implement that internally. Second, we also looked internally, within our system, to see who is doing the best. We know Odisha is now emerging as the hub for Indian sports, so we have Vineel Krishna, the state’s chief secretary, at the event to present how its journey can become a blueprint for others as well. Similarly, we looked at multiple other factors—from a governance point of view, performance point of view, technology point of view—that’s required to move sports in India, and which are the speakers that will fit well to deliver this agenda. Also read: Why owners Diageo gave RCB a free hand to buy a WPL team Q. Both of you speak about the impact of technology and digital in the world of sport. How is digital impacting high performance in sport?
There are two aspects to it: On-field and off-field. What can technology do off-field? One, help in understanding or identification of talent, second, fan engagement, because sports is nothing without its fans, and, last, infrastructure.
On-field, its role is more in performance, and talent scouting. I'll give you an example from our own experience. You can’t have 10,000 people on ground scouting for talent, so we were the first to introduce AI tech into talent scouting, where we require only two people to go out with mobile phones, upload data on the cloud, and then bring shortlisted players to a central place for another round of trial. Second, look at our MoU with IIT-Madras, where we look at how the pressure from the feet impacts stroke play. We are working with them to develop insole technology with sensors to understand the movement of the feet. So, if Glenn Maxwell is batting, we would have got good data to identify where his power is coming from. And this can be implemented not just in cricket, but also sports like football, boxing, where your feet play a key role. Q. From the outside, how does Leaders see the growth prospects of the sports market in India?
There's huge potential particularly with the population in India and the largest connected population of fans. But it’s really cricket that is the number one sport that has grown. So, from an outside perspective, there's a huge opportunity to continue to engage the population in more sports than cricket. If you look at football and participation across the entire nation, that, in turn, provides an opportunity for the sports economy within India to professionalise and continue to grow. From watching sports matches, whether that's on your mobile phone or on a television, to following your favourite athletes and finding a way of connecting the large population to the global sports economy will hopefully, in turn, also help drive participation in sports within India. It’s a long journey ahead but it’s an exciting journey in terms of the opportunities that await.