Support from brands can go a long way for these deserving para-athletes. Image: Shutterstock
In an exclusive interview with Storyboard18, Karthik Raman, chief marketing officer and head - products, Ageas Federal Life Insurance, talks about the need for India Inc to invest in sports with a vision for the future, the potential of Indian para-athletes, and more.
Q. Tell us about the company’s commitment to sports marketing? What are the short and long term plans? Our purpose at Ageas Federal is to empower people to create and lead the lifestyle of their choice. So, while one part of this empowerment is financial planning and timely investment in life insurance, we also believe an individual needs to focus on his physical health and fitness to live a holistic life. After all, good health is the best insurance one can have.
Over the years, we have been using the platform of sports to communicate our purpose to our customers and other audiences. With the cricketing space dominated by huge corporations with deep pockets, we decided to look at other sports where we could make a difference. Running makes the most sense since it is the easiest way to get fit. We have been organising our hugely popular marathons in Mumbai, New Delhi, Kochi, and Kolkata since 2016, and our efforts have greatly helped build the running culture in the country. We have also been associated with other sports such as badminton and football, supporting various programmes and academies that provide high-quality training and infrastructure to players at the grassroots level.
Our partnerships have always been over the long term. We invest time, money and effort, intending to identify and nurture budding talent at the grassroots level who will be the country's champions of tomorrow.
Q. What convinced the brand’s shareholders to partner with Gaurav Khanna to set up India’s first para-badminton academy? We were blown away by the stupendous performance put up by the para-badminton players at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. After meeting with Gaurav Khanna, Dronacharya Awardee and Head National Coach of the Indian Para-badminton team, we realised that much more needs to be done for our country’s supremely talented para-shuttlers. To help further the sport in the country, we partnered with Gaurav Khanna to launch the Ageas Federal ‘Quest for Fearless Shuttlers’ programme in January this year.
The association is aimed at improving India’s medal chances at the 2024 Paralympics and for spotting and nurturing new talent for the 2028 and 2032 Paralympics. Our support will also help convert India’s first para-badminton academy into a state-of-the-art, high-performance centre with advanced equipment and facilities.
Q. As a marketer who is investing in para-athletes? What, according to you, do they bring to the table? How can brands empower them? As a brand, we have always been speaking the message of positivity, hope and optimism. Our association with para-badminton aligns perfectly with our brand vision of being #FutureFearless. The para-shuttlers are amazingly talented athletes who have overcome disabilities and, in many cases, financial disadvantages, to represent the country at the highest level. Their determination to succeed against all odds is greatly inspirational, and we want their stories to get further amplified.
Support from brands can go a long way for these deserving para-athletes, providing them with better coaching, physios, training infrastructure, nutrition, and finances to travel abroad and participate in international tournaments. Greater awareness and financial support will also help more disabled kids and their parents realise that para-sports provide a viable career option.
Q. What are some of the challenges of sports marketing in India? What are the roadblocks that you are trying to overcome as a brand? The future of sports marketing in India is certainly brighter now than it was a few years ago. We see many brands associating with sports beyond cricket, from football to badminton to kabaddi to athletics. In the past, pursuing sports was not considered a viable career option since there were limited jobs and not much money to be made. But in the current scenario, sport is getting a lot of visibility and opportunity. To build and sustain the sports ecosystem in the country, several changes are required.
Firstly, any sports investment by India Inc needs to be long-term in nature. Short-term support would always have this dilemma of predicting the next consumer trend. By providing long-term support in terms of maintaining facilities and supporting deserving athletes and academies, the sport gets the required time to grow and flourish, while providing opportunities for the corporate to draw adequate branding mileage.
For example, barring Neeraj Chopra, who has received multiple brand endorsements post his Gold at Tokyo, there is not much corporate support for athletics. Much more financial assistance from corporate India is needed at the grassroots level to identify and groom the next set of potential Olympic medal-winners.
Secondly, a lot more needs to be done in terms of sports development. Sports must be made mandatory in our educational curriculum, and we should promote educational courses for sports management. We need a transparent map of how an individual can progress to reach the highest level in the sport of their choice; this would encourage many more to actively participate.
Also, we need to vastly improve the quality of coaching and sports infrastructure in the country. We must have coaching academies to produce greater numbers of quality coaches. Be it education or sports—the better the quality of teachers, the better the students.
When more and more sportspersons reach the pinnacle of their game, there is greater interest from the media, parents, kids, and sports-viewing audiences, which further induces corporates to invest in diverse sports.
Q. India is rich in sports culture, but why do most brands play it safe by investing only in the tried and tested? For many of the less-popular sports in the country, getting live coverage for their tournaments or leagues at reasonable costs, whether on television or OTT platforms, continues to remain a challenge. Additionally, for many smaller tournaments, getting fans to buy tickets for the live events is another test. We see that leagues backed by the big sports broadcasters continue to flourish while others have come to an end after just a few seasons. A combination of these factors results in brands being reluctant to invest in sports properties beyond cricket.
Q. Do you think brands invest more in sports personalities than in the sport itself? A marketer evaluates sponsorships based on the reach and impact they are likely to get for their investment. Whether it is a sports personality, a tournament, a league or an academy, the sponsorship depends on the perceived mileage the brand is likely to get out of the association.
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