Is Badminton still a hard sell in India?

Indian shuttlers are smashing it on international courts and building the sport's value like never before. But most brands want to invest in events and short-term partnerships

Published: May 19, 2022 03:48:15 PM IST
Updated: May 19, 2022 05:27:38 PM IST

Is Badminton still a hard sell in India?Today, badminton has become a household name, feel experts. Image: Shutterstock 

In August 2021, when ace shuttler PV Sindhu won her second Olympic medal, brands flocked to congratulate her for the historic moment. However, Baseline Ventures, the sports marketing agency that manages all commercial deals for Sindhu, didn’t think it was a great idea. The agency sent legal notices to around 20 brands on her behalf, seeking damages worth Rs 5 crore from each for unauthorised use of her name and pictures for marketing purposes.

In March this year, when Lakshya Sen stood second at the 2022 edition of the All England Open Badminton Championship, Baseline Ventures got calls from a few brands seeking permission to use Sen’s name and photographs for moment marketing campaigns. The agency declined and sent brands the commercials if they wanted to use pictures and the shuttler’s name. They weren't left with many takers. 

Ramakrishnan R, co-founder of Baseline Ventures tells Storyboard18, “It’s not fair for brands to ride on the success of a sportsperson just for moment marketing campaigns. Honestly, they are using it to only grab attention for themselves.”

A hard pitch


With Kidambi Srikanth, Lakshya Sen, doubles pair Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, recently bringing home India’s first-ever Thomas Cup, Ramakrishnan believes while the spirit of the nation is positive towards the sport and the players, it will still be a hard sell to marketers.

“It is no rocket science why a brand supports a sportsperson post a successful event. When you pitch a non-cricketer to marketers, they want to know the eyeballs the player will bring in. They evaluate the factors with a micro lens. In my opinion, the comparison with cricket is unfair. Cricket will always be a popular sport because there is strong economics behind it. Having said that, every sport is unique and will bring value to brands,” explains Ramakrishnan.

He admits that when Sindhu was just climbing the success ladder, it was difficult to win the confidence of brands.

Today, Sindhu has over 10 brands in her portfolio. Vizag Steel, Bank of Baroda, Li Ning, Spinny, Stayfree, Bridgestone, Asian paints, Visa and Maybelline, among others have been supporting Sindhu. The endorsement deals are in the range of Rs 3 crore to Rs 4 crore.

In 2020, Sindhu’s brand value was about $12 million and it could go up by 20 percent to 25 percent this year. Srikanth has long-term deals with Bank of Baroda and Li Ning. For Sen, Baseline Ventures is in talks with a few brands. Currently, he has Herbalife, Country Delight, and Japanese sports equipment manufacturer Yonex in his kitty. Rankireddy and Shetty are also on the Baseline Ventures’ roster. The duo are also supported by Yonex, a brand that has been instrumental in supplying world-class equipment to Indian shuttlers.

Saina Nehwal, a two-time Commonwealth Games gold medalist and 2012 London Olympics bronze medalist, also had her share of big endorsement wins. Over the years, she has promoted brands such as Herbalife, Star Sports, Godrej, No Marks, Emami, Sahara, Indian Overseas Bank, and Iodex, among others.

According to Ramakrishnan, the best kind of brand associations in sports are the ones that become a part of an athlete’s journey. “It’s a game at the end of the day. There are going to be ups and downs. Marketers who stand by an athlete during good and bad days are remembered by consumers too.”

Off the court performance


The success stories of shuttlers in recent times prove that a robust system for the sport is in place, says Anil Jayaraj, CEO, Viacom18 Sports.

Today, badminton has become a household name, believes Jayaraj. “At the top level, badminton is played for over 30 weeks around the year, so players have substantial opportunities to prove their mettle and be seen,” he adds.

Sports18 and Viacom18’s OTT platform VOOT was the official broadcast partner of BWF Thomas and Uber Cup. It is also the official broadcaster for all BWF World Tour events including the upcoming Thailand Open, followed by Indonesia Masters, Indonesia Open, and the BWF World Championships later in the year.

Nikhil Paramjit Sharma, founder and CEO of Zlait Sports Management says sports performance off the pitch starts mirroring the performance on the pitch or court sooner than later. “Badminton now is a pan-India sport and not just restricted to a few strong pockets. So the identification of the sport with the country is stronger and more entrenched than it was maybe even a decade ago,” he says.

Brands are also investing to go deeper into different pockets of India with minimal marketing and maximum on ground support. For instance, in the past Tata Trust have partnered with the Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy (PGBA) to promote badminton in Mizoram.

Last year, the Padukone Sports Management (PSM) founded by Indian badminton legend Prakash Padukone and Vimal Kumar, hosted one of India's biggest grassroots badminton tournaments. Earlier this year, the head national coach of the Indian para-badminton team, Gaurav Khanna, and Ageas Federal Life Insurance got together to set up India's first Para-badminton Academy in Lucknow. The effort is to encourage more para-shuttlers to come on board.

Badminton Association of India and Japanese sports equipment manufacturer Yonex also have grassroots programmes to popularise the game and encourage young talent.

However, for the sport to grow even more, there have to be more grassroots movements in training and tournaments.

“Brands could actively participate in the sport across all levels of the player pyramid to ensure the fervour for the sport is maintained in competitive as well as recreational participation,” Sharma suggests, adding that a content-led marketing approach will benefit brands to attract more talent on the court.

Note to readers: Storyboard18’s new Month In Focus initiative spotlights themes and topics that are pushing marketers to reshape and rethink how brands interact with today’s customers. Our first theme is Just Sports, a special spotlight on sports marketing presented by Sports18. We bring to you stories of how marketers are harnessing the power of technology, innovation and creativity in sports to create powerful storytelling in campaigns that increase affinity and loyalty with audiences. From traditional sports platforms around cricket to emerging games and the rise of esports, we get leading voices from the marketing and sports worlds to give us sharp and fast insights into future-facing marketing practices. Also, tune in for analyses which will surface ideas and strategies that are helping brands to level up experiences and storytelling with authentic collaborations. So watch this space for Just Sports.

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