Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Is sports pushing Bollywood out of the marketing spotlight?

Sports marketing in India is gaining a lot of momentum. Both new age and legacy brands are now using cricket and other emerging sports as their preferred marketing tool. Bollywood may not be out of the scene but sports has certainly upped its game

Published: May 25, 2022 12:48:07 PM IST
Updated: May 25, 2022 04:01:29 PM IST

Is sports pushing Bollywood out of the marketing spotlight?Virat Kohli in an MPL advertisement. Image: MPL 

Sports is giving Bollywood a run for its money when it comes to endorsements and sponsorships. Arun Pandey, CMD, Rhiti Sports Management (P) Ltd in the Digital Acceleration 2.0 report by Duff & Phelps says the emergence of D2C brands is leading to marketers looking at associations with celebrity brands for targeted outreach of their products. And it is not just about Bollywood anymore.

He says cricketers, sportspersons and other social media influencers are being roped in as brand ambassadors where the strategy is to associate with the endorser who can ensure better and higher engagement with the product’s potential consumers.

Live sports pushing the envelope for the genre

“Linear TV and Live sports as a category are on an all-time high with emerging sports adding on to the fanfare that only cricket has enjoyed for the longest time. While cricket still leads the pack, other sports and sports stars have started to become a big part of brands and marketing in the present times,” says N Chandramouli, chief executive officer (CEO) of Mumbai-based brand intelligence and advisory firm TRA Research.

According to him, the success of a movie is a shared reward and is a major factor that builds the brand value of the celebrity but in sports, the sports stars are on their own. Their individual performance makes and breaks the game for them when it comes to bagging endorsement deals.

Moreover, the segment also grew multifold in the past two years in terms of reach through their live content. A recent FICCI report says that the Indian sports segment grew 62 percent in 2021 exceeding pre-Covid-19 levels and television garnered 84 percent of media spends on sports. Live sports programming also increased to 21 percent of total programming hours leading to marketers cashing in on the reach and access.

Why are marketers focusing on sports more than entertainment stars?

Explaining what marketers are looking for exactly when they opt for sports stars over entertainment personalities, Aviral Jain, managing director at proprietary data, technology and insights company Kroll says, “Today, a large section of the Indian population consists of millennials and Gen Z, and brands look to tap into this budding consumer pool through relevant celebrity partnerships and focused marketing strategies.”

Sports celebrities according to him are typically able to establish a strong emotional connect with the youth today with a sense of ownership and loyalty, enabling brands to successfully correlate their product to these qualities. “They also provide new aspirational figures for the youth to continuously relate to,” he says.

Emerging brand assets in sports

Talking of new aspirational figures, after the Tokyo Olympics, names like Bajrang Punia, Devendra Jhajharia, Neeraj Chopra and PV Sindhu came to the forefront as they added major endorsement deals to their brand portfolio.

Brands across sectors ditched popular Bollywood names to add rising sports stars to their marketing communications for enhanced targeted reach and engagement.

Some of these new deals included Bridgestone and APIS Himalaya Honey signing on PV Sindhu, Mobil India getting Bajrang Punia on board, Citibank onboarding Devendra Jhajharia (from Paralympic javelin throw) followed by several others like TATA AIA Life Insurance, Cred and Country Delight Naturals who got Neeraj Chopra as their ambassador, Amrutanjan Healthcare onboarded Saikhom Mirabai Chanu and whereas SmartValue Health Care products got Ravi Kumar Dahiya.

The medalists from the Tokyo Olympics 2020 brought more to the table than any Bollywood celebrity in the year gone by, with the high engagement rates that came from the enormous growth in their social media following.

According to a recent Duff & Phelps report, Neeraj Chopra who had a 133K follower base on social platforms saw a 2,682 percent growth, followed by Saikhom Mirabai Chanu who saw an 853.3 percent growth post the Olympics. Others such as PV Sindhu, Bajrang Punia, Ravi Kumar Dahiya, Lovlina Borgohain, Parattu Raveendran Sreejesh and Manpreet Singh also saw a growth in the follower base anywhere between 45 percent and 600 percent. 

Jain says the growing followership and consistent engagement across digital media enable fans to connect with sportspersons off the field as well, making these celebrities more relatable and approachable.

“These insights into the lives of sports celebrities strengthen the emotional connect, which when amplified by the usage of social media makes it more rewarding for brand engagement,” he said.

No wonder new-age brands especially those targeting the millennial crowd who are targeted mostly on digital platforms made a beeline for sports stars.

However, this doesn’t throw cricket stars out of the scene. According to the same celebrity valuation report, Virat Kohli consistently tops the charts for the fifth time in a row as the country’s most valued celebrity with a brand value of $185.7 million.

Like most other brands that work with Kohli, MPL too picked up the cricketer for his consumer connect. Brands say they share the same set of values with the former India captain.

“Virat has the same traits as MPL does—young, bold, competitive, and hence he was a perfect brand fit for us as we looked to scale rapidly from a young brand to a household name in the country,” says Manish Shrivastava, VP - marketing, MPL. MS Dhoni, Jasprit Bumrah, KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma and Sachin Tendulkar are also the evergreen brand favourites across sectors.

Striking a balance between Bollywood and sports

For some brands though, it’s all about balance. Like Amit Bhardwaj, CMO and founder at fantasy platform, Fantasy Akhada says, “There is a good mix of sportspersons and actors when it comes to brands taking a pick for the right face for their brand. This clearly shows the similar brand value for both categories of professionals. However, I feel that the opportunities to showcase a brand are much more when it comes to live sports; and it has only increased with the Indian Premier League becoming a perfect platform for brands across industries to launch and showcase their products.”

According to Bhardwaj, one of the other reasons for live sports being a sought after marketing opportunity is the kind of companies spending heavy marketing bucks today. It provides brands from SportsTech, ecommerce, EdTech and more to address the right target group. Bhardwaj chose his endorsers carefully. They worked with Harsha Bhogle and Ali Fazal for their campaign where Bhogle represented the more urban cricket-loving population while Fazal gave them access to the hinterland of India where their Hindi-speaking audience is. 

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 analysis 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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