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Why are brands warming up to non-cricket sports?

Sponsorships and brand investments are no longer limited to cricket as more and more marketers take up an inclusive approach when it comes to sports marketing. Sports like badminton, kabaddi, kho kho, handball, and even yoga are grabbing the marketers' attention

Published: May 20, 2022 06:46:44 PM IST
Updated: May 20, 2022 07:07:15 PM IST

Why are brands warming up to non-cricket sports?India's players tussle with Sri Lanka's Y.D. Sanjaya (C) during the Kabaddi final at the 13th South Asian Games (SAG) in Kathmandu on December 9, 2019. Image: PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP via Getty Images

Marketers are warming up to badminton, wrestling, kabaddi, boxing, and other non-cricket sports as players shine in big leagues. Brands across sectors like fashion, fintech, edtech, F&B, FMCG, electronics, and others are increasing investments in media spends, ground sponsorships, team sponsorships, and endorsements in a wide variety of sports. While cricket still leads the charts, it is no longer the only sport in the marketing playbook of both new age and legacy brands.

“While investing money in cricket ensures immediate prominence and overnight appreciation for any brand, associating with indigenous and emerging sports provide brands a more economical option to engage with thousands of new young fans in a particular sports discipline,” says Tenzing Niyogi, chief executive officer at the soon to be launched league, Ultimate Kho Kho.

Overall surge

Overall, the space saw a surge in the year gone by, leading to brands taking notice of emerging categories and athletes. As per a recent GroupM ESP report, 2021 saw an echoing comeback for sports sponsorships and media deals as compared to 2020.

The space saw a 62 percent growth over 2020, with India’s performance at the Tokyo Olympics being a major morale booster for budding sports talent in the country. There was also a significant growth in Sport AdEx that stood at Rs 6,018 crore in 2021. The spending on sports celebrity endorsement grew by 11 percent year-on-year in 2021.

Out of the 444 brand endorsement deals that have happened in 2021, cricketers accounted for 318 endorsement deals and 87 percent of the total brand endorsement value. However, the Olympic Year of 2021 increased emerging sports athletes' endorsements by 79 percent, accounting for 13 percent of the overall brand endorsement value.

Brands bring non-cricket sports back on a growth trajectory

The backing of brands is also leading to the comeback of a series of a traditional sports like Kho-Kho. The Ultimate Kho Kho league, for instance, has already roped in Sony Pictures Networks India (SPNI) as its official broadcast partner. And according to its patrons, has a deep cultural connect as a community game with a loyal base that can be a marketing goldmine.

Leagues must become the most exciting on-air properties that will lead to brands extending their investments beyond cricket content.

In fact, as per TAM AdEx numbers, live sports programming increased to 21 percent of total programming hours in 2021, from a low of 13 percent during the pandemic. This, in turn, increased the share of high-value live sports ad volumes to 37 percent from their 2020 level of just 24 percent.

As per Niyogi, highly improved performances at Olympics, Commonwealth and Asian Games, and the Khelo India initiative give India a platform in sports like never before. It is the best moment for Sports IP rights holders to hit the right chord and resonate with various stakeholders like teams, sponsors and broadcasters on board. Advertisers, on the other hand, also search for new opportunities to communicate with consumers.

He also says that the country is rapidly moving away from being a one-sport nation. And the fact that there is so much advertising clutter around cricket has enabled marketers to invest in new but rapidly evolving sports leagues to connect with the young, dynamic and aspirational fans based in metros, Tier I, Tier II and Tier III towns.

“There is merit in these advertisers following the ‘catch them young and watch them grow’ mantra when it comes to indigenous properties. The current trend among brands is to pick events they can use to create a connection that goes beyond the ‘Now’ and more importantly, enables the brand marketing and messaging objectives,” he added.

A host of new-age brands like Paytm, BharatPe, PhonePe, Upstox, Byju’s, Unacademy, Cred, and others are using this audience base to reach the emerging ‘Bharat’ market.

Leagues and corporate India

Prasad Mangipudi, managing director, Sportzlive, licence holders of Premier Badminton League says IPL has shown how to make money out of sports.

“Our non-cricket base is very small. So it had only one direction—upwards,” says Mangipudi.

According to Mangipudi, the affordability factor of emerging categories is a huge plus for the space. “The number of advertisers is increasing. So those who can’t afford cricket invest in non-cricket sports,” he says. He adds that the next bout of growth in the space will come from the various leagues in the non-cricket category, where both the government and a sizable chunk of corporate India will be generously investing.

Talking of corporate India, Shreya Sachdev, head of marketing at PUMA India, says while cricket remains the heart and soul of India, with the advent of OTT, other sports like football have also seen strong growth in viewership.

“We see it as our responsibility to foster the sporting ecosystem of the country, across disciplines. PUMA supports both established as well as upcoming athletes across sports such as cricket, football, hockey, boxing, track and field and swimming,” Sachdev tells Storyboard18.

Puma’s roster includes cricketers Virat Kohli, KL Rahul, football captain Sunil Chettri, Olympic Sprinter Dutee Chand, Hockey player Savita Punia, and footballers such as Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Abdul Sahal, among others.

Moving forward to continue increasing their investments in both teams and athletes—and use them to fuel further growth in India—Sachdev says, “We understand and leverage the tremendous power that sport has to unite, uplift, and inspire a nation, whether it is by supporting grassroots initiatives, investing in young and upcoming talent across sports, or providing a platform that celebrates the achievements of our athletes in a way that inspires others to follow in their footsteps.”

So even with all eyes on the IPL media rights for 2023-2027, smaller leagues across various other sports will continue to lure brands with their new reach, access and engagement prowess.

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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