The 2018 FIFA World Cup, one of the biggest events on the sporting calendar, began June 14th. Despite the Indian team repeatedly not qualifying for the tournament, it is expected to have a viewership of over 100 million fans in India. During this time, marketing campaigns and business platforms able to leverage the large fan base will benefit from greater consumer engagement.
Brand recognition, through sponsorships and media attention, consistently proves to be lucrative for businesses across the board in India. Taking advantage of football fever, the German sports retail brand, Adidas, has been connecting with young Indian consumers via social media platforms like Facebook and Snapchat and organizing football tournaments across various cities.
FIFA’s automotive partner, Kia Motors India, will be sending six fans from India to watch the World Cup as a part of their Official Match Ball Carrier (OMBC) program. Through these strategies, companies successfully able to pitch their products and build brand loyalty through association can remarkably boost their sales in the near to mid-term.
Rise of Indian sporting leagues
World Cup aside, national level sporting leagues in India are also on the uptick. The Indian Super League (ISL), India’s newest football league, has played a significant role in boosting national football viewership. It has the fourth highest global viewership – behind only Germany’s Bundesliga, Spain’s La Liga, and the English Premier League.
Viewership demographics for sporting events show that almost 40 percent of Indian viewers are women, overturning old prejudices that may still hinder consumer reach for several brands. In fact, sports is one of the few sectors in India that permeate societal, geographical, age, and gender divides.
India’s sponsorship market sees record expansion
India’s sports sponsorship market is growing at a rate of 12 percent year-on-year, and is currently valued at upwards of US$887 million (Rs 6,000 crore). Sponsorships supplement advertising campaigns for companies, which are often used to implement corporate social responsibility targets – cumulatively improving business brandingamong consumers. While cricket remains the dominant sport for investments and viewership, followed closely by football, niche sports such as kabaddi (an Indian contact team sport), wrestling, hockey, and badminton are rapidly gaining traction with Indian sports enthusiasts.
The Pro Kabbadi League (PKL), sponsored in India by the Chinese technology company Vivo, generates massive revenues and sponsorships, and could soon catch up with the mega cricketing event, the Indian Premier League (IPL). India’s four-time record of winning the gold at the Asian Games prompted Indian sports enthusiasts to promote the PKL in India. Investors were quick to recognize this niche market.
Foreign entities like Gillette, the United Soccer League, and Castrol join Vivo as sponsors in the PKL, in addition to Indian firms TVS Motors, Association of Mutual Funds of India, Bajaj Electricals, Indo Nissin, and Lux Cozi. Cumulatively, these firms spent more than US$17 million (Rs 120 crore) on sponsorships in the latest season of the league. For cricket-crazed India, the PKL is a fascinating success story of a non-cricket sport gaining market value. So much so, that from 2016 onwards, the league runs for two seasons in a year.
Sports merchandise market in India
Tapping fandom is a key source of revenue for sports merchandise firms. Enthusiastic fans buy their favorite player or team jersey and other sports gear when they watch matches, travel for away games, and play in casual or in amateur tournaments. The manufacturing and retailing of sports clothes and equipment is a huge market in India. Jersey sales always see an uptick close to sporting events. The run up to this year’s FIFA World Cup saw the Egyptian footballer Mohammad Salah’s jersey, among many other players, fly off the racks in India.
In fact, even local teams such as Pune’s PKL squad saw merchandise sales, marketed through online retail stores such as Amazon and Flipkart, go up by 2,600 percent from the previous season. India is a hub for sports clothing and equipment manufacturing, with almost 60 percent made for export to international markets – generating revenues worth US$303.38 million in 2017.
India has also emerged as the primary global sourcing destination for sports goods for multinational brands such as Mitre, Lotto, Umbro, and Wilson. The federal ‘Make in India’ program could be the impetus for the industry to register beyond the current 16 percent year-on-year growth.
New sports service segments emerge
Sports enthusiasts travel across the country and worldwide to follow their favorite sports stars and teams. Multiple service offerings and industries have emerged to cater to this rapidly expanding market. Indians form the third largest fan contingent attending the World Cup this year, with over 17,000 people traveling to Russia for the games.
Companies in the tourism and hospitality sector can market themselves specifically to sports enthusiasts by tailoring trip packages and services centered on sporting events. Food and beverage (F&B) companies can also leverage the sports fever in India. Providing special packages and promo deals to attract sports enthusiasts is a great way to improve business-to-consumer interaction and build revenue.
Collaborating with dedicated team associations, such as the Official Manchester United Fans Club in Delhi or the Liverpool Club India, that pledge to show all team matches in alliance with different restaurants is also a good way to leverage the sports market. Bars and restaurants that show live play of matches register significant increase in consumers during sporting events. A recent survey showed that these consumers tend to patronize the same bars and restaurants even in the off-season.
Another example of how a company can drive profits and promote brand visibility is the case of F&B delivery startup Swiggy. Fiercely competing with delivery startup rivals like Zomato and Foodpanda, Swiggy’s active promotion during the 2018 IPL season saw it register a 25 percent increase in delivery requests to its platform.
Investing in technology – Online streaming, data analytics, fantasy sport
Investors in the sports sector are also leveraging the power of digital platforms to propel consumer engagement. 40 to 50 million fans in India now actively consume sports content on digital mediums, allowing companies to generate ancillary revenues through digital memorabilia, loyalty benefits, brand collaborations, contest participation, or premium access to programs.
Further, sporting teams and ancillary service providers such as broadcasters, hire data analytics firms to provide real-time advice for informed decision-making during sports events. Technology companies can also leverage access to sports fans, both during and off-seasons, through ‘gamification’ – building fantasy sports leagues or mobile apps where like-minded sports followers can connect.
For instance, the fantasy game run by the IPL, Vivo Fantasy IPL, has been a hit with supporters. Further, with major tech companies like Facebook, Samsung, and Google making virtual reality (VR) headsets accessible to the average consumer, its use and application by sports teams and fans alike could have implications for gaming and advertising in the near future.
Opportunities for SME investors
For brand recognition and consumer engagement at sports events – advertising, infrastructure, and sponsorships are the obvious choices for large corporates but may be impractical for smaller firms. Instead, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) can invest in promoting sports training, building sporting facilities, and sponsorships in leagues in tier 2 and 3 cities. This focus on sports development at the grassroots level – in itself a huge market in India – will promote visibility and foster long-term consumer relationships.