Sports: Life Beyond Cricket
The sports world is changing and non-cricket athletes are the new rising stars. This does not mean cricketers have lost their sheen, but brands and fans have started to look beyond cricket.
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There’s no denying that India has always been a cricket-loving nation. But for the past few years, it has been witnessing a breakthrough in non-cricket leagues, which had long been in the offing. There has been a paradigm shift in viewership and brands’ approach, also resulting in the rise of non-cricket sports. While cricket may trigger a visceral attachment, sports such as badminton, boxing, kabaddi, football, and wrestling come with a ‘community’ feel to them. Although cricket is mass, sports like football, kabaddi or badminton are market-specific and help brands engage their captive audience.
According to BARC India’s data for 2018, though cricket was the most-watched sport in the country, soccer gained popularity with a 50 per cent rise in viewership, compared to the year before. A major contribution of this surge and the overall rise in the sports viewership was due to the availability of sports in regional languages. FIFA World Cup 2018 was aired in Malayalam and Bangla, thereby engaging football fans in the respective states.
Another trend, which is catching up, is these athletes have started being perceived as celebrities, akin to those in the entertainment sphere. Devoted fans, who want to know everything about their sports heroes -- right from their training regimes to what they eat, their feelings, and even private details of their lives have also made these sports stars the new influencers. Astute sports marketers have taken advantage of this celebrity and merged sporting with fashion, entertainment and lifestyle.
Dutee Chand, the Indian professional sprinter, national champion and the third Indian woman to qualify for the Women’s 100 metres event at the Summer Olympic Games, recently signed a two-year contract with the German sportswear brand Puma. With this collaboration, she is in the august company of Luis Suarez, Usain Bolt and Mary Kom, some of the athletes the brand is associated with.According to Abhishek Ganguly, Managing Director, Puma India: “Puma supports and partners with talent across sporting categories. We are an inclusive brand and we purely look at the potential of athletes. People’s preferences should neither be a qualifier nor a disqualifier. Dutee is such a champion. She is a national record holder and it’s extremely important for Puma as a leading sports brand in the country to support stellar athletes like her. I think her best is yet to come and we want to contribute to that journey. Sports for us is extremely important. We are a sports brand and supporting the cause of Indian sports is of paramount importance to us. We take it upon ourselves to back local talent and contribute to the entire ecosystem.”
Similarly talking to BW Businessworld, Dutee narrated how arduous the initial days of her journey as a sports person were without proper equipment and adequate diet. Her resilience and perseverance paid off making her one of the top athletes in the country today. According to her, for the past few years there is an increasing support for athletes from both — the government and the private sector, but focus on areas such as personal training along with a focus on nutritional guidance would truly help Indian athletes up their game.
“The government continues to provide support to athletes and the private sector has brought in a lot of visibility. All the right things are happening, the only question now is if they are happening at the right pace,” Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Goalkeeper, Bengaluru FC.It is evident, an investment in sports by a nation/ state leads to increase in employment, provides an impetus to local businesses and a boost to tourism, in addition to help nurturing future sports stars.
Despite the recent economic slowdown in India across sectors, the Khelo India programme (Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports) has given a boost to the sporting culture in the nation. The Ministry received a substantial raise of Rs 214.2 crore (Rs 2,002.72-2,216.92 crore) in the interim budget earlier this year, which was maintained during the full budget that was presented in July. In addition, it has been noted that a number of private sector players have started investing in supporting various sporting leagues, again providing a stimulus to the sector and the economy as a whole.
As per ESP Properties (the entertainment and sports division of GroupM) 2019 Sports Sponsorship report , Overall sports sponsorship saw a growth of 12 per cent in 2018. Sports advertising grew to Rs 7,762 crore. Some key facts the report highlighted are:* The Indian Super League’s growth into a property with a calendar spread over six months.
* The year 2018 was good for kabbadi, which registered a growth of 31 per cent in on-ground sponsorship.
* The Odisha government announced a five-year deal with Hockey India for junior and senior men and women tournaments.
* 2018 also witnessed Tata Motors becoming the principal sponsor of Indian wrestling.
* The same year saw a 22 per cent growth in athlete brand endorsement value.
* In 2018, PV Sindhu had close to Rs 35 crore ($5.1 million) worth of endorsements with brands such as Vizag Steel, APIS Honey, Bank of Baroda, CRPF, Yonex, Myntra, Panasonic, Gatorade, Moov, Bridgestone and Stayfree.
This is indicative of the fact that non-cricketing sports have a market in the country and brands are looking to support and endorse such athletes.“There has been a paradigm shift in sports content consumption and the brands’ approach, which is the reason for the rise of non-cricket sports in India. Cricket dominates the heart of Indians but non-cricket sports like football, kabaddi, badminton, etc. have seen a competitive growth in the sports industry. We have witnessed a 20 per cent increase in athlete brand endorsements with over 86 brands signing up with non-cricket athletes making their mark,” said Vinit Karnik, Business Head, ESP Properties.
Further endorsing the popularity of sports other than cricket, Tenzing Niyogi, Chief Executive Officer, Ultimate Kho Kho believes: “There has been an exponential rise in sports consumption in India where, 30-35 per cent TV viewership is coming from the non-cricket properties, resulting in brands seeing big markets in small towns. The success of few indigenous sports leagues over the last few years is a beacon to the run and chase homegrown sports like Kho Kho. With its wide-spread popularity and massive fan following in tier 2-3, Ultimate Kho Kho League will engage advertisers and viewers across all age groups. A big advantage with indigenous sports is the implementation of revamped format to drive fan engagement.”
‘Need more coaching programmes in India’
Non-cricket sports have been gaining popularity, and over the next couple of years, we might see these sports taking the lead, or sharing the space with cricket. BW Businessworld talked to Indian Olympic boxer Mary Kom about the rise of these sports and support for athletes.
What do you think about the growth of non-cricket sports market in India?
When I started my career, there weren’t many facilities, and brands weren’t that aware about non-cricket sports. There was no commercial market for athletes. However, over the years Indian athletes have improved their performances and made a name for themselves on the global stage by winning medals at the Olympics, Commonwealth Games etc. and this has helped in getting recognition. Also, now the government is playing a key role in promotion and development of sports.
Now the private sector is also increasing support for the growth of non-cricket sports. Your views...
Gradually, India is becoming a sports-oriented nation and the focus is no longer purely on cricket. Even corporates are looking to leverage non-cricket athletes to promote their brands. Having said that I still feel that the corporate world can play a much bigger role in the overall development of non-cricket sports in India. We have already seen some companies supporting sports through their CSR initiatives, which is a good sign for sports in our country.
What areas should the Centre focus on to further support athletes?
In the past few years, the government has improved the infrastructure, training facilities, scientific support, etc. for athletes but I feel we need to have more coaching programmes in India to train our coaches and technical support staff so that they can improve their skills and expertise too. The state governments should also improve their infrastructure, and provide coaching supports at the grassroots level.