Small brands champion new sports leagues

14 November 2014

MUMBAI: Lesser known brands have led the charge into India's new range of sporting leagues, but early success means they could be pushed aside by larger brands seeking to exploit a proven channel.

The commercial triumph of India Premier League cricket has spawned copies in other sports in the past couple of years, including the Hockey India League and the Indian Badminton League, while 2014 alone has seen the advent of football's Indian Super League, the Pro Kabaddi League and the World Kabaddi League, with the Champions Tennis League due to begin shortly.

The IPL behemoth attracts major advertisers who can afford the significant sums involved. The new leagues appeal to smaller advertisers, many of whom are using sport as a marketing platform for the first time, who see an opportunity to gain national exposure at considerably less cost than using cricket.

Listing the franchisees involved in the Pro-Kabbadi League, Indian Badminton League and the Hockey India League, Afaqs noted that among the real estate majors, lifestyle brands and retail companies were many that were significant regional players but without a national presence.

The price of participation in the new sporting leagues is a fraction of that required for cricket. According to Afaqs, sponsorship ranges between Rs 50 lakh and Rs 2 crore, while on-ground sponsorship on cricket in 2013 averaged Rs. 508 crore and team sponsorship was just over Rs. 600 crore.

"If the leagues can get their pricing right they will open a brand new window," stated Darshan M, CEO of sports marketing consultancy Spoment Media. Positioning was also going to be important. "It is unfortunate if they start comparing themselves with cricket and alienate themselves," he added.

With so many of these new leagues only in their first or second year, brands are still at an experimental stage. Sandeep Tarkas, CEO of the Bengal Warriors kabbadi team which is owned by Future Group, related how a major brand had declined to get involved. "The first year needed a belief which the small advertisers showed," he said.

That faith was rewarded as broadcaster Star India recently revealed it had achieved unexpectedly high ratings and engagement figures for its coverage of the Pro-Kabbadi League.

Recent research on Asian sports fans suggests brands should consider segmenting them in terms of their behaviour, rather than simply targeting the most avid: interactive fans, for example, have a higher predisposition to supporting sponsorship.

Data sourced from Afaqs; additional content by Warc staff