There may be some way to go before any sport can even come close to India’s love of cricket, but soccer is starting to attract brands’ attention as its popularity grows in the country.

Cricket is by far the most sponsored sport, but Star India, the official broadcasting channel for the Indian Super League (ISL), is said to have targeted Rs 2 billion ($27.3 million) in ad earnings from the domestic football league’s fifth season which is currently under way.

According to the Business Standard, Star also says it’s already sold over 50% of its inventory at prices of between Rs 100,000 and Rs 150,000 ($13,600 – $20,500) for a 10-second slot.

As viewing figures have risen, so, too, has interest from advertisers. BARC figures show ISL audiences during the 2017–2018 season were up 45% from 2015, even if the rise from 2016 to 2017 was a somewhat less impressive 5%.

Star India claims that ads spike by 89% during games and that 90% of brands have renewed their sponsorship contracts with the broadcaster, including the main sponsor, Hero MotoCorp; others include Maruti Suzuki India Ltd and DHL Express India.

The lower-cost point of entry is obviously one attraction of soccer as a marketing vehicle, but for some brands it is also about a longer-term strategy that expects the popularity of the sport to grow, and that wants to target a specific demographic.

One such brand is DHL. R.S. Subramanian, country manager of DHL Express India, told the Standard, “Football and DHL have similar brand value – passion, team spirit – and that’s what makes us a great team.”

Football is also widely followed by young adult males, a demographic DHL is eager to reach – basically young, urban decision makers.

“We are not looking at making our brand visible, we’re market leaders,” Subramanian said.

“What we are targeting is a threshold to maintain that leadership that we have garnered over the years.”

Main sponsor Hero is also chasing a similar demographic and upped its sponsorship in July from Rs 8 million ($109,000) to Rs 25 million ($340,650) to cover the next three years.

However, most observers say the sport has a long way to go to secure anything like its marketing potential.

Mustafa Ghouse, chief executive officer at JSW Sports and chief operating officer at Bengaluru FC, told the Standard, “It’s going to take the coming together of visibility, fan following and good performances from teams and leagues, for it to become marketable”.

Sourced from Business Standard; additional content by WARC staff