Sports Branding - The Next Big Thing in India

Published by MBA Skool Team, Published on August 01, 2013

Branding creates business value. Sport is not an exception; it has become a humongous business with major companies trying to foray into the ocean. Cricket being the single largest sport in India, sports branding in India is nothing short of cricket branding. Sponsorships, licensing, merchandising, almost all aspects of sports branding are co-related to cricket. There lies the opportunity for the bigger players to tap the market for other sports which are continuously rising on the popularity chart. Now that watching live sports is not a luxury anymore, it is quite obvious that sports like football, tennis, basketball will become huge hits among the Indian youth in the coming future.

How do we use this opportunity? How can managers play a role in creating business out of sports? There are some questions which need to be answered before we jump onto the high profit bandwagon. The whole idea of sports branding lies in the fact that you can use a popular sports celebrity, or a sports team, or for that matter a sporting event to create business for your branding firm. When you see the lack of sponsors in the national football league, or the Hockey league, you may feel that it easy to capture that market as there is less competition. But there lays the huge risk involved in sponsoring sports which have no mass presence like cricket. Even, people following other sports are the people who are least bother to cheer an Indian team in the same sport. We have a populist culture where, people follow sports due to peer pressure, and not out of sheer love or passion for the sport. Foreign teams have build up a huge market for sports merchandise in India. Why can’t we do the same? Why can’t we leverage the sporting icons we have, why can’t we create a new market segment of sports loving and sports following people? It may sound way too risky, but then the returns would be bigger too.

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Promoting sporting events would be the starting point. Leveraging the already existing popularity of some of the major sports would go a long way in helping us take small steps in the sports branding segment. Regionally popular sports like football and hockey should be given first priority and events catering to these sports should be tapped first. Marketing the football clubs and the smaller regional teams would create awareness among the people. Using star players for publicity campaigns and media events would generate a level of curiosity which can be then transformed into business. Former players can play a major part in educating people regarding the future of other sports and the possible returns in terms of tangible and intangible benefits. Campaigns for school kids, free tickets, and free merchandise can help in creating short term loyalty which can then be used as a platform for future planning.

When we look at the sports branding scenario in foreign countries, teams and players have built trademarks, which are valuable assets, and help in building trust, confidence, and loyalty in a product. Brand advertising using sports teams and players is also big business, and the financial health of many sports organizations, clubs and even individual athletes can depend on advertising and sponsorship revenue. The more successful a team, the more valuable its brand, and the higher the income and spending power of the sports organization involved. This in turn enhances the entertainment value of, say, a football match, because the club can afford better facilities and more skilful players. It’s a full cycle. Sponsorship money helps a team develop into a better team, which in-turn develops into a bigger brand. Corporates are apprehensive of the fact that investing money into the so called less popular sports would be a risky proposition. That mind set has to be targeted. Government partnerships are inevitable in such long term planning and companies should have a tie up with the state association and the sports bodies to use the existing network and structure for sports. Even after the starting phase, there would be lot many decisions to make; for instance, a sports branding firm should decide whether it should be associated with a sports team or a sports league. I mean there are pros and cons for both situations, so a balance has to be stuck while dealing with such issues. Tying up with media houses and sports channels would help in generating mass awareness. Sports branding has a great future in India and a great opportunity for companies to have the first mover advantage.

This article has been authored by Santoshkumar Pradhan from NMIMS

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