India has always been a cricket-loving country. Anything related to the gentleman’s game has always got all the attention, not just from sports lovers but also from brands & marketers. However, over the years, the country has developed a liking for non-cricket sports such as wrestling, kabaddi, football and hockey as well, and brands obviously are too happy to follow the audiences. For instance, this year’s Pro Kabaddi League will be sponsored by vivo, a brand known for investing big in cricket.
India’s fondness for sports, both cricket and non-cricket, is visible in the business numbers as well. According to GroupM ESP's Sporting Nation report, the Indian sports business surpassed Rs 14,000 crore in 2022, showing a growth of 49% over 2021. A total of Rs 9,500 crore was spent on the sports sector in 2021.
Why the sudden interest in non-cricket sports?
According to R Venkatasubramanian, President - Investments at Havas Media India and Managing Director - Havas Play, brands have sided with sports, both cricket and others, as it is the best way to connect with the audiences. “Post-Covid and with the opening of the economy, there has been a large influx of funds from FII and other direct investments into startups and established brands that are in their expansion mode. These brands have identified sports and live events as one of the fastest mediums to gain quick momentum and establish connections with their customers. Association with sports helps them drive home their communication and quickly gain a consumer base,” he explains.
The fact that India's sports budget for FY 2023-24 saw 11% increase from the last financial year is also encouraging brands to look for good returns from their investments here. “The sports budget reached Rs 3397.32 crore this year. The money is being spent on the development of sports in the country, and this will make sure that India is going to be the next big sporting nation,” adds Venkatasubramanian.
The thought is echoed by Shantanu Ghosh, Senior Director - Sports & Live, Wavemaker India. “For the game to become popular, the team needs to do well, and India has done fairly well in sports in the last few years. A sport builds its audience through multiple aspects, like players’ performances or history of the sport in the country. If we consider badminton, the popularity started growing after some players won international events. A feat on the global platform causes the popularity of the sport to skyrocket, like cricket became hugely popular post India’s win the 1983 World Cup.”
Similarly, In 2021, Neeraj Chopra made a world record in The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games which opened many brand association opportunities for him, making Indian audiences turn their attention to other sports.
Investment in other sporting events
The FIFA World Cup, WPL and Women’s Cricket World Cup were some of the most celebrated sports events this year in India, apart from cricket and IPL.
“India is becoming a hot spot for sports leagues. There is great scope for prosperity with tournaments like ICC World Cup T20, Indian Premier League, Women Premier League, Pro Kabaddi League, Indian Table Tennis League, ISL and Futsal. Categories such as online gaming & betting have brands like dafa news, Fairplay, Winzo, and Pari News making huge investments in terms of sponsorship. Also, there are emerging sports like kabaddi, football, and others,” points out Venkatasubramanian.
On a similar note, Jigar Rambhia, COO at Sportjo, also shares that audiences, as well as sponsors, are open to exploring new sporting avenues apart from cricket. “People are watching cricket but India is now ready to explore other sports as well. Who doesn't want to watch a good sporting league? We are doing quite well now, compared to what we were doing 5-10 years back,” he opines.
“It's difficult, but it is getting there by the year. Five years back, if I went to a brand and asked them to invest their money on a non-cricket property, they wouldn’t think much. But today, they are willing to listen and even invest to a certain extent. Non-cricket sports will never reach there in terms of money but the good thing is brands are now willing to explore,” he explains.
This year saw many startups withdraw their sponsorship in IPL and some fantasy sports and online gaming brands become leading sponsors for this season. According to Ghosh, “A lot depends on the company and brand objectives when it comes to deciding on investing in sporting events. For fantasy sports brands, it becomes a relevant option as their business is dependent on sporting events.”
Adds Venkatasubramanian, “Investment in sports is growing and will continue to grow. Sports offer fresh entertainment and excitement every time a game is played. Though marketing budgets have tightened up, faith in sports as a medium has kept its momentum with investment across sports and leagues,”
“A brand like Tata Group has strengthened its presence across sports by buying the title sponsorship of IPL and WPL. Also, FMCG brands like Amul, Nestle, Bingo, and Himalaya Pharma have been doing consistent investments across sports events through league or team sponsorship. Their main focus is to create relevance through content and engagement with their key TGs utilizing sports talents and celebrities associated with the teams,” he mentions.
In a country like India, where cricket is equated to religion, perhaps the possibility of any other sports taking over seems impossible. But experts paint a different picture. “With increased investments by brands in sports, Indian athletes performing exceptionally well and increased support from the government, the future of sports marketing is extremely bright,” feels Venkatasubramanian.
Rambhia too agrees. “I think the next 10-20 years will be great for Indian sports. We will see many non-cricket stars in the future. India will soon be a sporting superpower.”
“With newer leagues for sports like women's cricket, handball, hockey and various cricket leagues like ILT20, SA20, Road Safety and Legend League, a fair amount of interest and investment is guaranteed. Though these leagues will take their time to get into momentum, emerging sports like PKL, ISL and PVL are becoming part of brands’ marketing calendar and making advertisers work on a tactical approach to cash on these sporting opportunities,” sums Venkatasubramanian.
Sports is a sunrise industry and is expected to grow very fast, he asserts.