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BY Neeta Nair and Nishant Saxena

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Sports marketing witnessed some of its biggest opportunities dampened by the global catastrophe. The empty seats at the otherwise grand, Olympic Games were one of the many indications of an aching industry, one that was caught off-guard by the Covid-19 pandemic. Before the onset of the pandemic, the business of sports was one of the better performing sectors in the economy with 12.8% CAGR. However 2020 was the anomaly of the year where major tournaments got cancelled or postponed. But 2021 has an exciting line-up of sporting events, and IPL coupled with ICC Test Championship & ICC T20 World Cup, Olympics 202O and Euro 2021 can ensure a high scoring year in the business of sports.

Talking about what is the big difference in pre-Covid and post Covid approach for brands when it comes to spending on sporting events, Vinit Karnik, Head - Sports, esports and Entertainment, GroupM South Asia says, “With emergence of OTT, only Sports remains as one of the sure bets for appointment viewing. On-ground spends and media spends are likely to grow in the coming years. Cricket will remain to be the advertisers’ first choice considering the fan following and format of the sport. At the same time emerging sports will bounce back creating a year-round supply of sports content. For e.g. PKL is likely to return in December 2021 and new leagues like KhoKho and new Volleyball league are all set to begin. Participative sports like Marathon & Golf are likely to gain momentum. I feel Phygital – Physical + Digital will be the new way to organize these events.”

we are still getting the same visibility, or perhaps more. And demand for our products continues to flourish,” says Dr. Mahesh Gupta, Chairman, Kent RO Systems Ltd.
There are other brands who are looking at the longer run. “We believe that brands must continue their associations with sporting events, and focus on long-term brand building and partnerships within the limitations of the current environment. Our organizational culture has always been to keep brand values and customer-centricity at the core of all our initiatives, and we will continue to do the same,” says Komal Mehra, Head, Sports Initiatives and Associations at Usha International, official partner of Mumbai Indians. Visualizing a marathon despite the unprecedented short-run troubles prompted brands to bring about swift changes in the way they conceptualized marketing.

Strategic shift
Laying out the challenges brands faced in terms of planning post Covid-19, Vijayaraghavan Venugopal, CEO, Co-Founder Fast&Up, says, “It’s tricky
However, one brand which has spent on sports marketing in double digits consistently over the past three years, especially on cricket because of the kind of impact and
Digital demands
Komal Mehra says, “In these unprecedented times, consumers look for more mindfulness from brands. Since the outbreak of Covid-19, there has also been a rapid acceleration of digital-first strategies. This is one major change in the pre & post COVID approach for brands participating in sporting events, as building virtual experiences and ramping up engagement on online platforms has seen increased focus in the past year and a half.”
However, some brands by virtue of being associated with the health sector as well, reaped benefits. “Well, we are a brand that believes in the safety of the people, from our products to marketing campaigns, everything is centered on this concept. Also, our biggest USP is our products and innovation that the product sells. So, it will not affect a brand like ours that there will be no fans in the stadiums/playgrounds due to Covid-19. And let’s not forget it’s a digital world. The viewership has gone up for sports during the pandemic. So, brand sponsorship will in fact get more traction,” explains Dr. Mahesh Gupta, Chairman, Kent RO Systems Ltd.
The increased focus on Digital is evident, the ESP report suggests that there will be a 60-65% growth in the digital ad spends while that on TV will go up by 42-45%. Undoubtedly cricket will get a lion’s share of the ADEX with that on TV to be between 94-96% and on Digital to stand at 88%-90%.
A survey by McKinsey & Company found that responses to Covid-19 have speeded the adoption of digital technologies by several years, and that many of these changes could be here for the long haul. An extension of the same survey said that industries across regions experienced an average of 20 percent growth in ‘fully digital’ users in the six months ending in April 2021.

Outlook for the future
The pandemic has also altered sports sponsorship, accelerating trends hybrid events and rising importance of player advocacy. According to the Nielsen Sports 2021 Global Sports Marketing Trends report, live and virtual sporting experiences are increasingly merging. The health crisis that saw stadiums empty of fans meant events had to change and broadcasters needed to innovate. As fans gradually return to live events, these virtual upgrades will be retained, with further investment into broadcast innovations expected, Nielsen predicted. According to the global report, 53 per cent of fans said they are more likely to consider brands that enhance the way live sports are viewed at home.

If 2021 is expected to be a good year for Indian Sporting Industry, 2022 will take it a step further. Vinit Karnik says, “With two new IPL teams, 2022 will breach the INR 10,000 crore mark. Incremental spends will come on the back of increase in the number of IPL matches and team sponsorship of the two new IPL teams.” Coming back to 2021 he says, “Indian team will play 28 matches + minimum six ICC matches in 2021. As far as IPL is concerned team sponsorship is up by 34%. While Vivo is returning as the title sponsor, the League has got two new Official partners – Dream11 and Upstox. Meanwhile ICC T20 World Cup has got on board three new sponsors--Byju’s, BharatPe and Upstox from India.”

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Tags : GroupM sports marketing Vinit Karnik exchange4media Indian sports Olympics