Cricket might still be the king of games, drawing millions of Indians. But if broadcasters’ advertising revenues and viewership numbers are any indication, other sporting events — especially badminton and hockey — too, are coming of age in the country.
Companies like Hero and Vodafone putting their money in these sporting events and some heavy marketing going into these seem to indicate there’s appetite for these sports. The recently-concluded Indian Badminton League (IBL) was able to attract as many as 21.7 million viewers on Star Sports during the 18-day tournament (August 14 to 31). And, the Hero Hockey India League (HHIL) recorded a viewership of 41.4 million (January 14 to February 10; in CS4 + all-Indian market). That the two together accounted for a third of the viewership garnered by the Indian Premier League in its sixth edition (about 190 million over two months) could be seen as a decent beginning. Also, Reliance-IMG is planning to start a similar league for football in India. The figures for the badminton and hockey leagues seem to look even more attractive if one takes into account the average number of viewers per day. The latter had an average viewership of 1.59 million a day in the 26-day tournament, while the former clocked an average 1.2 million viewership. In comparison, the average viewership of IPL-6 was 3.5 million per day. In terms of the moolah broadcasters made, according to analysts, the badminton and hockey leagues together saw around Rs 170 crore of revenues rustling. That might be just a fifth of IPL’s earnings but looks quite good, given that the two non-cricket leagues earned their advertising revenues over 44 days, while IPL was a 54-day event. An official involved in the hockey tournament said: “HIL was telecast in 146 countries. Total viewership was 69.7 million, including 41.4 million for India. Today, one of the biggest marketing tools for reach and measurement is Facebook likes. It was 110,000 for IBL and for 544,000 for the hockey league. On YouTube, IBL had 5,800 subscribers and hockey 34,400.”
Many factors contributed to the relative success of the leagues. These include Indian viewers’ cricket fatigue due to over-exposure to the sport, thrust by broadcasting partners and players’ popularity.Mona Jain, CEO of VivaKi Exchange, the agency responsible for marketing and communication of the Indian Badminton League, says: “I would say it has been a very encouraging start for IBL. While there was scepticism around the tournament earlier, everyone would agree that the response from the audiences and advertisers has been very good. The ratings for the tournament, above 1.0, say it all.”A big thrust for IBL came from the popularity of players like Saina Nehwal and P V Sindhu and their appeal among the youth. Though there was a controversy surrounding Jwala Gutta, media planners believe, with badminton players becoming popular among the public, advertisers are getting more confident about putting their money in these events.In the first year, IBL and HHIL — 2013 was the inaugural year for both — roped in 10 advertisers (including on-ground sponsor Vodafone) and six (including four on-ground sponsors — Airtel, Hero, NTPC and Videocon), respectively.“The fist year is always low in terms of revenues, as it is the time franchises and all parties involved are pumping in money. Even IPL picked up in the second year. IBL and HHIL may not have made lot of money this year but, going by the response, one can say these properties will only become richer and more popular next year,” says a media planner, asking not to be named.It is interesting to note that IBL, despite its less reach than that of HHIL, earned higher ad revenues. “Badminton viewership is slightly more skewed towards the SEC A (Socio Economic Classification - A) audience. So, the spend on the property by brands could have been higher. Also, hockey is more male-skewed and doesn’t have a pan-Indian appeal when compared to badminton,” explains a media planner.Also, ESPN Star Sports, the broadcaster for both the events, should be given due credit, feel media observers. The events got a good showcase because of the broadcaster’s reach and marketing, too, was done well. In the case of IBL, VivaKi Exchange came up with an outdoor campaign featuring top-notch badminton players. This grabbed a lot of eyeballs.ESPN Software India COO Vijay Rajput says: “India has primarily been a single-sport country. But at STAR Sports, we believe Indian fans would love to consusme other sports as well, if a product is packaged well and presented in an interesting manner. Our main aim is to broadbase consumption of sports in the country. IBL fit in well with our overall strategy of building multi-sport viewership. We see huge potential for a product like IBL, much like we saw value in the Hockey India League.”Besides, the availability of content in both English and Hindi also helped generate interest in the leagues.