The Indian Super League (ISL) that kicked off on Sunday this week had announced the signing of six brands as sponsors for the league just a few days before the start. Apart from title sponsor Hero MotoCorp, ISL has managed to rope in Maruti Suzuki as the associate sponsor, Puma as the official ball sponsor, PepsiCo India as the Beverage/Pouring Partner, Amul and Dr. Reddy’s Nise Gel as the official partner and Muthoot as referee’s sponsor. While the Hero MotoCorp deal is estimated to be around Rs 60-65 crore for three years, the associate sponsorship deal is expected to be around Rs 8 crore, while the other partnering sponsors are estimated to have cost the brands in the range of Rs 3-5 crore.
Do these numbers make ISL an attractive proposition for advertisers?
Too early to bet
For ISL sponsor PepsiCo India, it is all about connecting with their core target audience, the Indian youth. Ruchira Jaitly, Sr. Director Marketing – Social Beverages, PepsiCo India said, “The League is committed to promoting quality football and also to a strong grassroots development programme that will create a platform to groom football talent in the country. The tournament carries huge opportunities for brands like Pepsi, Gatorade etc. to directly engage with their core target audience. PepsiCo has secured rights for beverage supplies to all teams in the tournament in ISL and we are focusing on making the most of the opportunity. The tournament will provide us with immense media value given its broadcast partnership with Star. It will directly tie back with our target audience, youth.”
The brand has been a part of football globally and was an official sponsor of the FIFA World Cup 2014. It had also organised a Pepsi T20 Football league in 2012 where it provided a platform for grassroots talent to be showcased and had international football star Didier Drogba play an exhibition match with Indian cricketers as a finale.
Speaking about the youth connect, Dinesh Vyas, GM, India, MEC says brands associated with ISL would consider music, English entertainment or English movie channels to reach the target audience. “If you look at the brands that have been part of the ISL, you’d see they are keen to be associated with the pride of being for the country. Something that connects with the youth.”
According to Mayank Shah, Deputy Marketing Manager Parle Products, there are those who have been drawn to the property because of the glamour quotient brought in by top international players and celebrities, and there are those who would like to wait and watch. “The marketers are clearly divided,” he says.
Sports beyond cricket
Football may be the new cool, but it still has a long way to go before it can dislodge cricket from its prime position according to Naveen Kukreja, CMO, PolicyBazaar.com. “With hockey, badminton, Kabaddi and now soccer league gaining traction in India, opportunities for brands to get associated with sports does expand. Soccer is the world’s most popular sport and ISL is hoping to capture Indian consumers interest through this. As in cricket, the success would depend a lot on the quality of players the league is able to attract. If it can do well, its success would offer more options for ad spenders in a growing sports market like India.” Kukreja cited the examples of Pepsi and Coke that established themselves in India in the early 90s through their association with cricket; a formula that has been replicated by Micromax and Karbonn.
Similarly, Anisha Motwani, Director, Chief Marketing & Digital Officer, Max Life Insurance said, “Personally, one would wait and watch a little because football is a niche sport in India from a viewership perspective. Secondly, the game per say has to be gripping. When people watch FIFA (World Cup) even if you are not a football fan, the game is so gripping because of the quality of the play there, that you do get engrossed watching it.” She compared the intense matches of FIFA to the opening ones at ISL, and said, “There is a stark difference in the quality of players and the quality of play at ISL and FIFA. For the property to gain traction, it might take a little more time.”
Amit Tiwari, Director, Country Head, Media, Philips India remarked that ISL may be a great opportunity but not a sound investment yet. “It all depends on how many audiences are part of the property,” he said.
On-air and on-ground brand sponsorship
While cricket leagues such as the IPL have separate on-ground sponsorship and on-air (TV) sponsorship rights, ISL allows brands both on-ground as well as on-air sponsorship giving them higher exposure. With Star India being a promoter-broadcaster, it offers brands exposure in the stadium as well as on television. This could be one of the reasons why ISL has managed to get some of these brands on board.
Speaking about this Vinit Karnik, National Director – Sports and Live Events, GroupM ESP said, “The format of football is such that the on-air inventory is limited. Most of the on-air inventory is being packaged with the on-ground sponsorship. This is a smart way to package a growing sport in India as the advertiser will get more value from both on ground and on air exposures. Star India is a stake holder in ISL which brings huge advantage to football as a sport and ISL as a league.”
However, there have been a lot of on-ground sponsors as well as brands associating with teams. For instance, FC Goa has managed to rope in brands such as Usha International, Ponds, Gardre Marine, Kenstar, Adidas, Wockhardt Hospitals, Big FM and The Navhind Times.
Speaking about this Balakrishna PM, COO, Allied Media, Percept Group said, “Season 1 (of ISL) is not going to be so heavy in terms of advertising, but I guess once the numbers come out and the buzz is out there it will pick up. The nature of the game is not like cricket where every over and every ball is advertised. Cricket is very advertising friendly. Football is a continuous seamless game. So just like with the (FIFA) World Cup it’s before the match, during half time and after the match (where you can advertise). They have to figure out ways of integrating the brand and the game and the visual experience, that will take some time.”