If anyone other than Mohammad Shami and Rohit Sharma has made the best out of Sachin Tendulkar's retirement, it is broadcaster Star Sports. Call it a marketing coup, Rupert Murdoch's Star India picked up title sponsorship rights for cricket matches in India for a bargain and refreshed its sports portfolio by launching new sports channels and retiring old ones — both timed perfectly around Tendulkar's farewell series.
"We gave our channels a new look and identity and needed a big event. This was the right time to do it, there's nothing bigger than this," Uday Shankar, chief executive officer at Star India, says. Star had recently retired ESPN brand in the country and relaunched its sports channels afresh under Star Sports label with four standard-definition and two high-definition channels.
While the rebranding plan has been in the works for more than a year, Tendulkar's retirement and the West Indies Test series were announced only recently. That is one reason why Star picked up the title sponsorship rights for the Indian cricket team's remaining matches in 2013-14 at about Rs 2 crore per match, or 60% less than what previous sponsor Airtel had paid. Marketing experts consider it nothing less than a marketing coup.
"It is great strategic thinking," says Abraham Koshy, professor of marketing at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. "There is no other event of this magnitude in Indian sports in the foreseeable future that they could have leveraged for such a big launch," he says. "From a marketing point of view, a big event like this is a consumer attention puller," he adds.
Madhukar Kamath, group chief executive officer and managing director of advertising and media group Mudra, too, says Star's timing was excellent. Another example of a similar matching of an event with a brand was when global beverage giant PepsiCo bagged the IPL title sponsorship rights for five years starting 2013, he says.
Star India now plans to spend around Rs 20,000 crore on sports in India over the next five years. Last month, it picked up onethird stake in a company, jointly owned by Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries and IMG, which is launching an Indian Premier League-style football tournament. Star is paying Rs 2,000 crore in this deal that will also give it broadcast rights for the tournament for 10 years.
Star already has broadcast deals with the Hockey India League and Indian Badminton League. It also has the India rights for international football events such as the English Premier League, Spanish La Liga and Italian Serie A, which are becoming highly popular in India.
"We've taken a big position on soccer and are very bullish on hockey," Shankar says. He says shortsightedness of broadcasters who have been busy encashing the power of cricket has hurt sports in India. "We want to spread sports laterally beyond cricket and also take broadcasting of cricket to other regional languages, starting with Hindi," he says.
Star has already launched a 24-hour Hindi sports channel and plans to get into other languages, much like its other formats have.