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    Brands vying for a piece of action makes sports like MotoGP, F1 a cost-effective option


    Whilst cricket is still the top favourite of marketers, the sheer clutter of brands vying for a piece of the action makes another sports a cost-effective option.

    When Sachin Tendulkar wielded the chequered flag at the end of the Formula 1 race at the Buddh international circuit in end-October, the message flashed loud and clear: cricket is still king but a clutch of other spectator sports -— including F1 racing — is vying for the title of crown prince. Traditional games like football and hockey in modern avatars are vying for eyeballs with new-found televised extravaganzas like the MotoGP World Championship and even the Rugby World Cup — a sport that is perhaps as alien to India as flannelled fools are in Moldova or the Dominican Republic.

    Earlier in the year MotoGP motorcycling races and the Barclays Premier League (BPL) football matches reached a cumulative 64,000 households in India — just a quarter shy of the number of households that watched the India-England one-day internationals . In mid-December, yet another attempt to revive Indian hockey will kick off when the slickly-packaged World Hockey Series (WSH) will attempt to do for the game what the Indian Premier League did for 20-20 cricket.

    So has India finally become a nation of, well, sports who can see beyond the cricket sight screen? It's still early days to herald the arrival of non-cricketing sporting action, but for brand managers there are opportunities aplenty for cost-effective and targeted advertising and promotions. Jitendra Joshi, CEO of SportzConsult, says niche sports offer brands an opportunity to reach audiences they otherwise may not be able to tap through cricket. "We are still a one-sport nation, but sporting formats like the BPL and MotoGP get good viewership among urban youth; for brands specifically targeting them it is a great opportunity," adds Joshi.

    Indeed, sports like golf and F1 have attracted the attention of big ticket brands. Hero MotoCorp has set aside a corpus of Rs 100 crore for sports-related associations. The Hero Indian Open golf tournament has prize money of $1.25 million, the largest purse for an open field sport in Asia. Similarly, the women's hockey championship, with which Hero Motorcorp is also associated, has a total prize money of $300,000. "There is a method in all the associations that we do and there are fundamental principles backing our strategy," says Anil Dua, senior vice president, marketing & sales, Hero MotoCorp.

    Similarly Airtel's association with F1 is a new step for the brand: "The associations are significant in terms of investment numbers and are aligned with our brand positioning," says Bharat Bambawale, director, global brand, Bharti Airtel.

    Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M) recently became the first Indian brand to associate with MotoGP. Says Mufaddal Choonia, DGM - corporate strategy, M&M: "We are the youngest two-wheeler brand in the country and the MotoGP association helps us understand and adapt the best global technology available in our products," says Choonia.

    The idea for a MotoGP association came after M&M tasted success with its association with the FIFA World Cup. Mahindra Satyam initially was just the back-end IT partner for the football fiesta before graduating into the league of sponsors of the event. "The FIFA association helped us generate a lot of business enquiries for our B2B business in Europe. It became easier for our international vendors to approach clients, as people recognised Mahindra, the brand," adds Choonia.

    Whilst cricket is still the top favourite of marketers, the sheer clutter of brands vying for a piece of the action makes another sports a cost-effective option. Prasanna Krishnan, COO of Neo Sports says that niche sports on an average get ratings that are just 5% of what cricket does. So ad rates too are heavily discounted when compared to cricket, by as much as 75% in some cases. "But brands that advertise here do it for a different reason. It's a very cost effective way of reaching premium and niche customers at a fraction of the cost compared to cricket," adds Krishnan. Example: Rs 5,000 for a 10-second spot during a football match is way cheaper than Rs 4.5 lakh for a 10-second spot in an international cricket match.

    Moreover, television rating points by themselves may tell only a part of the story of the bang brands can get for their buck in niche sports. Sameer Kapoor, general manager, Madison Media, believes that one can no longer consider TV viewership as the only component for measuring return on investment when it comes to any sporting event. "Brands are attempting to use niche sports for engagement and not exposure," says Kapoor.

    Kapoor's bet is that football and F1 are best placed to give cricket a run for its money. For two reasons: One, they attract community audiences that can watch such events in venues like pubs and restaurants. Also, these sport have iconic personalities - à la Tendulkar in cricket associated with them (think Schumacher, Beckham).

    As the IPL displayed abundantly, a dash of Bollywood can make for a bubbly cocktail. Imagine SRK and Kareena doing a jig with hockey sticks as props. Or a bare chested Salman Khan sparring with a boxer. Wouldn't you buy a ticket for that show — or at least turn on your telly?
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