Charting a new course in sports marketing - SportzBiz 2003

SportzBiz 2003, India's first-ever forum on "Sports Marketing - The New Frontier" - was kicked off in Mumbai's ITC Grand Maratha Sheraton Hotel when four-time world amateur Billiards champion Michael Ferreira, All England badminton singles title-winner P Gopichand and India's youngest ever national racing champion Karun Chandhok lit the ceremonial lamp. 

Organised jointly by and SportzPR (India's first sports communication consultancy) as a half-day seminar, it was presented by ESPN Star Sports

(L to R) Michael Ferreira, Pulella Gopichand & Karun Chandhok lighting the lamp to flag off SportzBiz 2003

A large congregation of sports marketers, broadcasters, advertisers, media planners, sports associations, sports management companies and sports celebrities debated various issues about the state of sports marketing (cricket and non-cricket) in the country. There was a general consensus that television was the main spark that captured the imagination of sports marketers and was responsible for driving the growth of sports in the world.

SportzBiz 2003 presented an ideal forum for thought leaders representing diverse audiences, closely involved with the business of sports in India, to present, discuss and debate various issues facing the development and marketing of sports in India.

While welcoming the audience, SportzPR president and CMCG MD Samir Kale said: " With the cricket World Cup just around the corner, SportzPR and thought this may be the right time to pause and reflect on the evolving sports marketing scenario in the country. Hence SportzBiz 2003, India’s first sports marketing forum was conceived."     

SportzPR founder and promoter Samir Kale: The driving force behind SportzBiz 2003

In his welcome address, CEO Anil Wanvari paid rich tributes to Mark Mascarenhas and Mark McCormack. He eulogized the impact of television on inducing exultation and anguish amidst sports lovers. 

He stated: "Television is responsible for driving the growth of sports in the world. This phenomenon resulted in a multitude of opportunities in terms of merchandising and endorsements." 

He bemoaned the insecurity amongst all the players in the business and the fact there is very little organisation and consensus to develop it as an industry.

"Everyone is fearful of the other and are not even willing to sit on the same platform together," he pointed out. "When we were inviting participation for this forum, the first question we were asked by some of the leaders in the business whether his rival would be there. "If he is turning up, I will not," was the response." 

He added: "This shows that the sports business is extremely immature and has the potential to grow. We hope that through forums such as SportzBiz we can prove to be a catalyst or the cementing glue between all the constituents of the sports business chain. This is a platform for the sports business." 

Later, Wanvari questioned whether the adoption of conditional access systems in India would open a new chapter in sports marketing. He also bounced off the possibility of cable channels taking on the responsibility of covering local sporting events and possibily giving a fillip to the sports business. However, media specialists were sceptical of the quality issues of such telecasts.

ESPN-Star Sports senior manager business development Anurag Dahiya addressed the gathering and mentioned: "Sports consumption in India depends on viewer interests, team affiliation, aspiration and level of competition. In India, the excessive focus on cricket is unique and the audiences here are different from the rest of Asia."

" Broadcasters must realise that it doesn't make business sense to depend solely on cricket. Teams could be built up as brands and could have a personality and an intrinsic icon value. The single TV household feature also handicaps sports broadcasters," he added. Dahiya also stated that the framework of legislation should change and the government should ease red-tape to facilitate live telecasts.

Four sessions were conducted with the following topics: "Business of sports - is sports giving you the rigth bang for your marketing buck?"; "Cricket and beyond cricket"; "Sports and TV - harnessing the power of television"; and "The future - can we realise the full potential of sports marketing in India?".

The first two sessions were moderated by the inimitable Tom Alter, a self-proclaimed "sports romantic", and sports analyst V Krishnaswamy respectively. Wanvari and Kale respectively wore the moderator's hat for the next two sessions.

Sports Authority of India director general Shekhar Dutt justified the government's stand by stating: "The government has to look after 38 Olympian and 30 more non-Olympian disciplines. 

" However, the government's attitude has changed after the recent successes of Indian sportspersons during the Commonwealth Games. As society progresses, consumers will place higher value on leisure and fitness. Therefore sports will become important. Families spend a lot of money on entertainment and sports can claim a portion of the same."

The panel moderated by sports consultant V. Krishnaswamy (second from left)

"More international sporting spectacles need to be brought to India. TV is a valuable resource in doing so. In order to modernize infrastructure, a huge investment has to be made. The existing infrastructure is not used because there isn't much interest in the sport. This is a chicken and egg situation as the sports need to be promoted to draw the audiences,"said Dutt. 

The panel of speakers included sports administrators: Sports Authority of India director general Shekhar Dutt; Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) vice president Kamal Morarka; All India Tennis Association (AITA) secretary general Anil Khanna; Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) president KPS Gill; Motorsports Association of India Nazir Hoosein.

The views expressed by the sports administrators revolved around the following issues:

* The government must give more funds to the sports associations that are doing well - tennis, chess. The amount must be disbursed in the beginning of the financial year.

* The government must realise that the associations develop long-term goals - for instance 8-10 year plans for sports such as hockey and football. 

* Also, the government and broadcasters must promote those sports where India has good prospects of winning Olympic medals or World championships. 

* Private channels and the public broadcaster must promote non-cricket (local and national level sporting events) especially tennis, hockey and chess where India is doing well.

* A nationwide talent hunt and local infrastructure has to be organised and developed with government and corporate support.

* The print media must also give prominence to achievers and role models in other sports - for instance Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupati in tennis, Dhanraj Pillai in hockey, V Anand in chess.

* The government must initiate a legislation wherein advertisers who spend on cricket must contribute a certain percentage of their spends on other sports.

Advertising agencies take:

The advertising & media industry was represented by Starcom Worldwide general manager Ravi Kiran; Broadmind WPP Marketing Communications national director M Suku; Percept Advertising CEO Rajesh Pant. The views expressed by the advertising fraternity highlighted the following:

*Sports marketing seminars should have been held five years earlier during the cable and satellite boom

* Advertisers believe that they can ignite consumer passion through sports in a positive person. It is one of the few mediums that actively engages consumers. Other media are passive.

* Advertisers are buying an audience. They don't care whether sports or films or serials get them that audience

* The government should organise and develop major international sports properties and boost the economy with such events. Research shows that several industries such as tourism and hospitality get a fillip. 

* Sports associations and marketers need to package the propositions well in order to convince media planners and buyers. There must be a single window with whom the advertisers and agencies can negotiate (as in cricket).

* It is necessary to ensure that proper studies are conducted prior and after the sports events.

* Advertisers and media planners need to create a knowledge base to have a benchmark. This would ensure that the association is a long term effort rather than being a random one

* The advertising buck produces a certain degree of bang - the optimum possible value has to be extracted by heavy engineering and amplifying the value.

* As a medium, sports is underdisciplined, underexploited and underinvested in India.

*Under-disciplined because it has too many vendors; too little knowledge base; and a lot of gut call goes into the decision-making process. Most of the money (70 per cent) goes into airtime or syndicated columns. 

* The efforts in strengthening the grassroots are minimal or pathetic. 

*The sports business fraternity has not been able to activate community participation or create local heroes. India is the only country where people view cricket for eight hours but don't play the game that often.

*The business is too tactical and has a handful of serious advertisers. Little efforts are made to integrate efforts into marketing.    

"The sports business is extremely immature and has the potential to grow. We hope that through forums such as SportzBiz we can prove to be a catalyst or the cementing glue between all the constituents of the sports business chain"

Anil Wanvari


Sports personalities and celebrities' take:

The sports luminaries in the panel included: Michael Ferreira, Pullela Gopichand, Karun Chandok. Their views related to the following:

* Talented sports achievers needed proper marketing. 

the current era was driven by commerce and television propelled sports into the limelight. Marketing sports properties and events was a natural progression. 

* Certain sports have a natural advantage as they are visually appealing - they are interesting to watch in terms of colour, arenas, physicality, personalities.

* The sports marketers must endeavour to promote the other sports, that don't enjoy the above-mentioned advantages, on television

* Several games such as bowling and darts have become popular on television in the developed nations as sports marketers managed to package them well

* In the UK, billiards captured the imagination of the women audiences who loved to watch well-attired handsome men

* Passion for the game of cricket is a strange phenomenon and a one-off case. All the anguish that fans feel when the team loses is forgotten with a single win.

* The government should organise and develop major international sports properties (follow the Malaysia model) and boost the economy with such events. Research shows that several industries such as tourism and hospitality get

Sport marketers and advertisers' take:

Procam International MD Anil Singh who represented the sports managers emphasised the following: " There is a need for sports associations to change their approach and mentality. The sports associations need to become more professional, package better, present concepts better, negotiate from a position of strength."

"The sports associations need a long-term vision and everyone needs to contribute in the process wherein self-sufficiency can be developed. The problem with sports associations and administrators is that they are ill-equipped to allow the sportsperson's talent to blossom beyond a certain degree. They don't have the tools or the capabilities to enhance talent and convert it to medals," Singh added.

Fosters India Limited MD Pradeep Gidwani, who represented the advertisers had the following things to say: " It is difficult to ascertain the impact of the money spent on sporting associations and quantify the results. The sponsorship of sports can extend the advertising budgets and research shows that it gives more mileage than routine airtime spends of an equivalent value."

" However, the extent of the multiplier effect depends on effectively leveraging the association. The association with sports properties has to be leveraged through above the line and on-ground promotions," Gidwani added.

TV personalites and sports lovers' take:

TV related personalities Harsha Bhogle and Tom Alter were adamant that things need to change to usher in a bright future.

Tom Alter expressed his pleasure at being amongst some of the sporting greats and pioneers in the business of sports marketing. He added " Real champions don't need marketing. I used to travel from Mussorrie to Delhi for a Durand Cup match and hear radio cricket commentary surreptitiously in the hostel. I used to idolize Micky Mantle and Milkha Singh in those days when TV was not there. Mantle was one of the greatest sluggers in baseball and the central switch-hitter for the New York Yankees. Alter recalled instances of how he would follow Mantle's exploits through six month old missionary magazines that carried the new reports. Alter also lamented the fact that the Indian government took a long time to honour Milkha Singh, the best 400 metre runner that country had ever produced.

A combative Harsha Bhogle said that other sports' associations failed to capitalise on the opportunities when cricket was vulnerable. He also blamed Doordarshan's lack-lustre presentation and lack of pro-activeness in embracing new techniques and formats, apart from the lack of clarity on live uplinking as a hurdle in the path of television channels being proactive in going for other sports. He added "If television broadcasting is given freedom, there will be a boom in sports marketing; eventually all sports will benefit."

Media editors' take:

Veteran sports editor Ayaz Memon expressed: "Cricket is a deep-rooted passion and viewers have become habituated to being associated with the game. They have become insensitive to the fortunes of the Indian team. Whether we win or lose, the fan following continues."

Memon added that associations must realise that newspapers have finite space. The Indian Express sports editor Jaideep Marar reasoned that association officials and coaches who accompany sports teams must fax/e-mail/phone and communicate results to newspaper editors.

Irrespective of the contrasting viewpoints, the future of sports marketing is bright!

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