Mahindra & Mahindra, MRF make case for effective corporate involvement in sport

MUMBAI: Indian companies have yet to get the message that sport is something that they can reap benefits from. Two companies that have done just that over the years are Mahindra & Mahindra and MRF. Both of them made presentations at the CII Summit yesterday.

The aim of the summit was to dissect ways in which Indian companies could help build future sports champions.



Mahindra & Mahinrda's president Alan Durante elaborated on how the company has had great success with football. The initiative was taken on by Mahindra's automotive sector. "While we have produced sportspersons over the years like Sandeep Patil, Sanjay Manjrekar it was clear that we were missing out on an opportunity. Big success only comes from thinking big.

"We realised that we needed to zero in on one sport. Cricket was too cluttered and does not fit with our Boleros, Scorpios which are all about stamina and endurance. Football was a great fit and we decided that it would be our cup of tea."

Durante went on to add that the next challenge was to create a new brand statement. The club Mahindra United was formed in 2000. The colour of the blazer changed from orange to red. Six co-sponsors joined the venture including Shell. "We soon found out that professional sport was tough and lonely. Our team started out by losing. So companies making an investment have to be prepared for a gestation period.

"However once we hired David Boothe as coach the tide began to turn. This year we won the Federation Cup. It gave the company great exposure. 80,000 fans attended the final. The Mahindra name becomes a shorthand brand name on the jersey.

"Other ways of exposure include the print media. Wins and defeats are reported. This makes the company top of the mind as far as brand recall is concerned. Our relationship with dealers was also strengthened. Their families are invited to important games. There is also a societal spin off. Senior members of the team visit schools and so the brand gets further imprinted in the minds of youngsters. The team has also served as the glue that binds our employees together which is vital to drive up sales."

Durante mentioned that football fans are very loyal to their club. This rubs off onto Mahindra and he urged other companies to follow suit. He finished off with this tongue'n'cheek quote. "If they are bending it like Beckham you will find that your company and the brand are spicing it up like Posh."

Another presentation was made by the head of MRF's Pace Foundation T.A. Sekar. The foundation was started in 1987 as the company was looking to do something different. " We found that due to a dearth of pace bowlers India struggled to win matches abroad even if the batsmen score runs. Denis Lillee was roped in as coach because he is a great role model. Early obstacles were faced.

"There was skepticism that a car company was embarking on a project that was too ambitious. We however succeeded in creating facilities that are world class. The foundation is run as a division of the company. The opinions of the board members are noted."

Sekar added that the Australian, New Zealand and English cricket academies have a memorandum of understanding with the foundation. The facilities are complete and include a sports psychologist, yoga instructor as well as different kinds of pitches so that aspiring fast bowlers get used to bowling in different conditions.

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