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CII Sports Summit: The role of corporate India

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MUMBAI: Profit is not a bad word which the sports ecosystem has awakened to and realised, seemed to be the essence of the discussion at the inaugural ‘Corporatization of Sports’ session at the CII summit on the business of sports and entertainment held in Mumbai on 21 September. The session sought to discuss how Indian sport could evolve and produce champions with the involvement of corporate India.

The need for looking at the commercial aspect of sports, scope for public-private partnership in promotion, possibility of the government incentivising investments, supporting sports for the sake of business and branding, games packaging and cultivating viewership and media coverage were some of the ideas thrown up at the summit to which almost all the experts agreed.

KPMG partner Jaideep Ghosh, GroupM business head - entertainment, sports and live events Vineet Karnik, IMG Reliance COO Ashu Jindal, PMG chairman Sam Balsara, YES Bank president and country head, media & entertainmemt, luxury & sports,Karan Ahluwalia and MICA professor Sanjeev Tripathi, were the panelists. Harsha Bhogle, commentator and journalist, moderated the session.

Bhogle introduced the experts and sought some opinions on the subject. “It is indeed encouraging to see that lately sports was being promoted from the school and college level,” Jindal said. Ghosh said that consumption of sporting events in India has been on the rise, which mainly included online consumption. He underlined the importance and growth of digital media and social media rights for such events.

Pointing at the international sporting leagues, Ghosh quoted an example of how La-Liga had tweaked its sports timing so as to suit the Indian viewership timings. He noted the positive trend of a worthwhile increase of 20-30% in female viewership of sporting events in India.

Profit-making training academies and sports good manufacturing were other areas that get a boost with the promotion of sports, Ghosh remarked.

Whether the Indian government will support sports, Bhogle sought to know from the panelists. Tripathi, quoting a government web site, said that the establishment’s self-declared role was creating infrastructure and capacity-building. “One needs to love sports to promote it,” quipped Bhogle referring to the government versus corporate role.

Tripathi suggested the concept of public-private partnership in promoting sports. “If tollways can follow the PPP model, I don’t see any reason why sports can’t,” he seemed curious. Giving the example of a private company managing the commercial exploitation of swimming pools at Kendriya Vidyalayas after school hours, he said Sports Authority of India stadia could also be exploited along similar lines.

“Almost 340-350 days in a year, the SAI stadia are unused,” he quipped. In metros, Bhogle said, because of the traffic snarls and other issues, people barely manage to reach the stadia. There is no time to play or practice. “Medals will hopefully come from small towns – where there is space and time,” Bhogle opined.

Jindal agreed that the government builds infrastructure and corporates invest. Reliance Foundation, he said, was supporting sporting events in around 2000 schools in the country. “IMG sponsored two sportspersons to train at a US academy and one of them today is playing for the prestigious NBA,” Jindal said.

Bhogle said it was very significant to reach the grassroots level to cultivate sporting talent. “Let under-16 boys and girls play their game at various levels – talent and technique will follow suit,” he felt.

“There is no database of grassroots-level sporting events being played in the country,” Karnik remarked. There is no national-level academy for training budding talent, he said. Corporates, Karnik stated, were engaging in sports. Like broadcasters and distributors, etc. make money, he said, it was crucial that Indian companies sought RoIs (returns on investments). “But, are they looking at the long-term (say, five years) perspective? May be, no,” he felt.

In almost 30 years, Balsara said, the business of sports (advertsing,etc.) in India has grown around 50 times which was far less than growth in other sectors/sub-sectors.

Balsara said there was a need to see sports as a business. “And, in business, there are profits – however distant that may be.” Be a ‘lambi race ka ghoda’, he said. Balsara believed that corporates need to have more and better risk appetite to be in the business of sports promotion.

Corporates, of course, support events for the sake of building their brands, said Ahluwalia. Given the demographics in India, advertising was done for more visibility. For the sake of going the whole hog into sports promotion, Ahluwalia said, the complete supply chain would need to be looked at – from scouting for talent to sports good manufacturing etc. to CSR

We also need to support games other than cricket, Bhogle said. Tripathi agreed, and informed that he found 20 football academies in Ahmedabad but none for cricket.“The different leagues being played in India are creating dreams,” Bhogle said. There was a need for heroes.There were fewer heroes because federations used to dwarf them in the wake of retaining their own supremacy, Bhogle said.

Balsara agreed on heroes and winners. The whole nation is watching sports. Winners at any level – state level or national level – are a good bet. “Only then, people and corporates would go after them,” he said.

India needs a revolution in all sporting activities. “The revolution that the former world champion Grandmaster Vishwanathan Anand could bring about in chess, could not be replicated in the case of Mary Kom,” Bhogle lamented. “You need the power of media to establish and popularise a sport,” Balsara said. A strong medium like TV was very significant for sports promotion, he said.

Bhogle agreed – TV creates heroes. “The digital medium in India, which does not need the help of airtime or printing, is also growing very well,” Bhogle said. Jindal nodded, saying, “All the school matches supported by IMG were published on the social media and uploaded on Youtube”. The influence of social media, especially the opinions and reactions, was very powerful, he said. Jindal said the social media helps in taking sports to the next level.

Bhogle sought to analyse the success of ‘pro-kabaddi’ in India. “Apart from some tweaks to the game’s rules, did it succeed because there was no burden of legacy,” he asked. “The packaging was very good, although there were no top-level, known players,” Ghosh answered. “Each game, which helped release the regional pent-up demand, is short and held the viewers’ interest for 45-50 minutes,” he said. Half-jokingly, he said he found some DJ kind of effect at the ‘pro-kabaddi’ matches.

“Kabaddi is a kind of revolution brought about with multimedia help.Players who were making Rs 2-5 lakh are now making 50-70 lakh,”Ahluwalia said. Regional brands and products are associating with the game. Sarpanchs etc. have become trainers, mentors and coaches.

“Leading kabaddi players are earning more than the average IPL players,” Bhogle remarked. He said, as in the US, he could foresee regions in India playing against each other.

Whether mega corporations can help sports and/or fund stadiums, Bhogle asked. To this, Karnik said that Hero, Pepsi and Vodafone (which supported 10 seasons of a game) were the examples of that phenomenon. “Casual relationships with sports doesn’t work,” Balsara agreed. Relationships over some years reaped a good harvest, he said.

“Pepsi, for example, does not support only a few episodes of a TV serial,” Balsara said. Consistency of sponsorship in sports is critical, he said.

However, with limited spending and maximum leverage, RoI is also possible. Balsara gave the example of Kent RO which sponsors non-live after-hours of games. On the other hand, he said, IPL sponsors Vivo was leveraging far less than it could have had. Everybody agreed.

“Eventually, with low RoI, they may end up being unsatisfied,” said. Bhogle said some companies were quietly supporting potential winners so that they could leverage them when they triumph.

The business of sports in India was merely worth $2 billion, whereas, in the developed countries, it was pegged at around $ 50-60 billion, Ahluwalia said. So, are we bullish on the business of sports in India, Bhogle asked. Almost all panelists answered in the affirmative, with Jindal adding, “India is growing at 7%, earnings are increasing and so is sports.”

Bhogle concluded by saying that (sporting) opportunities well-packaged get investments. Begging bowls get pennies.

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