'Our aim is to cement properties on our plate by taking them to the next level' : Navneet Sharma - Total Sports Entertainment India, Indian subcontinent and Middle East MD

These are busy times for sports marketing firm Total Sports Asia (TSA). A little over a year has gone by since it launched operations in India and it has been active doing events ranging from a football innovation Futsal to fashion events to children's marathons. It is also the marketing agent for World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), World Rally Championship (WRC) the United States Tennis Association (USTA) and for the International Badminton Federation (IBF).

Still marketing sport in a country that does not have a sporting culture is a challenge.'s correspondent Ashwin Pinto caught up with TSA subsidiary Total Sports Entertainment India MD Indian subcontinent and Middle East Navneet Sharma for a lowdown on what lies ahead.


It has been a year and half since Total Sports Asia launched in India. How has the going been?

It has been 12 months since we got a full team in place. The first four to five months went into setting up the systems, hiring people and then getting them used to the vision and the core values of the company. We have been able to build up a reasonably good market profile in a relatively short space of time.

Unlike some Indian sports marketing companies our business we encompass all forms of sports marketing. We are into television sales and acquisition, licensing and merchandising. We are also into event management. We also work in the field of mobile and broadband content in terms of acquisitions. It is an integrated sports marketing circle. We have done over 12 activities in the last 12 months.

But marketing sports in a country that does not have a sporting culture is a challenge. How has TSA gone about this task?

India may not be a sports marketing market in a purist sense compared to America. We may be five to ten years behind. The stadiums managed and run are at a higher standard there. India is however a country where promotions are in huge demand.

They could be sports led or entertainment led. I am using the term promotions in a broad sense which means selling your product, enhancing visibility. In India companies see buying a banner as just that when it is much more. It represents visibility.

The way the National Football League is being promoted by Zee Sports is a good thing. In a years time we might see mobile content jumping up. This kind of integration is happening. Cricket is already there. You have downloads and some streaming.

We do things quietly. Our strategy is to work with existing players in finding their requirements and then getting solutions. It could be creating a Futsal event. It could be working with the Indian Football Association (IFA) on sponsorships and then working with sponsors for opportunities. This is on the domestic level.

The other way for us is working with channels to provide them television content. For instance we signed a deal with Ten Sports for WWE last year. We recently signed with the International Badminton Federation for the whole of Asia and Middle East. Their events like Thomas Cup will be marketed by us. We also represent World Rally championship (WRC) for the next four years. We also sell sponsorship opportunities for events like Copa America.

We also create events in India like The Shoppers Stop Fashion Week in Pune and Bangalore. This year we are looking to hold the event in five cities. It worked for us last year. Our aim is to cement properties on our plate by taking them to the next level. The basic aim is to make a property a social event. People should book their dates to visit that event. I think that the Standard Chartered Marathon is reaching that stage. Once it does then you do not need to market it so much as it runs on its own.

Are there any learnings from how sports is marketed in Asian countries that you are looking to apply for the Indian market?

Every country is different. China is crazy about basketball. Soccer is popular in Japan. In India entertainment works a lot and sports also work to some extent. Our USP is that we have offices in several Asian countries like China and Japan. They keep interacting with us and there is a cross fertilisation of ideas. It may be cheaper for certain implementation aspects to come from china as opposed to India. This learning is fantastic. We can also market a property across Asia.

Mobile content is something that will work everywhere. Sports television also sells though the price of tennis for instance may be different in India compared to Japan. Sports marketing firms like us need to keep our eyes and ears open to the levels at which the rights for different sports sell. Another learning is that integration is playing a key role in all brands. Even in Japan television, live events, licensing and new media go together. Because technologically that country is so far ahead we can learn from them.

One of your big initiatives for football is Futsal. How did this idea come about and what has the response been like?

In terms of money it may not be our biggest property. In terms of innovation and getting a leg into Indian soccer however it was very important. The idea was internally generated. We felt that the sport needed to be fast and pacy and which had a high amount of local involvement. In Bengal while people are crazy about soccer they do not get the opportunity top rub their shoulders with the major clubs. The event was aimed at Bengal's population. The Para leg was for street people. Then there was a district level. One team from these two legs played against the top guns like Mohan Bagan. Ten Sports and Tara Bangla aired the event.

We had 400 matches over a three month period. One of the Para teams beat Mohan Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting. Overall it was a 100,000 in terms of attendance. This year we are looking at bringing three international teams down. This was played by the Fifa rules. We are looking at doing three more Para legs - one in Kerala, one in Goa and another maybe in Mumbai or in Punjab. We are also looking at roping in more regional broadcasters. We feel that regional channels have high distribution strength. They are also more educated in that language and they can disseminate more information to the public.

Which are the other sports federations that TSA is talking with to grow the sport at the grassroots level?

Right now we are only representing the IFA. We believe in cementing our relationship with them before running off to talk with 10 other federations. We are also working with the Athletics Federation. We did two Hungamathons - children's marathons. We did one in Mumbai where 10,000 kids participated. In Delhi 9000 kids took part. We along with Hungama TV are looking at other cities like Kolkatta.

We are developing a calendar of events only for the running. Last year we got the Bayern Munich team to play in the IFA shield. They won it. On the entertainment side we implemented the gems and jewelry award for the Gems and Jewellry Council Of India. There was a lot of Bollywood presence at the November event.

Then we are working with the IFA to find a television partner. ESPN's deal has expired and there are some parties in the fray. A decision will be taken at the end of the month.

'The other learning in sports marketing is that you can make more money if you look at the marketing side of it as opposed to event implementation'

What are the other unique initiatives lined up?

We are looking to create a sports based reality show the details for which are still being worked upon. We are also looking at organising events in the adventure sports arena. This will be television led and an announcement will be made soon. These kind of events have not been done before in India. This will happen in March. On the fashion side we are looking to hold something unique in May. Our programme is pretty much set for the whole year.

On the television side we have to push WRC. It needs to be recognised more through us doing promotions. Later on we might do things like street car racing or just showing the cars that participate in WRC. This basically involves trying to create awareness among sports fans. When a fan base is built then licensing opportunities and star appearances come. Also we have an archive of football material which we are looking to sell in the coming months to different parties like news channels. We anticipate interest on account of the football World Cup. Some deals have already been done which we will be able to talk about shortly.

You mentioned adventure sports. Isn't that a tough sell in a country where most Indians are physically inert?

I do not think that it will be a tough sell at all. India may not have a sports crazy culture but we travel a lot. After the Chinese, Indians travel the most. This means that they will have heard of trekking, mountain biking etc.

The way we will be doing adventure sports will be so that a layman can enjoy it. It will not be meant only for professionals. This is how we aim to get mass involvement. We will have four to five satellite events.

Apart from football, which are the other sports, that TSA feels has scope in terms of being innovative format wise?

I think that squash has a fair amount of scope in India. The doubles has made it more interesting to watch from a television perspective. Also the Superset in tennis is a great way to have famous names take part in a tournament if they do not have to spend so much time. I think that beach volleyball is a concept that will work really well in India. People like to see well toned bodies and there is a glamour quotient.

Beach soccer is another concept that has promise. In Brazil Futsal is played on beaches. Golf can also be made more viewer friendly and exciting. It is good to see ESPN innovating on the hockey front with PHL. Other federations need to think along these lines. The thing is that people do not have too much time to see an event. Cricket for instance was only for five days at one point of time. Then you had ODIs. Now you have 20/20.

What work does TSA do in terms of selling sponsorship?

One learning in sports marketing is that you can make more money if you look at the marketing side of it as opposed to event implementation. Event management requires human resources capital and time. In the marketing area you put two people together and make the deal. Of course you have to service the client and show him your vision. For example in the last Copa America we got LG in Korea to sponsor the event for over two million dollars. LG is looking to boost its market presence in Brazil.

This is an example of marketing an event in one part of the glove to a client in another part of the globe. The sponsorship deal we did with LG was a complete package encompassing on-ground, on-air, tickets. This requires contacts and networking.

International badminton is an area we are working on. This involves meeting the local federation and seeing how the sport can be built in India and how corporates can be roped in.

We work to get sponsorship for our own events like the upcoming adventure sports event. We are also looking to do properties which are common to India and the UAE. It could be taking cricket events there or entertainment events. We will open an office in Dubai in time.

'It will take some time for sports marketing to stand on its own like Bollywood independent of entertainment'

Do you feel that corporates have become more receptive now to other sports besides cricket compared to say two years back?

Of course! For cricket you need large bucks. If you do not want to lose the limelight you have to stay in it. However even companies that advertise on cricket like Pepsi do other things like adventure sports. A lot of PSUs are getting into hockey. Nike is into tennis, soccer. Now it has also moved into cricket. Obviously the values differ substantially but soccer, hockey, tennis, golf are all growing sports.

Sponsors need a space which they can own. If you can justify space in kabbadi or squash then they will invest in it. They key is to build up the sport. If you require a large interaction in a small area then there are a few alternatives to cricket. For instance in Bengal football works the best. It is a question of the brand demands. For Futsal we were able to get TVS, Shaw Wallace, SAB Breweries among other companies.

You tied up with Hungama TV for a sports marathon. Do you feel that marketing sports events to Indian kids is something that will pick up over time?

Yes! It worked well for Hungama as it was really the health factor that is being promoted. It is about team work and being resolute and developing a personality.

Have you tied up with any other channels for special events?

We are talking to them. For instance with the adventure sports event I dwelt on earlier. All our events have a television, on ground and mobile component. We will keep tying up with different channels. I see the regional channels as coming out as a strong source of support.

Have any plans been made to bring the WWE down to India?

Yes! There will be talent coming down. There may be three events. One could be a promotional tour while another might be an actual event. India is an important market for the WWE. So as their agents we want to do as much as we can.

On the merchandising front how has the WWE been faring?

Our existing licensees include Weekender, Perfetti, Ultra Home Video and Adinath. Perfetti has come out with soft ball WWE candies. They do innovative sales promotion exercises. They sell several hundred wrappers each year. Weekender has just launched WWE range of apparel. Our aim is to add three more partners this year. This could come from the biscuit segment, party goods sector.

We also license Jidou a hilarious sports character. We work with Hungama TV to market this property. E also have Jayjay the aeroplane which is also on Hungama TV.

What are the major changes that have happened in the sports marketing business in Asia in the past four years?

The arena of new media which is broadband, mobile, games on the PC is growing fast. Using celebrities to market sporting events has also had an impact. Earlier a television channel would only look at television rights. Now they want broadband and mobile rights as well. There is more dependency on different sports as opposed to just one.

Motor racing for one has caught on in Asia. There are Asian stars who are reaching the world stage like Yao Ming in basketball, Paradorn Shrichapan in tennis and Sania Mirza emerging on the ladies front. This makes it much easier to market that particular sport.

Do you have plans as far as celebrity management is concerned?

Yes! As of now we only represent Bhaichung Bhutia. However we are looking to add two more sportspersons this year. They may not be from cricket. In fact they might be youngsters who we feel have a great future given the right mentoring. Representing a player means that you make solid statement in that field. It helps open doors and helps promote brands. We want to build upon our client management strength.

What are the challenges in this area?

It is an area that requires expertise. Right now in India companies with money offer a MG and start managing the athlete. However the field of celebrity management is an acquired expertise. You need to be trained in the field.

You have to be a friend, philosopher. guide and at the same time earn money for your athlete. Abroad this area is a full management tool. The firms look after their clients' taxation, manage their travel schedules in addition to commercially marketing them. For Bhaichung we do some of these things. We not only see how he can be commercially successful but we also advise on things like how he can financially plan his future.

If you sign on an ex-cricketer you need to be able to gauge his earning potential in a year, what he requires for training. You need to guarantee him that amount of money. This a backward calculation process in terms of how many sponsorship deals you can get. Then an MG is paid and make money once the MG has been recovered.

What kind of investment does a sports marketing firm need to make to be taken seriously?

For a MNC like us the cost of infrastructure is high in terms of getting specialised people, an office. Our target over the next couple of years could be achieving a turnover of $7 million. The initial investment may be $1-1.5 million. Of course there will also be expenses. Also we sometimes work on a commission basis which could be 10-20 per cent. For the deals that we own whatever we make is a profit.

Our main area of revenue is India is television as in selling the rights for events. The second area is holding events and the third is getting sponsorships. Last year 80 per cent of our revenue came from television. This year we see events and sponsorship contributing around 40 per cent.

How is TSA helping Indian companies boost their brand profile overseas through sporting events?

We can do that in many ways. We have a strong relationship with WWE, European soccer clubs etc. This is another area that we specialise in. We can give Indian companies who want to expand abroad a presence in these kinds of high profile events.

We are talking to some parties but a deal like this takes time to come through. Some Indian brands may want to enter China where motor racing or basketball are good platforms. So we can look at creating opportunities for them on ground and on other mediums.

Do you think that sports marketing can become an industry in India?

I would club sports marketing with entertainment. Sports will play an increasingly important role in the entertainment industry. It will take some time for sports marketing to stand on its own like Bollywood independent of entertainment. A sports event will only work in India if there is an entertainment quotient. It becomes easier to build a mass audience.

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