Inclusivity in sports is the new mantra for brands

Inclusivity in sports is the new mantra for brands

Industry experts talk about how this has become a growing phenomenon.


Mumbai: Non-cricket sports are witnessing a proliferation in India. And this is happening not as a sudden change, but something which we all have been noticing over a period of time now. Be it Abhinav Bindra’s win in archery, Saina Nehwal’s performance in the game of badminton who was joined by PV Sindhu too in recent times, Neeraj Chopra’s javelin throw at The Olympics, and the most recent shining stars being Sunil Chhetri and Bajrang Punia – all have made their mark in their respective sports, and have tread their way in the brand world too.

A lot of brands are exploring sports other than cricket when it comes to brand associations, brand ambassadors, and even brand campaigns. spoke to some industry mavens to find out how this phenomenon is taking shape.

Moving beyond cricket, and making it about inclusivity, one of India’s foremost destination for sports & fitness equipment, apparel and supplements, recently launched its first-ever brand campaign – a unique take on celebrating sports – of every kind.

CultSport business & growth Arjun Choudhary says, “In India, the sporting landscape has predominantly revolved around cricket for a long time. However, we are now witnessing a shift as brands recognize the growing demand for a diverse sports culture. Similar to mature markets worldwide, we anticipate that India will embrace two to three major sports in the future. Kabaddi and badminton, for instance, are already gaining significant traction. It's important to note that the future of sports in India will not be limited to just cricket.”


He adds, “At CultSport, we are passionate about celebrating the joy of sports among people of every demographic and region. We believe that every sport, regardless of its popularity or skill level, deserves recognition and appreciation. As a brand, we are dedicated to fostering a greater engagement with sports as way to lead an active lifestyle. Our brand campaign “Be a sport” advocated the very same; encouraging people to play and get healthier.”

With cricket mania in India reaching a fever pitch, Cadbury Dairy Milk also launched its campaign, #CheerForAllSports which was conceptualized by Ogilvy India. Guided by the brand’s purpose to inspire generosity in people, the campaign aims to bring India together to cheer for Indian athletes who will be playing other sports during the same time as IPL.

Ogilvy India chief creative officer Sukesh Nayak is all in for inclusivity. “Cadbury with a well-defined global brand positioning of generosity, has been focused on bringing alive this purpose with their association with cricket in India.”

He goes on, “We have encouraged inclusivity in our cricket ideas by promoting ‘Har kisi ke khushi main shamil ho ke dekho’. Be it ‘Proud sponsors of ground staff’ last year or now ‘Cheer for all sports’, both these platforms help by celebrating all.”

Business strategist and investor Lloyd Mathias believes there are lots of factors involved in this. “One is I think there is a cricket overload. Two is that the biggest driver for brands to look beyond cricket is that cricket is a very expensive medium, whether you want to advertise on IPL or international cricket, or you want to take a team sponsorship, or you want to put your logo on their shirts etc. Cricket has reached a very high level of expenditure which a lot of smaller brands can’t afford. So that’s why brands have been looking for options because cricket, in a sense, has become a very high threshold medium, firstly because you need to have big spends to sign on teams and take up properties, and secondly, you need a lot more money to advertise on cricket.  

Another factor is the fact that a lot of other Indian sports are slowly gaining prominence. India is performing very well in badminton in the last decade – first it was Saina Nehwal, now it’s PV Sindhu – so, badminton has come into prominence. Similarly, in other sports like boxing and wrestling – Vijender Singh became India’s first medalist when it came to boxing. The wrestlers have been winning quite regularly at The Olympics. I think with badminton, boxing, wrestling, the launch of the Pro Kabaddi League, and to some extent hockey, too – a lot of other sports have come into prominence, and that’s been the other driver.”

He further explains, “And thirdly, there are a handful of companies that have promoted sport actively.  I would say, Hero has been very involved in hockey and golf. The other, of course, has been JSW – they have been supporting football. The Orissa government has been very active in supporting hockey. All these factors combined have opened up a lot of other sports besides just cricket, which historically was the only one.”

Rohit Agarwal who is the founder & director of Alpha Zegus, the next-gen marketing agency specializing in the domains of gaming & lifestyle, understands that there are two key factors for this. “Firstly, the newer generation of viewers is a lot more experimental and open to newer forms of sports content - be it Formula 1, Kabbadi, Women's cricket, etc. They love to possess knowledge of different sports, and take proactive efforts to follow each of these sports religiously. Secondly, sports are no longer restricted to Television - adoption of OTT platforms has led to a massive increase in sports viewership, as now more people can consume sports on different devices. These two reasons are good enough for brands to look beyond cricket,” he points out.

Brands building their strategy around non-cricket sports

Choudhary tells, “There are several ways on how brands are developing their strategies around non cricket sports.  Firstly, they are exploring opportunities to support and sponsor athletes and leagues outside of cricket. By investing in these sports, brands not only contribute to their growth but also gain exposure and engagement with diverse fan bases. Additionally, brands are forging partnerships and collaborations with organizations that promote sports in India, further strengthening their commitment to a multi-sport ecosystem.

One such example is by curefit, a brand that goes beyond traditional sponsorships by actively supporting local athletes in various sports, including boxing. By integrating local athletes as trainers, CureFit provides them with a platform to showcase their skills but also empowers them to share their knowledge and expertise with others while celebrating the achievements of these athletes in their respective sports.”

Nayak is of the opinion that if it fits the brand’s narrative, then the strategy will work. “Also what matters is, how it is told. In the world of doing, storytelling is not enough any longer. So whatever we do around whichever sports, it must be a part of our bigger brand narrative and also interactive to help create participation.”

Mathias comprehends that this can be done in two or three ways. “One is by taking a deep association. There has been a Pro Badminton League and a Pro Kabbadi League – there are new leagues opening, so there are a lot of brands that are taking up associations with them. Secondly, a lot of brands have been signing new brand ambassadors. There are these sports management companies – so people like Sindhu, Sania Mirza, Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat, hockey is coming up in a big way too, a few Indian soccer stars like Sunil Chhetri – a lot of brands are also signing on brand ambassadors from other sports. Abhinav Bindra was one of the firsts, in archery. Thirdly, is by taking up sponsorships, and promoting the sport.”

Agarwal clarifies, “Many brands are going regional with non-cricket sports - they realise that the support towards teams/players is heavily demographic-based, and so their marketing strategies are also adapting to regional targeting accordingly.”

Sports beyond cricket - will it help in raking in enough moolah for brands?

Choudhary of CultSport elucidates, “Associating with sports beyond cricket holds great potential for brands, including CultSport. Just like Nike experienced tremendous growth through their association with Michael Jordan, we anticipate that our brand will also flourish as these non-cricket sports gain popularity.

India, being a vast country, boasts a diverse and enthusiastic population of sports enthusiasts. Regardless of the specific sport one chooses to support, there are ample numbers of people interested and engaged in it. This presents a significant opportunity for brands like CultSport to connect with a wider audience, foster brand loyalty, and ultimately generate substantial success.”

Nayak feels, “If you are consistent and working with what the brand stands for, then the association with any sports will be rewarding. It will connect emotionally, create Impact and business.”

“Sure, why not. Cricket has been the king of sports for a long time, but times are changing with newer audiences and the introduction of OTT. It makes complete sense for brands to invest in these sports, especially when endorsement slots during cricket matches are becoming more and more expensive,” Agarwal mentions.

Mathias explicates, “I think cricket is still India’s most dominant sport, commercially - right from IPL to international cricket.  I think there is enough room and enough action on other brands, specifically with India’s performance in The Olympics picking up with Neeraj Chopra. I think, over time, other sports will slowly start building up because one, cricket is becoming expensive, and second, a lot of sports are opening up. So I think over time one will see that there is a fair amount of opportunity in other sports. And therefore once brands start getting returns that will help.

What is also helping is that other sports are also getting a fair amount of time on media. Looking at the way television covers badminton, kabaddi, or covers other smaller sports. I think that is also helping and therefore, brands can bet on these sports quite a bit.”

“If brands do an ROI analysis, they will realise that it’s a much smaller spend for other sports, and they can get a reasonable return. In cricket, you need to make a much higher spend. So while cricket will obviously, still be a very mass kind of sport, in other sports you are able to make much more impact and you can be a little stickier – the consumer can still about your brands. I think other sports will only get more prominence, so I welcome it and look forward to seeing more brand associations with sports other than cricket,” he wraps up.