Star's five marketing strategies that helped sports grow in 2016


"Business has only two functions: marketing and innovation," is a lesser known observation of Milan Kundera, the Czech-born French writer who’s more famous for Unbearable Lightness of Being and more such thought-provoking novels.

Why are we cross referencing Kundera in a write-up for sports marketing campaigns? Simply because Star India and its bouquet of sports channels, marketed under brand Star Sports, are following Kundera’s words to a T--- and successfully too.

In a dynamic world of sports broadcasting where events are now held and telecast almost round the year --- at times various big ticket events held and aired live the same day in different part of the globe in different time zones --- it is difficult to ensure the success of every league or tournament in terms of advertising revenue. Behind the numbers’ game, lot of research is done to finalise marketing strategies, which are aimed to ensure that audiences are given exactly what they want, where they want and how they want.

With some smart packaging, marketing and advertising, Star India has managed not only to acquire broadcast rights for the region for some of the big sporting events, but also get the eyeballs --- and advertising revenue --- to justify the millions of dollars it is sinking into Indian sports. A business newspaper reported last year that Star India has bet Rs. 200 billion (Rs. 20,000 crore) on sports. This money has been ploughed into not only getting the rights for Indian cricket, Summer Olympics and sundry other games, but also into building lesser sports like kabaddi and cash in on football’s popularity by creating an Indian football league with participation of retired international stars.

We look at five marketing strategies of Star India, helmed by Chairman and CEO Uday Shankar and his deputy Sanjay Gupta, which helped the respective sports aired on Star Sports grow in terms of viewership in India.

1. India vs. England Test Series

In an age where T20 and slam-bang form of cricket is being aggressively promoted and vastly followed, it has been a refreshing change to see Test cricket getting good viewership. India had been itching to take revenge over England, a side which had defeated the Indian cricket gladiators in three consecutive Test series prior to this.

Building up the tension with #scoretosettle, Star Sports network used the Virat Kohli factor very effectively and the response was satisfying. The five-match Test series had a reach of 159 million viewers. BARC recorded a total of 728 million impressions in the India urban market and a total of 1,217 impressions in the all-India market. The fourth Test had the highest rating with 4.9, proving the series was the biggest of the year.

Virat Kohli scored a brilliant 235 in the fourth Test and the rise of Karun Nair and Jayant Yadav had Indian viewers glued to their TV screens. There would have been additional viewers reached via Star’s digital platform Hotstar that too streamed the matches. The series was won 4-0. It was not only Team Virat that put on a sterling performance in recent times, but also Star Sports in terms of viewership.

2. ICC Cricket T20 World Cup

In a heavily marketed campaign of the year, the T20 World Cup was being played on the Indian soil for the first time in its history. Quirky, gripping and nationally-emotional TVCs were made and beamed on national television starting early 2016. With #T20WC as easy and relatable as ever, the match between India vs. Pakistan trended with #maukamauka, setting the tone for brilliant support for the Men in Blue. India defeated Pakistan comfortably, riding on Virat Kohli’s brilliant half century after the team, at one time, was tottering at 23/3 due to a fearful Mohammed Amir spell. India reached the semi-finals, only to be defeated by eventual winners West Indies.

The tournament reached 393 million people in India, one of the highest viewed tournaments in 2016. The India vs. Pakistan game got a rating of 17.3 across the Star Sports network, becoming the most watched T20 game ever since the 2007 WC final played between the arch-rivals.

While the cricket on display was high quality, credit must be given to the marketers who too did their job magnificently. Video snippets and memes capturing Mauka-man’s reactions were also pushed in real-time during the match and after it, which contributed to #IndvsPak overtaking the tournament’s official hash tag during the game.

The Mauka Mauka campaign, originally devised in 2015 by Ranchi-born Suresh Triveni for Star Sports, not only connected with cricket fans instantly, but also got featured in a Forbes’ list of five best sports marketing campaigns that went viral in 2015. Even as the campaign’s character still connects with viewers when used by Star Sports, writing about it in 2015 Forbes said, “Occasionally, a campaign hits a nerve and it catches the attention of a whole country. For India, this is that campaign.”

3. Rio Summer Olympics 

It doesn’t get bigger than the Olympics, does it? In one of the most apt hash tags in Indian markets last year, Star Sports used #issebadakuchnahi in the build up to the Rio Olympics 2016. Rest as they say, is history. Female badminton player PV Sindhu reached the finals and was part of an extensive marketing programme by the Star network.

 The tall and powerful Indian, who catapulted overnight as a superwoman in an overtly patriarchal country, lost to Spain’s Caroline Marin in a well-fought three-set final 21-19, 21-12 and 21-15. The match recorded 17.2 million impressions, the most viewed programme on that day across all genres in India. In total, 202 million viewers tuned in to watch the Rio Games on television and 10 million (Star’s internal figures) watched the live streaming on Star’s digital sibling, Hotstar.

The whole scenario of Indian alternative sports or non-cricket games has changed after the Rio Olympics. Fans found new heroes in gymnast Dipa Karmakar, Sindhu, wrestler and bronze medallist Sakshi Malik, Aditi Ashok and various other sports personalities. As part of the story-telling, Star Sports brought their stories to fans via videos, images and content and ensured continuous engagement with fans throughout the tournament with conversations peaking when India clinched two medals (badminton and wrestling). So thought out was the marketing engagement unleashed by Star Sports that it even dug out the noodle-haired Indo-Canadian Kamal Sidhu, one of India’s fav music veejays and TV anchors during the mid 1990s and early 2000s, as the host for pre-live Olympics programmes.

#BillionCheers, a 360-degree campaign that happened before, during and after the Olympics helped #Rio2016 become one of the top trending hash tags in India in 2016.

 4. India Super League

The Indian football extravaganza was one of the hottest tournaments in 2016 in terms of viewership. The league saw the arrival of 2010 World Cup Golden Ball winner Diego Forlan join hands with Mumbai City FC, taking the side to the semi-finals for the first time in three editions. The league was won by Atletico de Kolkata, which defeated fellow first season finalists Kerala Blasters at a wildly-cheering houseful Kochi Stadium in Kerala.

Using the Diwali fervour as a peg to enhance viewership, Star Sports network used a tagline of ‘Ye Diwali Football wali’ to connect the game to the audiences and the soccer culture of the nation. While 41 million fans tuned in to television to watch the final, it was a rise of 41 per cent viewership compared to the final of ISL 2015. In Kerala, the ISL matches were viewed more than the 2016 T20 cricket WC semi-final between India and West Indies and the Euro 2016 final.

In West Bengal, the match had a higher viewership than the IPL 9 final. The league saw a total viewership of 216 million and a steep growth in rural viewership, cumulatively reaching 101 million viewers in a new high for the sport. This edition of the league also registered double view-time as compared to 2015 on the digital platform Hotstar.

5. Kabaddi World Cup

Arguably the alternative sport of 2016, kabaddi grew manifold with two editions of Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) and the men’s World Cup in the same year. The viewership of every event grew as time progressed and the game can now boast of having a dedicated audience, both on ground and on TV and digital platforms. The fourth edition of the PKL posted 10 million average BARC impressions and is the only league in the country to have registered a growth trend in four editions. The league has shown a growth of 51 per cent in the last four seasons and has been one of the key reasons for India’s good performance in the World Cup.

As India snapped up the World Cup, the men’s edition clocked a whopping 114 million impressions spread across 33 matches over 16 days. Star helped building its audience with #readytoraid and a TVC that captured well rural India, the topography the game is primarily associated with.

The women’s kabbadi challenge was even better. In the marketing strategy, Star Sports highlighted that women regularly challenge gender stereotypes in the society and can cross the line in kabaddi as well - the hash tag being an apt #crosstheline. After women’s kabaddi in PKL IV, the first two matches got a viewership of 38 million, the highest any women’s sport has got in India ever. The tournament had a total viewership of 90.4 million, with an average of 6.7 million impressions as per BARC data. This number is 2.3 times higher than the second semi-final between New Zealand and West Indies, the highest rated women’s game till date. Thus, women’s kabaddi Challenge features amongst the top 10 sporting events watched on Indian television over the last one year.

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