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Brands respond with optimism, as pandemic throws up new challenges

Advertisers, agencies remain confident of the reach and popularity of live sports.

KOLKATA: The absence of live sports during the pandemic has not only been felt by fans, but by brands and advertisers alike. Even when the games returned, they remained restricted to empty stadiums with players inside a bio-bubble. Despite the challenges, sport is not losing its charm even during these uncertain times, especially cricket.

So it was no surprise, when the much-awaited Indian Premier League (IPL) broke all viewership records after its return last September. The 13th edition of the cash-rich league breathed life into the distressed advertising sector which was hit hard by the extended lockdowns. Eventually when the tournament returned this year in April, the hopes were high. But they came crashing down, when the league had to be suspended midway amid the worsening situation in the country, battling it's worst ever health crisis.

While the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI) is still looking for another window to finish the rest of the tournaments, advertisers remain optimistic. If the next window is in September later this year, the consumer sentiment will be at its peak, opined DDB Mudra Group Integrated Media country head, managing partner Rammohan Sundaram. The chances of reaching out to a bigger audience will increase as more people are expected to watch. So, it would be more positive for business compared to March, Sundaram added.

He was speaking at ‘Brands and live sports in the pandemic times’ organised by, moderated by founder, CEO and editor-in-chief Anil Wanvari and attended by Havas Media Group India CEO Mohit Joshi, upGrad India CEO, Arjun Mohan, Mobile Premier League (MPL) corporate development, investors relation SVP Joe Wadakethalakal and DDB Mudra Group Integrated Media country head, managing partner Rammohan Sundaram.

"It was the right decision to not run IPL 2021 that time, as it would have appeared very tone-deaf," said upGrad India CEO Arjun Mohan. "By the time it returns, the mood of the nation will change. upGrad can look forward to creating campaigns around it."

“Keeping aside the economic situation and the mood of the country in the pandemic, I think the big breach was in regards to the bubble which should not have ideally happened. IPL is not ready to handle the pandemic situation in India,” Sundaram added.

Havas Media Group India CEO Mohit Joshi also agreed it was a good decision to take off IPL while bio bubble security was already broken. However, he noted that IPL is a very big component of P&L, it builds a strategy for the entire year. Overall, the sports genre is itself important for the agency.

Mohan also agreed that any brand that is advertising in India cannot ignore sports. Fundamentally, the way upGrad looks at live sports is the reach and width it offers, so it prefers Cricket. The brand has tried multiple other sports too like the English Premier League (EPL) which has very loyal committed fans.

However, the scale of those sports does not give many reasons for the brand to invest now. When a brand’s objective is to achieve reach through various campaigns, cricket qualifies for now. He also noted that Kabaddi may reach there in the future.

Mobile Premier League (MPL) corporate development, investors relation SVP Joe Wadakethalakal shared the increasing interest among the e-sports platform to engage with sports that have the broadest reach. So it focuses primarily on cricket for brand-building activities. It also finds value in international cricket if team India is involved.

Joshi said that he has been fortunate enough to have clients who go beyond Cricket. For example, Tata Motors associated with Kabaddi for its trucks. However, ROI and investment were very different indeed. But even brands invest in other sports, the spends are largely skewed towards cricket.

“We are planning to launch a sports marketing division. There is a holistic approach that one needs to take to understand what sporting events can deliver,” Sundaram added.

However, all the experts agreed that brands should be agile in these uncertain times. Rather than planning for the entire year, the agencies and brands should look at a month or even for two weeks. “One has to be short-term focused with a long-term strategy,” Joshi summed up.

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