Hero ISL helps create positive image among consumers: Amul MD RS Sodhi

The brand targeted consumers during games to promote its brand.

MUMBAI: We’re halfway through the fifth edition of Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) and for now, Bengaluru FC leads the table to capture the coveted crown. Hero ISL has helped bring football to the mainstream and aided the popularity of the sport at the grassroots level.

Season 5 kicked off on 29 September 2018 with six different languages- English, Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Bengali and Kannada.  While five languages are on the Star Sports network, the Kannada feed will air on the newly launched Colors Kannada Cinema. On the digital front, the league is also live streamed on Hotstar and Jio TV.

This year, the league is being backed by Hero, DHL, Bisleri, Maruti Suzuki Arena, Dream11, Zeven, Nivia and Imperial Blue.

With football becoming a prime sporting choice for a growing number of Indians, brands have realised the need to step in early in the game. Amul – probably the most ‘Indian’ brand there has ever been- has teamed up with the league for the last four years. The brand, which is famous for its catchy, witty and ironic campaigns with the Amul Girl, has been looking to cash in on the enthusiasm inside the stadiums. caught up with Amul MD RS Sodhi to discuss his iconic brand’s collaboration with the league.


The Hero ISL has become a powerful sporting property that brands want to piggyback on. Not many people thought this would be the case with football in India. What are your thoughts on it?

The football culture of India has been an active sub-culture in its initial days which has grown over the last two decades significantly among the youngsters. This can be attributed to their exposure to international football events such as EPL, Bundesliga, La Liga, Euro Cup and the World Cup. Also, during this period, Indian football at school and district level leagues have increased, thereby adding to more interest among youngsters.

Five years back when Hero ISL began, this generation was in between the age of 20 -30 years. It was a moment of awakening among Indians for we were able to see and appreciate this sporting culture in its vibrancy. A new format wherein this generation celebrated international footballers they grew up admiring and appreciating the raw tenacity and skill of Indian football. Many Indian brands saw the potential of the event and its ability to engage with the youth of India both on-ground and on-air through TV and digital.

How does a brand further tap into the Hero ISL audience, which is young, affluent, informed and passionate?

Hero ISL as an event has been well received among the youth of India and therefore a new media for brands to engage. However, as Amul, we are very careful to have meaningful engagement with them. For example, as a food brand we focussed on identifying moments where as a brand, we could address the needs of our consumers inside the stadium. We realised that the high levels of enthusiasm inside the stadium can tire our consumers. So we decided to nourish the energetic and health conscious youngsters with our milk, beverages and ice creams. We had our teams present in every match selling our range of beverages and ice cream. This gave the brand a positive image among our consumers as we were able to attend to their needs inside the stadium in every match. In addition, we were also reaching out to the audience across the country with our communication campaigns on TV.

Grassroots football development appears to have got a boost with the Hero ISL. How can the football administrators build on this?

The event has triggered conversation among brands, football associations, clubs, schools and parents regarding football in different contexts. This is a positive outlook as a country with a young growing population. Our country needs the youth to be physically active and they should be motivated to plan and pursue a career in sports.

This has led to setting up of football academies by Pune FC for example and many other clubs and football associations will definitely take up such initiatives. This will help our youth to build a healthy lifestyle and alternate career opportunities where they will be more passionate.

Do you thing the emergence of Hero ISL is among one of the key reasons behind the improved performances of the Indian national team in the last few years?

It would not be fair to attribute the success of the Indian national team to Hero ISL alone, for our team has been playing really well. But we can definitely say that their exposure to playing in Hero ISL with international players of repute and experience would have helped them to improve their game plans and strategies. At the same time, there has been an increase among fans of the sport across age groups and genders which are motivational for our team. They follow the team as they travel from championship to championship and stand by them. All of these are positives which I am sure would be helping our team to help stay confident and perform to their best abilities in every game they play.

CMOs of some of the most reputed brands have expressed their satisfaction over their association with top football leagues in the world (Barclays and the Premier League, Santander and La Liga). How can Indian marketers/brands help fuel a similar integration at scale?

I believe for any brand to truly see results, they should invest in these events and not look at it purely as an advertising campaign. At Amul, we have been associated with the event for the last 4 years and have supported this initiative. We believe milk is the world’s original energy drink and associating with Hero ISL has helped to strengthen this communication among the youngsters of India. So, for Indian brands, it would be wise if they continue to pursue sporting events with similar mindsets and in the days to come they will see the results.

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