When the Kolkata Knight Riders and the Mumbai Indians take to the pitch on Wednesday in Kolkata for the first match of this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament, it is not just the crowd and television viewers who will be hoping for an exciting game. Advertisers, who have collectively invested billions of rupees into promoting their brands through the event, will also be cheering the teams on.
The glitzy IPL, the world’s richest cricket tournament, will be played over 47 days with a total of 60 rapid-fire matches. With the actor Shah Rukh Khan partly owning the Kolkata Knight Riders team and reports that the actress Anushka Sharma will perform at the IPL opening ceremony, there is a lot of Bollywood glamour associated with the tournament.
In a cricket-mad country, the IPL has mass appeal, meaning advertisers are eager to get a share of the action on the pitch. Adverts appear everywhere, from logos emblazoned onto the cricket ground to branding on the stumps.
“In India, the single largest sport is cricket, and within cricket the IPL is more than just a sporting event,” says Samar Shekhawat, the senior vice president of marketing at United Breweries, a major Indian beverages company that owns the Kingfisher brand. It has associated with the IPL since the tournament’s launch in 2008.
The IPL offers “the most appropriate mix of glamour, entertainment, sport, celebrity and style”, adds Mr Shekhawat. “I am very fond of saying that it is India’s biggest reality show. For India, it is bigger than the Fifa World Cup, it’s bigger than the Cricket World Cup, it’s bigger than Formula One and the Olympics.”
Advertising spending on the IPL this year is expected to reach 10 billion rupees (Dh589 million) compared to 8bn rupees last year and 3.1bn rupees when the tournament launched in 2008, according to figures from Impact, an advertising and marketing publication.
The official broadcaster for the IPL, Multi Screen Media (MSM), which owns Sony Entertainment Television, has said that it has sold the vast majority of its advertising inventory for the tournament this year, with slots selling at rates up to 15 per cent higher compared to last year, at 500,000 rupees per 10 seconds.
Amazon, Vodafone and Hero MotoCorp are among the advertisers. Pepsi is the title sponsor of the IPL.
Despite being plagued by controversies, including a spot-fixing scandal, the value and popularity of the IPL does not seem to have been dented.
There has been rapid growth of sports advertising in India in recent years, of which the IPL has been a major driver. The value of the market for advertising in sports in India was about 41bn rupees in 2013 compared to 21bn in 2008, according to a report by SportzPower, a provider of sports business news and knowledge, and GroupM ESP, the sports and entertainment arm of GroupM Media. This is made up of on-ground advertising, athlete and team sponsorship, and media advertising spending. Cricket accounts for between 80 and 85 per cent of television sports media revenue in India.
The launch of the IPL in 2008 “will be recorded as the start line from where the country’s nascent sports business took off”, the report stated.
The IPL is loosely based on the United Kingdom’s Premier League football championship and the National Basketball Association in the United States. It is a Twenty20 tournament, which means that the matches are fast-paced and last about three hours each, giving the sport more popular appeal.
“This should be a great season for the Indian Premier League, with renewed interest around cricket and positive advertiser sentiment,” Rohit Gupta, the president of MSM, told The Financial Express, an Indian newspaper. He said he expected to sell the last few matches at 1.5m to 2m rupees for 10 seconds.
United Breweries plans to promote Kingfisher through the IPL this year with a new television commercial featuring cricketers from the tournament, as well as through social media and digital initiatives. The IPL accounts for its biggest marketing spending on any event.
Mr Shekhawat says United Breweries spends between 17 and 20 per cent of its annual advertising budget on the IPL. The company is increasing its overall advertising budget by about 10 per cent this year, so it will put a larger sum of money into the IPL in 2015, he says.
With the tournament expected to attract 220 million viewers, it gives the brand huge exposure across the country, including in smaller towns, he says.
The IPL follows hot on the heels of the ICC World Cup, which was held in Australia and New Zealand, but that does not seem to have eaten into the IPL’s revenue.
“It’s a longer game and the IPL is quicker, tighter, more glamorous and more in keeping with the brand,” said Mr Shekhawat, explaining that United Breweries did not do any marketing with the ICC World Cup. “Because it was in Australia, the match timings were not really conducive to running a lot of promotions.”
Vodafone has also associated with the IPL since its inception.
“Cricket resonates with Indian audiences, and no other cricketing platform packages sport, talent, chutzpah and entertainment together on one platform as successfully as the IPL,” says Ronita Mitra, the senior vice president of brand and consumer insights at Vodafone India. While Vodafone does not comment on its advertising spending, Ms Mitra says that “the effect multiplier effect and bang for the buck is unmatchable”, if a company does the right campaigns during the IPL.
In November 2012 Pepsi bought the title sponsorship rights to the IPL for five years for US$71m – almost double the amount the Indian property company DLF paid for the title rights for the first five years of the tournament.
Homi Battiwalla, who was the executive vice president of PepsiCo India at the time before becoming the senior director of beverage marketing for the Middle East and Africa, last year said that Pepsi expected to derive five to six times the investment the company had made in the IPL.
“No large-scale association with cricket is possible in India without a sizeable IPL presence,” Mr Battiwalla said. “The title association of Pepsi IPL and other benefits will allow brand Pepsi and other PepsiCo brands to gain more than conventional sponsorship benefits and generate immense universality across the country.”
It also falls in the right season for the brand to be promoting its drink products, given the heat of the months of April and May, when the IPL takes place.
“The timing of the tournament is ideal given that packaged beverages is an impulse category and nearly 50 per cent of consumption happens in these months,” he said.
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