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Dec 29, 2011, 07.30 PM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

Cricket fever to move over? IMG Reliance bets big on tennis

The Indian sports market has reached an inflection point, believes Ashu Jindal, COO of IMG Reliance. As the 17th Chennai Open is set to roll from January 2 2012, Jindal shares that though cricket will always rate highly, the Indian sports viewer is demanding more of sporting entertainment.

Cricket fever to move over? IMG Reliance bets big on tennis
Moneycontrol Bureau

The Indian sports market has reached an inflection point, believes Ashu Jindal, COO of IMG Reliance. As the 17th Chennai Open is set to roll from January 2 2012, Jindal shares that though cricket will always rate highly, the Indian sports viewer is demanding more of sporting entertainment.

"India is expected to grow at over 7% for the next decade. Growth in the media and entertainment industry is expected to grow at 14% until 2015, the entertainment and recreation arenas, including sport will be the greatest beneficiaries of this growth," he told moneycontrol.com. And this growth will not be just limited to cricket. Jindal believes.

According to a study by global consultancy giant PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the business of sports will generate an annual revenue nearing USD two billion in India by 2015, primarily boosted by the income from the TV media and sponsorships, And, marking this, Jindal expects a sea of change in the market. 

Betting on tennis as the one sport that has the potential to do business as cricket does in India, he also said, "Tennis has shed the image of being a high-brow sport and is now accessible, affordable and sustainable to the common man.".

Below is an excerpt of Ashu Jindal's exclusive interview to Moneycontrol.com.

Q: With the 17th Chennai Open coming up in Jan 2012, how do you see the evolution of what is probably India’s only premier ATP World Tour tennis event?

A: The Aircel Chennai Open, India’s only and South Asia’s premier ATP World Tour event has come a long way since the “Indian Express” pair of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi won the first edition doubles title in 1997. As a sport, tennis is garnering more and more attention from diverse fronts, especially with increasing high-intensity competition and the participation of some of the world’s top players.

Being the longest running tennis event in the country, the prize money it offers – USD 450,000 – has gradually rising over the past editions, helping promote the growth of the sport in India.

In the 2012 edition, two top-10 ranked players, four from the top-25, will slug it out for top honours. It just goes to show the surge in popularity for the marquee event among world-class tennis stars.

Q: How do you think is the sponsorship and advertising for sporting events playing up, amid the ongoing slowdown?

A: India has been growing at a robust rate of over 8%, over the past five years and is expected to grow at over 7% for the next decade. More importantly, growth in the media and entertainment industry is expected to grow at the even more spirited rate of 14% until 2015, the entertainment and recreation arenas, including sport will be the greatest beneficiaries of this growth. And we already have examples of this with the success of the Indian Premier League and most recently with the inaugural Indian Formula 1 Grand Prix.

These positive developments, apart from the rising stock of Indian sportspersons and emergence of Indian team owners and organizers on the world sporting scene have led several exciting new sports events being organised in India.

We are confident that any event planned professionally and executed well will continue to attract sponsorship and advertising funding. Organizing these types of world class sporting events is IMG Reliance‘s core competency.

Q: India is a one-sport market; cricket dominates here, what do you think is the future sports like tennis and basketball that your company deals in? Do you see more scope for sports marketing business as a whole?

A: The market has reached an inflection point that, we predict, it will result in getting more sport-agnostic in the coming years. Although cricket will always rate highly in the hearts of Indian sports fans, the Indian sports viewer is increasingly demanding a wider breadth of sporting entertainment, similar to what is available in other markets such as the US, UK and Australia.

In 2011, Geetu Anna Jose’s rise to prominence upon becoming the first Indian to be invited for the Women’s National Basketball Association trials is a giant leap for the continuing growth of the sport in the country. We’ve seen an annual growth of 35% in the viewership of football, both of International leagues such as the EPL and La Liga as well as for domestic competitions.
IMG Reliance has been successful in recent months in furthering the sport of football in India and for the first time have secured both national and regional broadcasters for Indian’s premiere football competition, the I-League, and this season will see the airing of over 75 matches live across the nation.

At a time when our young tennis champs like Somdev Devvarman and Yuki Bhambri are soaring high and premier events such as Aircel Chennai Open gaining international acclaim and recognition more than ever before, it is safe to presume that the scope for marketing can only grow wider. There all signs to point to a market that is ready and eagerly waiting for additional sports to enter the mainstream.

Q: What would you say are the major spoilers for sports entertainment market in India?

A: A recent research study shows that tennis currently ranks as the third most popular sport in India behind cricket and football. It is important for sports such as tennis, hockey, football and basketball to gain more audience support. The organisers for such events have to ensure that these sports too are promoted the same way as their more glamorous cousins. At the same time, it won’t be far off the mark to state that the entire market is undergoing a sea change.

Q: IMG Reliance is now one year old, what is your road map going ahead?

A: IMG Reliance will create and operate major sports and entertainment assets in the country. In our first initiative, we have entered into an agreement with the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) to create a new professional basketball league and manage all aspects of the commercial rights for the game in India. We have signed a 15-year agreement with the All India Football Federation (AIFF), to improve, popularize and promote the game of football throughout India, from the grassroots to the professional level.

We have also created a scholarship program to identify and train talented young Indian basketball players, tennis players and soccer players at our world-class sports training facilities at IMG Academies in Bradenton, Florida.

We will continue to build on the strong foundation and brand equity in India. As India’s sports landscape grows, we will look to bring in move such successful sports properties to India in addition to creating newer ones.

Q: Tennis often is referred as a high-brow sport, and has very few home-grown stars. What kind of push does the sport require to get considerable pie of the marketing share?

A: Tennis has shed the image of being a high-brow sport and is now accessible, affordable and sustainable to the common man. Over the past few years, a lot more Indian players are making a mark in the global arena.
The iconic growth of Sania Mirza and now Somdev Devvarman has meant a metamorphosis for all stakeholders in the sport. Owing to this, a lot of young Indian players are taking up to the sport. With India being a major ATP Tour destination, all market players can hope for a greater share in the pie.

Q: Which would be one sport would you bet on that can pull as much mass audience and business as cricket does in India?

A: Tennis is one of the most viewed sports in the world and India is not going to be an exception.

Kaveri Roy

Kaveri.Roy@network18online.com

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