Move over cricket. Corporate India has been taking note of the emerging sports space—read sports other than the country’s unofficial religion—evidenced by the 2022 edition of the Commonwealth Games (CWG), being held in Birmingham, UK, seeing a significant uptick in sponsorship.
With names including Reliance Industries, JSW Inspire, Herbalife Nutrition India and Adidas India coming on board as sponsors, IOS Sports and Entertainment, the marketing partner of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), said that this year’s deals constitute the best ever for the Commonwealth Games.
“There is a huge amount of difference this year versus the previous edition of the Commonwealth Games. Last time there were a few brands, perhaps three or four at a big level. But for this (2022) edition, we have signed up more than 10 brands and some of them have joined for CWG and some of them have joined for long-term from now to Paris (2024 Olympics). Also, the deal sizes of these sponsorships has grown 4-5 times this year versus last CWG,” said Neerav Tomar, MD, IOS Sports.
He said that the CWG is an important event in the sports calendar with brands already showing interest in track and field events, Tomar added.
“CWG is extremely important. While the Asian Games has got more nations, over here (CWG) let us not forget we have Australia, Canada, UK, top African nations competing,” he said, underlining the strength of the field.
Tomar said that there are 10 brands as CWG sponsors and the talent they are associated with including weightlifter Mirabai Chanu and boxer Lovlina Borgohain having 15-odd brands backing them are signs of how interest has shifted to emerging sports and moved to this level.
“This similar talent never had this kind of endorsements. Social media and influencer campaign are a buzz for athletes,” he added.
At CWG 2022, India will be represented by 215 athletes including leading badminton player PV Sindhu, Chanu, Borgohain, 2018 Asian Games Gold medallist shot putter Tajinderpal Singh Toor and 400m specialist Hima Das, among others. These athletes will take part in 141 events across 19 sporting disciplines.
Emerging non-cricket sports
Cricket is not on a sticky wicket by any stretch of the imagination but emerging sports last year saw an increase in its share of total endorsement revenue to 13 percent from 8 percent in 2020, said a GroupM 2022 report on India’s sports sponsorship space.
The endorsement revenue that non-cricket sports reported last year stood at Rs 84 crore, higher than pre-COVID level of Rs 81 crore in 2019. It had seen a sharp drop in 2020 at Rs 47 crore due to the pandemic, which had resulted in cancellation and postponement of many sports events, including the Tokyo Olympics.
The report said that the Olympic year of 2021 increased emerging sports athletes’ endorsements by 79 percent over 2020 and 4 percent over 2019.
“For athletes who have shown consistency over a period of time, CWG is yet another chance to reaffirm that status and we expect the top athletes to sign long-term endorsement deals until Paris 2024. With the Asian Games deferred to next year, there is a major event every year starting with CWG. Brands want to participate in the social conversation around the Commonwealth Games and you can expect some short-term engagement for some athletes,” said Mayur Desai, head, brand partnerships, JSW Sports, a sports marketing firm that is part of the JSW Group.
Out of the total 444 endorsements recorded last year, athletes from the non-cricket space bagged 126 brand deals while cricketers took home 318.
CWG key for athletes
For CWG, Tomar said top athletes like Chanu, who won a silver medal at Tokyo, or bronze medal winner Borgohain performing at the top level and re-establishing themselves at the global level will increase their brand value.
Brand endorsements and growth in brand value of athletes will depend on their performance at CWG, Tomar added. “If there’s a gold win, increase in brand value could be anywhere between 20 and 50 percent,” he said.
Desai of JSW Sports said that CWG will give brands an alternative to break away from the clutter of cricket and Bollywood and piggyback on the underdog story that comes with such events. “This strategy also works well when planning media on some of the cricket properties using non-cricket athletes,” he added.
He said that Olympic javelin champion Neeraj Chopra is testimony to the fact that success at these mega-events can lead to commercial success off the field. “He is now one of the most sought-after non-cricket athletes in the country with a deal size that matches or betters some in the cricket space,” added Desai.
Challenges for non-cricket sports
Tomar said that while non-cricket sports are growing at a good pace when it comes to endorsement, India is still a one-sport nation. "The commercial numbers (brand deal sizes, number of endorsements) of non-cricket sports cannot be compared to cricket,” he said.
The endorsement revenue reported by cricket last year was at Rs 541 crore, up from Rs 456 crore in 2019 and Rs 517 crore in 2020.
While there is an opportunity for prolonged visibility because of back-to-back events, the problem for non-cricket sports is that when the tournament is over, athletes have no visibility unlike in cricket, said Darshan M, founder of PLAY Sports, Media and Entertainment, and a sports marketer.
“So that challenge will remain for India for a while. It will end when the media follows the non-cricket athletes as much as they follow cricketers. How many athletes can you see anywhere on TV, print—they are far and few between and it is the same Sindhus and Neeraj Chopras,” he added.
Betting on sports audience
But sports marketers are counting on the Indian audience for CWG after the strong response to the Tokyo Olympics, which recorded 100 million viewers, a 140 percent jump over the Rio Olympics, according to reports.
“I see a significant mood shift amid viewers and they are looking at non-cricket sports. There is a significant jump in viewership for emerging sports and brands want to cash in on that opportunity,” said Tomar.
However, Sandeep Goyal, MD of ad agency Rediffusion, said that the Commonwealth Games is a lukewarm property. “It is a short-lived property. Not as much a draw as the Olympics. Spectator interest therefore is limited,” he said.
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