India's biggest sports brand, PUMA, has signed a partnership deal with Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) as it leverages on cricket to build on its business in the country. The company has become RCB's official kit partner for the upcoming 14th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL), which will start from April 9.
While the company offers large merchandise collection in many sports categories including running, motorsport, basketball, it is now betting big on cricket. In fact, partnership with RCB is PUMA's first team association in cricket. For IPL 14, PUMA is the only global sports brand to be associated with an IPL franchise.
With the RCB deal, PUMA is extending its partnership with the captain of the Indian team, Virat Kohli, who is the company’s brand ambassador. Kohli will be leading the RCB team for IPL 2021. Also, this partnership makes PUMA the only global sports brand to be associated with an IPL franchise this season.
The German multinational firm, which is ahead of its competition in India, including brands like Nike and Adidas, is trying to drive the advantage it already has through this deal.
Abhishek Ganguly, Managing Director, PUMA India and Southeast Asia, said that partnering with RCB is one of PUMA’s best bets. And this comes at a time when PUMA’s business has gone back to the pre-COVID period.
What is PUMA offering under this partnership?
“We are going to kit the team from top to bottom -- on the pitch, during practices, and for press conferences. The same range of merchandise will be available in our stores as well on e-commerce platforms. We are doing fan merchandise, including caps, Polo T-shirts, among others. We will be launching the assortment in the first week of April,” Ganguly told Moneycontrol.
PUMA will have exclusive retailing rights to RCB’s takedown and replica jerseys. The fanwear range, which starts from Rs 800 for a pair of flip flops, also includes RCB takedown jersey for adults, available for Rs 1,299. The replica will cost Rs 1,799.
Purpose of partnership
Talking about the partnership with RCB and why they chose the franchise, Ganguly listed two reasons.
One, he said is the growing interest around teamwear merchandise. He said that, globally, they are seeing a lot of traction, especially for their Manchester City offerings.
He said that interest for such merchandise is growing in India, especially for franchises playing in IPL and Indian Super League (ISL). In football, the brand already has partnerships with two ISL teams including Mumbai City FC and Bengaluru FC.
Is focus on sports merchandise paying off for brands?
According to Jibi George, COO, Dream Theatre, a brand management and licensing representation company, sports merchandise is a growing category in India.
“Fans love to own merchandise but at affordable prices. In 2018, during World Cup Football, we earned around Rs 60-70 crore in retail. We have successfully run merchandising programmes for two of the biggest football clubs -- Real Madrid and Liver Pool -- and we have seen the affinity of the franchises grow with the fan base.”
In terms of size, the Indian sports licensing market was worth close to $18 million in retail sales in 2016, according to Global Licensing Industry Survey. Since then, sports merchandise has been growing in the country.
George pointed out that the segment is growing because the engagement of fans with teams and players is growing. Take RCB's example, which, in last September, recorded 84.9 million impressions on Instagram. The franchise not only surpassed other IPL teams in terms of impressions but also went ahead of football giants like Arsenal, Chelsea and Real Madrid. RCB also has the highest number of subscriber base among IPL teams, with more than 2 million subscribers
Vouching for Virat
Along with the growing traction for sports merchandise, Ganguly said that Kohli was the other reason to partner with RCB.
The sports brand and Kohli had first joined hands in 2017 when the cricketer became the brand ambassador of PUMA, a deal which is eight years long and is estimated to be worth Rs 100 crore. Kohli later also launched a new brand called One8 in partnership with PUMA.
Ganguly said that the partnership with Kohli has resulted in good business for PUMA in India. "In 2018, we did business of Rs 100 crore for PUMA One8 merchandise."
COVID-related changes and challenges
So, association with Kohli is helping PUMA. Along with this, COVID-19 has increased the interest for fitness products which is also leading to more traction for sports merchandise and also PUMA products.
Despite the negative impact on business during the lockdown, the company started seeing growth and business has been back to pre-COVID levels since September last year.
India perfect for PUMA
PUMA has seen significant growth in India over the years. In FY2014-15, it did business worth Rs 878 crore, which grew to Rs 1,413 crore in FY2018-19, according to Registrar of Companies (RoC) filings.
Nike, in FY2014-15, did business worth Rs 804 crore, which grew to Rs 831 crore in FY2018-19. As for Adidas, the company did business worth Rs 805 crore in FY2014-15, which increased to Rs 1,251 crore in FY2018-19, according to RoC filings.
PUMA's plans for 2021
To continue its growth momentum, Ganguly said that PUMA has plans to launch more stores this year. Currently, it has 370 stores in 135 cities in India.
The brand is also focusing same day global product launches in India.
"One category PUMA is putting more emphasis is on the running category. During the pandemic, we saw a lot of tailwind for this category," said Ganguly.