With its 13th season, Indian Premier League (IPL), a cricket sporting event has become a mega -brand since its inception in 2008 with a perfect mix of nail-biting games, players, and renowned cricket stars. For sports aficionados, it is a long and unpredictable thrill. According to a report by Brand Finance, a valuation and strategy consultancy, this league ranks sixth among world’s other sports leagues and is valued at $5.7 billion.
Naturally, IPL is also witnessing international brands vying for a slice of the pie. This comprises of Chinese, American, and Indian mega brands representing various sectors such as IT services, Telecoms, Online Payments, Gaming, FMCG etc. IPL has hence become synonymous to La Liga and the English Premier League from the football space. It sees the best players from the cricketing world which put their best foot forward in this extravaganza, states the report.
Over the past 12 years, Chinese sponsorships held a crucial part in this 20-20 league. But, things appear different this year. IPL’s branding cart has also been upended by the pandemic. Vivo that had paid a whopping Rs 2199 crore for five years (2019-2023) which is Rs 440 crore per year, pulled out from the bandwagon of sponsors. Other big companies too kept at bay from IPL in this season.
Interestingly, four out of six major sponsors of the cash-rich league are startups from the digital world. Fantasy sports brand, Dream11 is now the title sponsor and bought the title rights for almost half the price at Rs 222 crore than their Chinese counterparts. In addition to it, Edutech startup Unacademy is the official partner for three seasons of IPL (2020-2022) pledging Rs 130 crores.
Credit card payment startup Cred has also bagged second official partnership of the IPL. The fourth company is Paytm which continues to be an Umpire Partner, following the five year strategic partnership in 2018. Besides these four, Tata motors and CEAT Tyres continue to be other official partners. A report in business magazine Forbes suggested that, 65 per cent of the 120 firms sponsoring various franchise teams this year are startups.
This includes MakeMyTrip, Myntra, Mobile Premier League (MPL), Boat, Fan Code, Paytm Insider etc. Along with this, Star India has brought on board several companies (around 80 advertisers) majorly startups as on-air sponsors. Byjus’s on-air spending is in the range of Rs 150-160 crore for this season. The official digital streaming partner for this season is Disney+ hotstar.
A new niche of unicorns in IPL
COIVD-19 has put a pause to live sports and entertainment events and hence IPL also lost sponsorships. Earlier, IPL’s title sponsorship was usually in the hands of big companies such as DLF, Pepsi and Vivo. As Vivo withdrew from the central sponsorship, the sponsorships of other teams also suffered backlashes. For instance, Daikin pulled out from the sponsorship of Delhi team which was replaced by JSW later on. According to media reports, up to 40 per cent decline was estimated in the sponsorship revenues.
Though pandemic had a direct impact on the sports sponsorship, the league has carved a niche for itself with a new segment of advertisers and sponsors. Regardless of dwindling economics, the league remained a sought-after marketing platform for brands. As per the ESP properties estimates, the IPL 2020 sponsorship has crossed Rs 500 crore marks during this season.
Now that the IPL is open for unicorns, medium, and small enterprises, will this lead to exodus of big firms. Bhairav Shanth, Co-founder and Managing Director of ITW consulting tells that that it is a bit of an exaggeration to say that. He adds, “There are quite a few established brands around who are still spending during IPL including the big ecommerce players.”
ITW orchestrated the deals for the two official partners Cred and Unacademy for this season. Adding to it, the young agency which is a year old only has gone on to clock deals with six out of the eight IPL franchises. According to Bhairav, the fact that unicorns such as Unacademy, Dream11 and Cred are leveraging the IPL is a reflection of change of perspective in economy.
“These are not startups in the general sense of the term. As while they may be relatively new, they have expanded in scale which is phenomenal. To sustain that scale and spread their wings further, they would require the biggest available platform. Hence, it is no surprise that they have chosen a tournament like the IPL to publicize themselves,”
says Bhairav Shanth, Co-founder and Managing Director of ITW consulting
At the time when digital advertising has gained prominence over print and outdoor advertisements, brands are leveraging this sporting event for marketing like never before. IPL also is a huge opportunity for companies as it coincides with biggest festival season in India. Previous season of IPL 12 saw a giant leap of 100 per cent in advertisement volumes with advertising of 246 brands.
The outbreak of the pandemic has led to digital consumption growing multifold. Online platforms have therefore opened new avenues for advertisers to reach consumers. Experts believe that companies have shown interest in marketing through IPL as most people are busy working from home and are spending plenty of time online.
Considering the early trends, the interest shown by people playing the Dream11 game on their smart phones has been high and the company has been largely successful in booking slots for the nominal fee leading them to good returns. According to the Forbes report, Trell, a digital sponsor of CSK has seen a spike in user engagement.
The report further states that time spent on the platform has gone up by 25 per cent per session since the IPL began. Downloads too have increased. Similarly, Myntra has partnered with three IPL teams and is using sports event to gain visibility and sales in newer regions. It is running social media campaigns and contests around matches. It has also introduced some gamified features and content to attract cricket lovers and consumers.
Another e-commerce brand, Cover It Up is the accessory partner of IPL team, CSK. It is selling merchandise associated with it. With people shopping more from online channels, the brand is witnessing a major traffic on the website. According to the company, products such as posters, mobile cases and covers, mugs, and notebooks have done well in this period.
OkCredit which is in partnership with Delhi Capitals has launched a digital campaign with an anthem TaiyaarHainHum. It is to uplift the spirits of small businesses and to celebrate IPL as a sports festival. An expert in media sales, Prabeer Patankar speaks on how brands are going beyond digital and print to reach their audience during IPL season. According to him, IPL has created an atmosphere of positivity at the right time.
This will galvanize the pent-up consumer demand by giving brands the much-needed audience engagement. While IPL is a premium event, landing a spot presence is a big deal. Sponsorship titles are much larger than that. IPL has coincided with the festive season, which is a natural time for the advertisers to spend and showcase their presence across all mediums.
Beyond the general sporting fervour, IPL also brings in the aspect of local heroes versus the rest. Since the advent of IPL, we have seen regional and smaller local brands such as Avon Cycles, Stylam, Fena, Endura Mass, Astral Pipes, Balkrishna Industries Ltd., Valvoline, etc. rubbing shoulders with multinational mega labels.
Patankar is President—National Media Sales at Update Geotarget, a regional-focused TV advertising free-to-air platform which is helping brands to create high impact and to build strong recall. For the last two years, they have presented an economic but equally high reach solution and have become high impact platform for these smaller brands.
This is specific for all those who cannot afford the megabuck satellite packages. “Our set-top box (STB) options like EPG, volume, and guide branding are not channel specific. This makes these relevant to all three high engagement events happening on satellite. Thus, it proves to be all the more efficient in terms of value,” he tells us.
Patankar explains, “Brands are primarily on TV for IPL and on ground. However, this time they are also taking keen interest in the digital streaming platform for IPL too. Most of the deals for IPL have happened as a combo package for satellite and OTT this time. Another smart brand engagement added to the basket is set-top box solution. This makes it easier for bigger brands to complete in the circle of communication with a simple yet high impact.”
Quest of Indian brands to become self-reliant
IPL was supposed to commence in March 2020, but the pandemic compelled BCCI to postpone the dates. Now, it is being held in UAE due to safety concern. This has helped the entire IPL fraternity to gain a larger audience. Furthermore, the slogan of Vocal for local has boosted the confidence of homegrown brands and they are seeing a great momentum.
Since IPL is now happening at an international venue, businesses are viewing this as an opportunity to market themselves at a global platform. Can we then say that the shift in outlook for domestic brands and Indian companies is growing with IPL? If this is true, IPL will contribute significantly in propelling the Atmnirbhar Bharat movement? Experts are of opinion that it depends on the preference of people.
Presenting his opinion about this, Bhairav from ITW says that it depends on how you define the term. He claims, “A homegrown brand is self-sufficient even without being associated with IPL. However, the league definitely provides a large pedestal for some of the smaller homegrown brands to put their product in front of a broader audience. That opportunity could certainly be crucial for the growth of their self-sufficiency.”
Advertising maven Sameer Makani of Makani Creatives expresses his views in an article. He says, “Because of the strategic ban on Chinese products with an Atmanirbhar agenda, Indian Homegrown apps and brands have started taking flight in the market. For instance, reality shows like Bigg Boss, KBC or IPL were earlier sponsored by Chinese brands such as Vivo and Oppo in the past. But, this year Indian brands are bidding for these shows or events.”
“Most TV advertisers are regular advertisers and depend on high salience for their off-take. Any brand today cannot afford loss of communications for more than 4 to 5 months. Therefore, IPL should be considered for advertising for the value proposition that it will provide along with the impression and recalls in the international market. The overall cost compared to the value is more affordable considering the pandemic,” he opines in a Business Insider article.
Patankar then adds the perspective of advertisers. He says that this year is unlike any other year. With IPL being organised, we see smart tactical moves such as multi-team association deals being cracked by multiple advertisers. In this, brands are investing smartly on a wider bandwidth rather than investing in becoming main sponsors. This further ensures visibility of the brand during all matches.
This is proving to be a successful strategy so far for both IPL officials and brands. The combined report from BARC and Nielsen, which focused on TV viewership and advertising trends during the first week of the 13th season states that the trend has been positive till now. According to it, the first week of IPL witnessed a 15 per cent growth in viewing minutes as compared to the same period during IPL of 2019.
The report also reveals that one out of three TV viewers have watched IPL. A surge in number of viewers has also been registered during this season as compared to the last two seasons. While there was a 9 per cent increase in number of viewers from IPL-11 to IPL-12, there was a 10 per cent increase from IPL-12 to IPL-13. It also tells that 44 per cent of TV households watched IPL-13, live.
It has been noted widely that with more innovative marketing and custom-made advertising solutions, more Indian brands are for associating themselves with IPL. Therefore, this IPL has probably surpassed the SuperBowl in terms of being a marquee advertising property. Bhairav of ITW admits that he doesn’t see the momentum slowing down any time soon because the reach of this renowned cricket league is far-fetched.
The fact that advertising did not drop even in a year like this tells you that its reach has remained intact. The change which has emerged now is that brands will have to become more technology savvy to stand out among several sponsors the tournament usually sees. Only smart, integrated, and interactive advertising using streaming platforms and other digital means will fuel the IPL’s advertisement growth in next few years.