LG Electronics India Pvt. Ltd formally severed its decade-old backing of cricket, saying the sport had lost relevance in its marketing strategy, and announced that it would support four niche sports—starting with golf.
The announcement came on a day when Graham Ford, coach of the English county side Kent, turned down a formal offer to coach the Indian cricket team, and as the European Tour unveiled a controversial plan to stage a $2.5 million (Rs10.25 crore) tournament in 2008 in India, dubbed the Indian Masters, a move the company said would herald a new era for golf in the world’s second most-populous country.
Cricket in the country is passing through a bad phase following the national team’s disastrous showing at the recent World Cup, rapidly losing both fans and sponsors over the past few months.
“Cricket has always been a game of the masses; golf is a game of the classes,” said LG India’s head of marketing Sandeep Tiwari, explaining why his company opted for golf as a strategy to market its new range of high-end products that include LCD television sets, laptops and cellular phone handsets, all aimed at high-spending consumers. “Our target audience will be found on the golf courses.”
Tiwari said LG was little known in India when it started off 10 years ago and cricket was the ideal vehicle to create brand awareness.
The company has new objectives now: this includes sponsoring golf and three other niche sports, which would be announced later, to reach LG’s target group among the more affluent.
The golf link, through the 13-leg LG Indian Amateur Golf Tour that kicks off in Bangalore on 12 June, is the company’s maiden association with the sport at a competitive level. Its one-off association with golf a few years ago was a corporate event solely for clients.
The golf tour is also the first financial commitment the company has made to any sport since March after the expiry of its eight-year contract with the International Cricket Council (ICC), the game’s apex administrative body, for all ICC-organized tournaments, including the World Cup.
LG India’s entire marketing strategy over the last decade revolved round cricket. It had several cricketers as brand ambassadors, and in 1999, it had paid ICC between $25-30 million for securing the official ICC sponsor contract along with Hero Honda Motors Ltd, Samsung Electronics Ltd and Philips.
Tiwari emphasized that LG had not completely cut off from cricket, and would sponsor series and tournaments if these coincided with festivals such as Diwali, when consumer spending traditionally rises. On the other hand, support to golf reflected its wish to “pick up an early trend”—the sport’s growing popularity.
The LG Indian Amateur Golf Tour, organized under the aegis of the Indian Golf Union, will be played across 12 venues and includes 2006 Asian Games silver medallists Anirban Lahiri and Joseph Chakola, British Open 2006 (Junior) winner Amanjyot Singh and India Junior number one Rahul Bakshi.
Meanwhile, the inaugural Indian Masters has been scheduled for 7-10 February at a still-to-be-confirmed venue. It will be promoted and organized by golf in DUBAI, the company behind the Dubai Desert Classic.
Gen. J.J. Singh, the president of the Indian Golf Union, described the announcement as a “historic” milestone in the development of the sport in India. But it immediately sparked a row with organizers of the Asian tour, who are furious at not being consulted over the new tournament.
In a statement, the Asian tour’s executive chairman, Kyi Hla Han, accused his European counterparts of “unethical” conduct.
He said: “The Asian Tour disagrees with the unethical actions of the European Tour, which has avoided contact with the Asian Tour whilst announcing this new event in India. This action reflects on the European Tour’s aggressive direction without any concern for the protocol of the International Federation of PGA Tours and highlights an invasion position on Asia.”
AFP contributed to this story.