Adidas India doesn’t think promoting soccer among adults is “sexy” enough for a brand-building initiative. So, over the next five years, the sports-gear manufacturer will create and nurture its own dedicated customer base in India—boys and girls as young as five years.
For the moment, cricket doesn’t seem to be hot property at the company’s India headquarters in Gurgaon. Still, a giant poster of star cricketer Sachin Tendulkar greets vistors upon entry.
On the first floor, a mini “museum” displays the pair of Adidas boots that Tendulkar wore after scoring his 35th Test century, and another pair that Virender Sehwag wore when he scored the historic 300-plus runs in Pakistan a few seasons ago.
Yet, like a lot of sports-related businesses in India right now, Adidas is looking at life beyond cricket. It may be mentioned that the sports apparel and equipment giant has always been better known for promotions within international football circles. And its plans for the first Adidas Youth Soccer League highlight a slew of sports-marketing efforts targeted at Indian children, to nurture and groom them as both talent and customers.
The league will include nearly 600 children, between the ages of five and 12, and kicks off in Panjim, the capital of football-crazy Goa, on 15 April. If successful, the experiment will be replicated in high-spending cities such as New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. Over the next five years, there could be a few thousand teenage boys and girls crazy for soccer—and the Adidas brand.
At least, that’s the hope of the company’s marketing director Hartwin Feddersen, who says India represents a key growth area for Adidas. The company has 200 stores scattered across India and plans to open 100 more by the end of the year. In 2005, Adidas India ranked No.12 in Asia-Pacific businesses. Now it is No.6.
“We want to be an aspirational football brand,” Feddersen said. “Later this year, our stores will have a lot of football-related products.”
Parents such as Goa businessman Remiz Cardoz, 46, are eager for the league and welcome the private sector’s interest in funding sports. His seven-year-old son Ricardo will be wearing jerseys and shorts provided by Adidas, and playing with a ball imported from an Adidas factory. Cardoz also doesn’t mind the ubiquitous Adidas logo already up at the venue; he says the company deserves the mileage. “It’s a wonderful thing they are doing,” he said.
In 2004, a study conducted by market researchers Millward Brown in Singapore and IMRB International in Mumbai showed that recognition of corporate logos can occur as early as six months of age and brand name requests begin by age three. The survey covered 1 lakh children across 35 markets in Asia, including Hong Kong, Manila and Mumbai.
“Children of that age group, they know what defines a brand,” said Nikhil Rawal, the executive director and senior vice-president of IMRB.
Despite its overwhelming presence in the global football arena, Adidas does not have an official association with the sport in India. Last year, rival Nike India signed a contract with the authorities to clothe the national football team.
But Adidas claims it’s scoping out the leading Indian clubs at the senior level. “We are assessing how to make clubs more sexy,” saidFeddersen.
Till that strategy is cobbled together, Adidas India is focusing on kids. The company distanced the initiative from the Indian cricket team’s exit from the 2007 World Cup—“We are associated with soccer globally,” said Feddersen. In India, Adidas India had tapped Sachin Tendulkar as its “brand ambassador,” using him in advertisements to sell T-shirts, shoes and other gear.
The company was buoyed to sell football to Indians after the results of a survey it initiated. Contrary to popular perception, the survey found that premier football tournaments such as the FIFA World Cup and the Euro Cup commanded a greater following among affluent Indians than cricket or Wimbledon tennis.
The brainchild of former Goa state footballer Elvis Goes, who is also a certified United States Soccer Federation “B” and “C” licensed coach, the youth league for minor boys and girls is a grass-roots approach to developing the sport in the country using modern techniques and qualified coaches.
The concept struck a chord in Feddersen, who said when as a child he played soccer, he learnt of a particular sports gear brand that is still etched in his mind—a rival that he wouldn’t name in a recent interview with Mint.
Parents of young footballers welcome the corporate sponsorship with relief. In the United States in 2005, when Cardoz was honing his coaching skills in Salt Lake City, Utah, he paid $135 (about Rs5,800) for the same set of shirts and shorts for his son.
In Goa, Goes’ organization, the Youth Football Organization, is charging Rs500 per child for a two-month training schedule that includes refreshments.
It’s an approach that Cardoz, a football lover like his Class 2 son, endorses. As a youngster, he turned out for the Bombay University team, but gave up the sport as football 25 years ago did not spell big money.
Years from now, he says if little Ricardo wants, he can take up the game professionally. After all, Cardoz says, the son is gaining an exposure never available to his father.