Lesser-known brands step forward in IPL distress sale

Absence of marquee names such as Panasonic, Bridgestone, AXE offers an opportunity for likes of Orbit Cable, Dheeraj Realty to step in

Photo: Hindustan Times
Photo: Hindustan Times

New Delhi: As A-list team sponsors take a break from the Indian Premer League (IPL) in its seventh season, lower-profile names have taken their place, paying between Rs.2-3 crore—one-tenth the money spent by bigger brands—for the right to inscribe their logo on team uniforms and accessories.

The absence of marquee names including Panasonic Corp., Bridgestone Corp. and Hindustan Unilever Ltd’s AXE deodorant brand from the list of sponsors in the tournament, whose first leg is being played in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) this year, has offered an opportunity for the likes of Orbit Cable India Pvt. Ltd, TripFactory.com and Dheeraj Realty, to step in.

The tournament has been robbed of some of its appeal in its seventh edition, partly because of the spot-fixing and betting scandal that cast its shadow over IPL last year and partly because of the first 20 matches being shifted to UAE to avoid a clash of dates with the general election in India Brands are also choosing to invest more on election-related programming than on cricket.

It may also have something to do with brand fatigue with cricket and IPL, which is made up of eight teams—Delhi Daredevils, Kolkata Knight Riders, Chennai Super Kings, Mumbai Indians, SunRisers Hyderabad, Royal Challengers Bangalore, Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab.

Typically, any big television entertainment franchise has a natural life cycle, explains former advertising professional and author Anuja Chauhan. “IPL is ageing. But that’s the norm,” she said. “Since teams have to make money they will have to get 30 small brands instead of three legacy brands to maintain the financial balance.”

That isn’t all. “Television is no longer the most important screen in people’s life. The mobile is. So priorities will change, and the longevity of these tournaments will get impacted,” Chauhan said, explaining the lower interest brands have shown in becoming team sponsors this year.

According to IPL rules, advertisers can buy space on anything—from a player’s jersey to his helmet and trousers—to get inscribe their brands. This includes any available spot—chest, back of the jersey, sleeves, rear and sides of the helmet and trouser pockets. The pads and bat belong to the player.

A number of first-time sponsors such as WHSmith Plc’s India unit and Ratnakar Bank Ltd have paid up to promote their brands through SunRisers Hyderabad and Delhi Daredevils, respectively.

WHSmith is a UK based retail company best known for its chain of convenience stores at airports and railway stations. The retailer opened its first store in India in partnership with Travel News Services (India) Pvt. Ltd in July 2010 and operates 34 retail outlets in the country at present. Ratnakar Bank is a mid-sized private bank with 175 branches in 12 states in India.

“I am personally excited with this association... The Delhi team was a natural fit because of our growing presence in the national capital region,” Vishwavir Ahuja, managing director and chief executive of Ratnakar Bank, said in a statement.

Delhi Daredevils, which had financial services provider Muthoot Group and consumer durable maker Panasonic as sponsors up until the last season, is this year associated with classified ads and trading portal Quikr India Pvt. Ltd and search engine Just Dial.

Last year’s spot fixing and betting scandal have dragged IPL to the apex court, which has ordered Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) president N. Srinivasan to keep away from the board’s affairs. The controversy has also hurt IPL’s brand equity.

Closing sponsorship deals has been tougher this season, agreed Delhi Daredevils chief executive Hemant Dua.

“Team sponsorships were difficult to come through for various reasons—the elections, the UAE schedule, late announcement of the India matches, availability of more inventory in the market as all the teams opened their assets plus the difficult times the league has faced due to the matter being in court,” said Dua.

Brands from the new economy have taken centrestage in IPL, he said.

Given the controversies around IPL and its declining share of television viewership, is the T20 league struggling to protect its own brand value?

“IPL the brand is on its way down and it is meeting these aspirational brands on their way up,” said branding expert Santosh Desai, managing director and chief executive for Futurebrands, explaining the arrival of smaller brands as team sponsors.

“The property has definitely become more affordable for them. It’s a vehicle which still gets the eyeballs (the total viewership of IPL has doubled in the last six years) while being more accessible for these lesser known brands. For big brands, the benefit cost has gone down. They see IPL in a more cold blooded, analytical way, have other options and are playing safe,” he explained.

To be sure, not all the teams have tied up with lesser known brands. Kolkata Knight Riders, for instance, is still sponsored by Nokia Oyj, Sansui Electric Co. Ltd and Royal Stag, among others. Mumbai Indians has Videocon d2h, Etihad Airways PJSC and Jet Airways (India) Ltd.

Mohit Burman, co-promoter of Kings XI Punjab, notes that Tata Motors Prima trucks is the title sponsor for the franchise, in which Ness Wadia and Preity Zinta are partners, with McDowell’s and Britannia as associate sponsors.

“This year definitely started with uncertainty over the venue due to elections in India. Hence, discussions with sponsors started late, delaying the sponsorship announcements,” he said. But he claimed the franchise has got on board 14 reputed brands as sponsors/partners this year.

The franchise has attracted new brands like Prayag Bath Fittings and Tripfactory as official team sponsors; Arise India, ACC Ltd, Kingfisher and TK Sport have stayed on from the last season.

“The election year too has weighed in heavy on the annual sporting league, diverting advertiser funds to associate with election-related programming,” said Sathyamurthy Namakkal, president of DDB MudraMax Media, the media buying wing of advertising agency DDB Mudra.

This has led to IPL re-working its strategy to get more brands in to play, albeit at lower price points.

Neel Chatterjee, an independent advertising consultant, says the reduction in deal size is positive.

“It has been done to milk the maximum marketing potential of IPL franchise,” he said.

Besides, brands which want to make a breakthrough are going for sports tournaments to get instant recognition, he added. This trend has gained momentum after brands like Karbonn Mobile and Micromax managed to create a brand identity through their tie-ups with cricket properties, he said.

Agreed Desai: “These smaller brands have pockets of strength, they reach somewhere but they want to reach further ahead. These brands don’t have enough national platforms to latch on to.”

Suneera Tandon contributed to this story.

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