ISL finds it difficult to score with advertisers
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The Indian Super League (ISL) football tournament that gets off the ground on 12 October is struggling to close sponsorship deals owing to high rates.
The private league with 8 franchises is owned by IMG Reliance—a joint venture between Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd and IMG, a global sports, fashion and media business—and Rupert Murdoch’s Star India Pvt. Ltd.
For the first season, IMG Reliance is offering the property for a premium—at between Rs.8 crore and Rs.10 crore for associate sponsorships.
Although two-wheeler maker Hero MotoCorp Ltd has signed up as the title sponsor for ISL, most of the associate sponsorship slots are still vacant. According to a person familiar with the advertising deal, Hero has paid Rs.60-65 crore for a three-year period. The person declined to be named.
There are six associate sponsorships up for grabs for a price of Rs.8-10 crore each, said two people involved with the management of the league. So far, German sportswear maker Puma Sports India Pvt. Ltd has confirmed its association with the tournament. Finance company Muthoot Finance Ltd and beverage firm Coca-Cola India are also said to be negotiating for associate sponsorship deals, one of the two people familiar with the development said. While Coca-Cola confirmed it was in talks with ISL, Muthoot’s interest in the league could not be independently verified.
“Puma is the world’s leading football brand. We are here to make our presence felt in the sport. With the Arsenal launch and signing of the Bangalore Football Club, Puma India is looking at a bigger platform to popularize the sport. ISL provides us with that opportunity with the central ball sponsorship,” said Rajiv Mehta, chief executive, Puma.
Star Sports—the official broadcaster for the league— which is also seeking sponsorships for ISL is offering package deals for brand visibility both on-ground as well as on air. “There are no ready benchmarks in soccer available in India. First we will need to set the benchmark at an unprecedented scale and vision. We have managed to get a very good title sponsor very early in the season. There is a lot of buzz and anticipation around the associate sponsorships as well, we will start announcing names in the coming week,” said Nitin Kukreja, head of sports at Star India.
He added that it wouldn’t be fair to call the process of securing sponsors a “struggle”.
“It is about setting the right benchmarks to serve your product. We want to establish that India is a multi-sport nation”, with the ISL heralding the birth of a major televised football tournament based in India, he said.
Kukreja declined to share names of associate sponsors it is talking to and declined to comment on the sponsorship deal size.
Even though the league franchises are owned by some of India’s biggest celebrities— from industrialists to Bollywood and sports stars such as Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, John Abraham, Ranbir Kapoor and Salman Khan— advertisers are treading cautiously and holding on to their marketing budgets in order to gauge the traction the property gets. “All clients are cautious, it’s a long-term investment for advertisers. While there is enthusiasm among brands they are still going through the process of getting convinced,” said Dhruv Jha, general manager (content and experience), at media agency network IPG Mediabrands.
Broadly designed on the Indian Premier League (IPL), the hugely successful Twenty20 cricket tourney, ISL seems to have priced itself along the same lines as well, making advertisers apprehensive.
“I think what they are trying to do with pricing is position themselves as a premium property. They are quoting IPL prices. I don’t think they are getting closures at these numbers and brands are adopting a more wait-and-watch approach,” said a sports marketing expert who declined to be named.
A clutch of leading brands in categories such telecoms, automobiles and consumer products that Mint spoke to showed little interest in the upcoming sporting extravaganza.
However, C.V.L. Srinivas, chief executive, GroupM, the media buying agency of the advertising and public relations multinational WPP Group, hoped ISL does well. “We have a new platform to engage with the younger generation. Advertisers are exploring it and there are a few discussions,” he said.
Football has a good following on television and digital media. “With the backing of giants like Star and Reliance, the league should grow and it may be a good investment for brands wanting to build a connect with the younger generation and grow with them,” he added.
Featuring eight new clubs, the ISL aims to promote football across India and foster young local talent to take up the sport professionally. Each team franchise is likely to get 5-6 sponsors although the prices will vary from city to city.
“It’s purely a function of the media mileage a particular city gets. As a team from Mumbai we get the premium city advantage. The other thing is Ranbir’s (Kapoor) star power,” said Indranil Das Blah, part of the management team for the Mumbai franchise called Mumbai Football Club.
“Team sponsorships have been a struggle so far; however, after the release of the ISL ‘Come on India Let’s Football’ campaign things are looking much better,” added Blah confirming their team had closed two associate sponsorship deals. He declined to share the brand names as the news is not official yet.
On an average, the ad rate for the front of the players’ jersey is Rs.5 crore, the back costs Rs.3 crore and each sleeve is priced at Rs.1-1.5 crore.