Early this month, the cast of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s recent film Saawariya trooped into Hard Rock Café, a restaurant-bar in central Mumbai, to party with the Indian and Australian cricket teams, and also felicitate the winner of ‘India’s Greatest Cricket Fan’, a contest run by Neo Sports Broadcast Pvt. Ltd.
Actors Shah Rukh Khan (right) and Deepika Padukone at the 18 November final one-day international cricket match between India and Pakistan in Jaipur
The event, and the interactions between Bollywood stars Salman Khan, Sonam Kapoor, Ranbir Kapoor and members of both the cricket teams, was then televised as a 30-minute programme titled Cricket Tadka Maarke (cricket, served spiced up, or something to that effect) on Neo Sports. This promotion worked well for the sports channel.
“It would seem as though one has nothing to do with the other. But the beauty is that Bollywood and cricket are two genres of equal stature. They complement each other, rather than compete with each other,” said Navin Shah, CEO, P9 Integrated Pvt. Ltd. “So, not only does it bring in different content, more tune-ins and star endorsements for the sports channel, but also serves as a great platform to promote the film.”
Executives in broadcast firms say viewers can expect to see more such efforts as channels try to differentiate themselves and build a uniqueimage. “Beyond entertaining content, such tie-ups (with Bollywood) also help us build stronger bonds with our target audience who perceive us as a multi-dimensional brand that offers wholesome content,” said Ranjith Rajasekharan, vice-president, marketing & communications, Neo Sports Broadcast Pvt. Ltd.
The trend isn’t new—a few years ago ESPN had star commentators Ravi Shastri and Wasim Akram wooing Bollywood’s Priyanka Chopra around the time of the release of Mujhse Shaadi Karogi, a movie in which she is wooed by two male leads—but it is picking up steam.
In September, ESPN had Shah Rukh Khan watch an India-England cricket match at Lords in London. During the break, he moved to the studio to speak about cricket and his film on hockey Chak De! India. Since then, Khan has been spotted at Johannesburg for the final of the Twenty20 world cup between India and Pakistan; Mumbai, during the Twenty20 match between India and Australia; and Japiur, during a recent one-day match between India and Pakistan.
A senior official of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) accused Khan of using his public appearances at cricket matches to promote his latest movie Om Shanti Om.
ESPN Software India Pvt. Ltd‘s three channels, ESPN, Star Sports and Star Cricket, have consistently chosen to tie up with Bollywood films such as Mujhse Shaadi Karogi, Dhoom, Golmaal, Hey Baby!, No Entry, Chak De! India and more recently Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal, featuring the company’s football ambassador John Abraham. ESPN plans to use Abraham to create awareness and excitement around its properties such as the Barclays Premier League. It will also soon unveil a campaign featuring some of the stars from Chake De! India as a part of its promotions for the Premier Hockey League.
“We are just adding more ammunition,” said Nirmal Dayani, senior director, marketing, ESPN Software India Pvt. Ltd. “It helps us fence our target audience and create further franchise for our key properties,” he said.
The association between sports broadcasters and Bollywood has also been fuelled by the fact that the latter has taken to churning out movies with sports as a theme. Already this year, there have been three movies revolving around sport: Ta Ra Rum Pum (F1 racing), Chak De! India (hockey), and Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal (football). This has coincided with the emergence of new sports broadcasters. “We are essentially looking at an ecosystem where each (sports channels and Bollywood) promotes the other in many ways,” said Farokh Balsara, national sector leader—media & entertainment, at audit and consulting firm Ernst & Young Pvt. Ltd.