Mumbai: When executives for EM Management Pvt. Ltd, a British media rights company, went out seeking sponsors for the Rajasthan Royals Indian Premier League team, they were snubbed with questions ranging from who their brand ambassador was and where their big stars were. Rajasthan Royals didn’t have the answers that then seemed esssential to their commercial success. In fact, the team just about managed to tie up sponsors a day before the tournament started.
But weeks into the tournament, the team’s success and Emerging Media’s unusual strategy of cutting frills and keeping costs low have meant that it will probably be among the first few franchises to break even in the first year. “The lessons from the Rajasthan Royals and from this season in general are to treat this intelligently, look at this as a business, apply some thought and not throw money away,” says Anirban Das Blah, vice-president at Globosport India Pvt. Ltd, a sports management company. “But I am not sure those lessons will be learned.”
Emerging Media is said to have approached a few brand ambassadors but offered equity in place of money, which they did not want. So, they went ahead without one. “There are 50-100 companies that everyone approaches,” Raghu Iyer, head of marketing and sales at Emerging Media said. “And to be very honest, we went hoarse crying to sponsors because we had no stars.”
But as the team became the first to qualify it was clear that things were changing and Emerging Media’s approach of choosing players well and keeping costs down was paying off. “We were innundated with offers saying ‘Name your price’,” Iyer said. Their T-shirts are now sold out and several new designs are in the works. Captain Shane Warne’s T- shirts were the most popular ones after the team T-shirt, says Sajid Shamim, executive director, marketing and product at Reebok India Co.
It didn’t quite stop at that in the nation where cricket enthusiasts range from toddlers to doddering old people, and from top executives to rag pickers.
On Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje’s suggestion, traditional blue and yellow saris were locally made for the franchise owners. Now, several fashion designers have joined the fray and offered to design sarees and Emerging Media may look to sell them.
There are also offers to take the team abroad for matches against international teams.
And for the three sponsors that did back the unfancied team it has been a revelatory experience.
“We have offices in 100 towns across the country but people cannot touch and feel our product,” says Sanjay Jain, marketing head at Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Co. Ltd. “So, when our employees showed our sign on the Rajasthan Royals T-shirts to their families, there was great pride.” Allianz has a three year deal with the Rajasthan Royals, which will likely remain unchanged. Royal Challenge, Reebok and Kingfisher were the other sponsors.
Now Emerging Media may have more suitors to deal with but Iyer says he wants them to understand that this is a long term deal and they want to stay with the strategy of getting the team combination right rather than have all stars.
Blah says that on the business front the two teams that will make money have opposite strategies. “While the Kolkata Knight Riders have tried to optimise revenues, the Rajasthan Royals have a cost minimization approach,” he says. “Both work but need to be executed well. (But) when I see people clamouring for the cap on salaries to be lifted I feel the lesson from the Rajasthan Royals will not be learnt.”