New Delhi: At the players’ auction held in a Goa luxury hotel last week, there was no sign of an economic downturn as owners of the Indian Premier League (IPL) teams opened up their wallets, paying an average $450,000 (Rs2.19 crore) per cricketer.
But the purse strings are much tighter on the marketing front, where the buzz created last year with celebrity endorsements and high-voltage ad campaigns may not be replicated in the second edition.
GMR Group’s Delhi Daredevils team has already let go of its brand ambassador, Bollywood film star Akshay Kumar. “Akshay is no longer our brand ambassador and we are not looking at adding a new one either,” said Amrit Mathur, chief operating officer, GMR Sports. “We have created our brand identity and now it’s time to focus on cricket.”
Last year, the Delhi team spent about Rs25 crore in aggressive marketing across television, print and digital media.
The economy is forecast to expand 7.1% this fiscal, the slowest in six years, forcing firms to trim marketing and advertising costs.
Even flamboyant liquor barron Vijay Mallya’s Bangalore Royal Challengers, which last year had the fattest marketing budget of at least Rs100 crore, is toning down the hype. In the inaugural edition, it had Bollywood stars Katrina Kaif and Deepika Padukone, and southern actors Ramya and Upendra rooting for the team. It also flew down the Washington Redkins, the US cheerleaders, paying them Rs12,000 an hour each. The cheerleaders attracted almost as much attention as the cricketers—plus criticism about their skimpy uniforms. “The team has only got Katrina Kaif on board as of now, and given the controversies created by the cheerleaders last year, I don’t think we will be seeing the Washington Redskins this IPL,” said a team executive who didn’t want to be named.
India Cements Ltd’s Chennai Super Kings has cut back on spending 30-40% from the Rs10 crore spent last year. Because of the downturn, “there will be lowered marketing spends from individual franchisees,” said India Cements marketing head Rakesh Singh.
Most teams will be emulating the strategy adopted last year by the Rajasthan Royals, owned by Jaipur IPL Cricket Pvt. Ltd (Emerging Media). The only no-frills team with a stringent budget, its strong focus on the sport helped it emerge the surprise winner.
“I think the biggest learning from Rajasthan Royals was that they worked really hard at their game while the rest of the teams were busy creating this hype around their teams. They got the best players and they had done their homework,” said Darshan M., vice-president, commercial operations, Deccan Chronicle Holding Ltd’s Deccan Chargers.
However, the teams are also busy scouting for alternative marketing routes. “Teams will be getting the required exposure from other verticals. Our model is to get enough publicity but have someone else to pay for it,” said India Cements’ Singh. “For instance, Star Vijay, our regional language TV partner is coming out with two reality shows, one that builds a junior league and the other, a cheerleading contest, on the channel. In fact we will make money out of the sponsors that come on board these shows.”
Movie stars Shah Rukh Khan and Juhi Chawla’s Kolkata Knight Riders team is also teaming up with brands. “We are tying up with a general entertainment channel and launching a reality show on cheerleading called Knights and Angels with (former Indian captain) Sourav Ganguly—that should give us sufficient mileage,” said team director Joy Bhattacharjya.
Some industry experts say that while the focus on cricket is welcome, a drastic cut in marketing spending may prove counterproductive.
“IPL is a new property and although the format was a success, the teams still have a long way to go before they establish loyalty and a following. So...the teams will have to continue spending on marketing-related activities...,” said Mahesh Ranka, general manager, Relay Worldwide, the sports specialist service of Starcom MediaVest Group.