On 18 September, over 5,500 people got together in Sydney, Australia, for the Blackmores Sydney Running Festival. What was different this year was that an Indian company—Wipro Technologies, the global information technology, consulting and outsourcing business of Wipro Ltd—was on board as a partner for the event. This followed on the heels of their announcement that they would sponsor the San Francisco Marathon for the next three editions, starting 2011. The marathon was on 31 July.
While this is not a new trend, the number of Indian companies investing in global sporting properties has grown steadily in the last year—a preferred strategy for Indian companies with global aspirations.
Global ambitions: The Force India F1 team. Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images
Late in August, Tata Consultancy Services Ltd (TCS) announced its appointment as the official technology partner for the Amsterdam Marathon and the decision to take up the event title sponsorship for five years, till 2015. This is one of Europe’s leading marathons and is expected to have 33,000 participants from 80 countries at the 36th edition, scheduled for 16 October. Recently, the Goa-based Dempo Group, which also runs leading I-League football team Dempo Sports Club, announced its acquisition of a stake in Danish football club and academy FC Midtjylland, based in Herning and Ikast.
A number of Indian companies, such as Bharti Airtel Ltd, Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF), battery maker Base Corp. Ltd and floriculture company Karuturi Global Ltd, have chosen strategically to invest in international events ranging from motorsport and football to cricket.
“Although Indian companies have not had a rich history of sponsoring international sporting events, the landscape is slowly changing,” says Suvrangsu Mukherjee, managing director (Indian subcontinent), Total Sports Asia, which helped Wipro tie up sponsorships for the San Francisco and Sydney marathons. “With more Indian companies going global, firms have realized the power of sports sponsorships in engaging a global audience,” he says, pointing to examples such as Mahindra Satyam Ltd, a frontrunner with its sponsorship of the Fifa 2010 World Cup, and TCS’ association with the Ferrari F1 team as technology partner and the ING New York City Marathon 2011 as a supporting partner.
“An inclusive sport such as running, which has no entry barriers and can be taken up by anyone, provides tremendous opportunity to widely engage the local community and promote wellness. The Netherlands has always been a key centre of operations for us and we are pleased to support the Amsterdam Marathon as part of our larger commitment to the community,” says Surya Kant, president of TCS North America, UK and Europe.
Earlier this year, Base Corp., GCMMF and Karuturi Global came on board as sponsors of the Canadian, Netherlands and Kenyan teams in the ICC Cricket World Cup. Not only were the sponsorships cost effective, they helped the brands stand out in newer markets.
Sports marketing expert Indranil Das Blah, the chief operating officer for Kwan Entertainment and Marketing Solutions Pvt. Ltd, maintains that it’s not just that Indian companies are exhibiting global aspirations; it is also a function of how much money the companies have today. He points to United Breweries Ltd’s owner and chairman Vijay Mallya’s investment in a Formula 1 team, Force India, and Venkateshwara Hatcheries Group’s acquisition of Blackburn Rovers, the English Premier League (EPL) champions of 1995.
“We are seeing in India today what we saw a few years ago in China, with local companies and businessmen investing heavily in global sports such as the NBA,” he says, explaining that in a cluttered Indian mediascape, few avenues offered brands a global audience. “There is no doubt that cricket is big, but if a company is looking to reach global audiences, cricket is not enough. Moreover, the youth in urban India are more interested in EPL and football,” says Blah.
The benefits are many. Association with a global sports brand helps raise awareness across key markets and create top-of-the-mind recall among key clients and stakeholders, says Mukherjee.
Rajan Kohli, chief marketing officer, Wipro Technologies, explains that the sponsorship of marathons was part of a strategy to invest in brand properties across key markets outside India. “The US is a key market for us—we have over 400 customers across industry segments in the US and the Americas region that contribute to about 53% of our geographical revenue mix. Association with the marathon provides Wipro with a tremendous platform to build its brand,” he says. Not only did it give their employees an opportunity to engage with the programme, and get involved with the local community, it also worked as a lever to attract fresh talent. “This also helps us to reiterate that we are investing in the region,” he adds.
“The thing about sporting properties is that they cut across all language and cultural barriers,” says Hiren Pandit, managing partner, entertainment sports partnerships, GroupM, the media buying agency of the WPP Group. “For Indian companies looking to go global, they will opt for the lowest common denominator—(mostly sports such as) football, motorsport, tennis, among others.” Bharti Airtel, for instance, has come on board as title sponsor of the Indian F1 Grand Prix for three years, at what two media buyers estimate is $10 million (Rs 47.9 crore) a year.