Mumbai: Bharti Airtel Ltd, India’s largest phone company, has signed on to be the title sponsor of the Indian Formula 1 (F1) Grand Prix for three years as the date of the inaugural race draws closer and momentum builds among fans and advertisers.
On Saturday afternoon, bookmyshow.com launched the sale of tickets for the event that will take place on 28-30 October. In three hours, the site sold tickets worth Rs 1.25 crore at anything between Rs 2,500 and Rs 35,000 apiece.
That enthusiasm, and the interest shown by sponsors and advertisers in a country obsessed with cricket, bear out what some sports and media analysts have been saying for some time: that, along with English Premier League football, F1 is becoming popular in India.
Gaining popularity: Construction in progress at the site of the Formula 1 event in Greater Noida, which is scheduled to take place on 28-30 October. Photo Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Other companies, including Vodafone Essar Ltd, Red Bull India Pvt. Ltd, Mercedes-Benz India, Diageo India Pvt. Ltd, and the UB Group are working out how to leverage their global association with F1 with local campaigns, including contests, reality shows and free tickets.
Bharti, which announced its association as title sponsor of the Airtel India GP last week, declined to comment on the amount it will be spending, although two media buyers independently put the number at $10 million a year.
Interestingly, the telco recently withdrew its sponsorship of the Champions League, a tournament featuring the best Twenty20 club sides in the world.
Unlike the popular Indian Premier League (the Champions League features the top three teams from this), this has never really become a favourite with advertisers and audiences. A sports marketing expert termed the company’s F1 association “a great opportunity”.
Describing its association with Champions League as a “disaster”, Indranil Das Blah, chief operating officer, Kwan Entertainment and Marketing Solutions Pvt. Ltd, said the company would benefit if it even put in one-tenth of the money it invested in cricket in F1 in India. “It’s a huge established property and sees a billion viewers and more around the world. (And) because the race is happening here, all eyes will be on India.”
Over the past few years, F1 has become bigger in India. Pubs in large cities usually host race nights and there has been an increase in the number of Indians travelling to Shanghai or Malaysia for the F1 races. According to Manu Sawhney, the Singapore-based managing director of ESPN STAR Sports, at least 25 million fans watched 2010’s F1 season in India and the first eight races in 2011 have seen at least 16.7 million people tuning in from their homes. The broadcaster has signed four associate sponsors for the entire season—Samsung India Electronics Pvt. Ltd, Vodafone, Sony India and Petronas Group (at approximately Rs 1.5 crore each, according to estimates by media buyers).
“Cricket is and always will be a religion in India, but the Indian youth is also very interested in other sports such as F1 and football,” said Anuradha Aggarwal, vice-president, marketing, brand communication and consumer insight at Vodafone Essar, India’s second largest telecom firm, which has launched two contests that will spawn reality shows, one on MTV and the other on ET Now. The firm, she added, has “more than doubled its spend (on F1) over last year.” Vodafone is associated with F1, and even has a team, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, or VMM, (the ET Now contest and reality show will allow small and medium businesses an opportunity to get their brands onto the VMM cars at the India race).
Red Bull India will look to leverage its connection by bringing a Red Bull Racing showcar to New Delhi in September, launching a model car building and racing competition for students (they have to use Red Bull cans for the body), and organizing a go-kart race.
One of the two media buyers mentioned in the first instance described the interest among advertisers as “very high”, but said the prohibitive price of associating with the event, on par with international sponsorships, according to him, and taxation issues that accompany dealing with a foreign company or body (like an F1 team or the F1 organization) will mean that it will take time for more deals to be struck. This person added that the price of associating with the event could range between $200,000 and $5 million for the India race. Different rules would apply to brands such as Vodafone, Red Bull and Mercedes that are already associated with F1 teams, this media buyer said. Mint couldn’t verify this.
Still, the India race will attract the attention of local advertisers, especially those that have global ambitions, said auto expert and editor of Autocar India, Hormazd Sorabjee. F1 isn’t for the faint-hearted (in terms of budgets), he added.
It’s worth it, said an expert.
“It’s (considered) fashionable to follow it,” said Dhruv Jha, business head, Brand Experience, Lodestar UM. The event will attract a large audience as well as much media attention.
Unless the execution and infrastructure go horribly wrong, the race will open a new avenue for advertisers and offer them an annual opportunity, he added. “They (advertisers) may choose to tread with caution, but tread they will.”