In the run-up to its hugely successful superhero flick Avengers: Infinity War, Marvel Studios tied up with Indian Premier League (IPL) team Kolkata Knight Riders to bring out a special edition of merchandise last month. Almost simultaneously, Eros Now, the over-the-top (OTT) video streaming platform owned by movie studio Eros International, announced its title sponsorship for the Virat Kohli-led IPL team Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Marvel and Eros Now are first-time associates of IPL teams. But online ticketing site BookMyShow, which is working with KKR, Mumbai Indians, Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings, and music streaming platform Hungama Music, which has created a special anthem for Rajasthan Royals, are entertainment brands that have had continued collaborations with different IPL teams.
To be sure, industry experts see the synergy between entertainment brands and IPL teams as a natural one. First there is the exposure through brand logos everywhere from television to team jerseys. Then there is the opportunity to cater to overlapping consumer bases.
“Today, some of these sport events have very large lifestyle value. The entire IPL franchise in terms of the merchandising, fan following and consumer participation is more than just the game being played," said Siddhartha Roy, chief executive at Hungama.com. “All (such) kinds of consumer activations, opportunities and programmes become important because today, the same customer is listening to music, consuming video and coming to all our services. There’s a lot of co-promotion that has been happening and these are largely ancillary communication and marketing programmes where there is further excitement, content generation and fan interaction, getting played out in the right way."
IPL is cricket’s snacky format which can be leveraged by a digital video brand like theirs, said Ali Hussein, chief operating officer, Eros Now. Sport meets entertainment through the event, giving Eros an opportunity to target the spillover audience, and have a wider reach from a brand perspective, especially when there is a youth icon like RCB captain Virat Kohli in question. Eros plans to launch a lot of original streaming in the second half of the year and the core target audience of both the IPL and the OTT platform is mass based. This, Hussein said, is a step in the direction of getting the kind of mass appeal Eros has had with its movies.
“Given the fact that we’ve been working with the different IPL teams for a long time, we have a large database of fans, who are very closely engaged with these franchises. We are working with that database to see what we can do with these fans beyond these two months of the IPL," said Albert Almeida, chief operating officer, Non-Movies, BookMyShow. As ticketing and venue partner for IPL teams, BookMyShow collates profiles of users signing up for various matches and uses them to tap into and cater to the tastes of those consumers. The ticketing portal acquired Chennai-based Fantain Sports, a startup which offers fan relationship management products and solutions for sports teams worldwide, an entity that Almeida says gives them the ability to engage, reward and retain fans, to many more experiences beyond these two months of IPL. The database serves as a record for both the sport teams and the ticketing platform.
Industry experts say cross-leveraging each other’s assets is becoming increasingly common in an industry where feature films now have print partners and financial technology firms like Paytm strike sponsorship rights with BCCI (Board Of Control For Cricket In India).
To be sure, a lot of the new IPL team deals are also a way for the entertainment brands to create content for themselves.
“They’re obviously looking at content creation because that is the biggest thing currently. All these guys have their platforms, and that’s where they want to create content that will be unique for them," said Tuhin Mishra, managing director of sports marketing firm Baseline Ventures. For example, Eros Now has been putting out short videos with RCB players including a conversation with comedy sketch group All India Bakchod. Hungama will leverage the anthem created for Rajasthan Royals through value-added services like ringtones.
While the title sponsorship rights for Eros may have cost anywhere between Rs. 10 and 15 crore, for others like Marvel and Hungama the business deal could either be a revenue-share arrangement or one including a fixed fee and revenue share.
“Leagues like the IPL have made sports a lot more accessible to audiences," Almeida said. “If you look at the stadiums, it’s a wide dispersion of family audiences. So the whole point is that they are building it into an entertainment brand. Having said that, the audience (across services) is very similar. At this time of the year when all eyeballs are on the IPL, it’s an opportunity for entertainment brands to meet or connect with the same audiences."