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NEW DELHI: The Indian arm of German sports brand Puma is focusing on sports and lifestyle to drive growth this year as it bounces back from pandemic-induced disruptions. The brand has signed a strategic three-year long partnership with the Indian Premier League (IPL) team franchise Royal Challengers Bangalore to become the official team kit sponsor, making it the only global sports brand to be associated with the league.

The objective is to grab consumer mindshare and create more buying opportunities such as sports merchandising. Puma already has an on-going association with RCB team captain, Virat Kohli.

"We felt this is the right time to get back to IPL and build on the sports merchandising opportunity whose market size is doubling every two to three years despite the pandemic," said Abhishek Ganguly, managing director, Puma India and Southeast Asia.

In India, the sports merchandise market is extremely nascent - registering sales revenue of barely $18 million. Although almost every IPL team has been pushing merchandise, it has seen limited sales.

With IPL’s 14th edition being played behind closed doors, fans will not be in the stadium and there’s less incentive to wear the team merchandise they are supporting.

Puma's Ganguly, however, believes there's still scope. "Honestly, this business is still quite small when it comes to percentage contribution to our overall sales. However, we are hopeful that the IPL association will help us grow the overall team merchandising market in India. Hopefully, we will be able to take the current market size from 60 to 100 crore in year and a half," he added.

Puma plans to use the might of its extensive distribution network of 370 stores as well as digital platforms such as brand website, RCB website, mobile app along with third party e-commerce platforms. It will sell RCB’s take down and replica jerseys. The collection, which will be launched on 1 April, will also include a fan wear range of polo tees, shorts, pants, flip-flops and caps.

The brand already has experience in selling team merchandise for football clubs. Puma is the official merchandising partner for football club Manchester City FC in India. It also sells the merchandise of two football Indian Super League (ISL) teams Mumbai City FC and Bangalore Football Cup.

Puma said it has touched pre-pandemic level sales in September 2020, given athleisure wear witnessed strong recovery from covid-led disruptions due to work from home and huge traction on fitness as a category. It recently set a sales target of 500 crore on Flipkart-owned online retailer Myntra over the next one year, riding on increased digital shopping. Puma was the first brand to go live on Myntra in 2010.

"Sportswear has been the fastest category to bounce back owing to the fact this category products are being used as athletic leisure wear while working from home. It's safe to say with the current circumstances, formal wear is giving way to sportswear. There's huge traction and focus on fitness which has further given a fillip to our business. With IPL coming back even stronger, we are hoping sports merchandising will have a strong tailwind this season," said Ganguly.

Having clocked a total income of Rs1,413.26 crore for the year ended December 2019, Puma is bullish on offline channels. It opened about 18 stores in 2020.

"Undoubtedly, the growth has been strong for the sports category brands as consumers have been actively wearing sports apparels at home. The number of people taking up fitness activities has also significantly gone up since the pandemic broke which has benefitted these brands. I expect this category to do well this year and there will be investments in marketing and promotions by them to further drive the growth," said Rajat Wahi, partner, Deloitte India.

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