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Banks, mobile phones, electronic wallets, automobiles and even online start-ups rush to cricket when they feel the need to announce their arrival in India. Data proves it. In 2017, sports in India bagged on-ground sponsorship worth 1,337 crore, according to GroupM’s report Sporting Nation in the Making-V. In 2017, sports in India bagged on-ground sponsorship worth 1,337 crore, according to GroupM’s report Sporting Nation in the Making-V. Of that, cricket got 669 crores or 50.03% of the total sponsorships.

Things are changing, says Nina Elavia Jaipuria, Viacom 18’s head of Hindi and children’s networks, but not at a very fast pace. Some of the other sports, including football, badminton and kabaddi, have found support from various brands. Jaipuria believes one of the reasons sporting events are getting interest from companies is the brands’ new-found love for engaging directly with the end user.

With more than a 1,000 events in a calendar year spread across the country, running is one sport which has several brands interested as it helps them to establish direct contact with the end user. While pumping money in cricket ensures instant visibility and overnight recognition for any brand, a running event such as the Tata Mumbai Marathon, Pinkathon, Airtel Delhi Half Marathon or the Bajaj Allianz Pune Half Marathon provides the stage for sponsors to engage with thousands of consumers, one-on-one, for a few days starting with the race expo and ending with the post-race gathering at the finish line.

After fruitful tie-ups with cricketers Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh, eyewear brand Oakley partnered with running events, starting with the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon last year. The main difference between the two partnerships, says Oakley India’s brand business manager, Rajan Handa, is that at running events “we get the opportunity to educate the user about our products". The sheer number of running events forced his hand. “We believe each user is ultimately an influencer for us. Getting involved with sporting events and marathons helps us reach our target audience," says Handa.

Sporting events and players go a long way in building the brand image and brand recall value, believes Rajat Khurana, managing director for India operations of Japanese sportswear and footwear maker, Asics. For a brand whose product is associated with fitness and sports there can be no better platform than sporting events to reach out to end users. “Sporting events like marathons give us enough visibility before, during and post the event," he says.

The current trend among brands is to pick events they can use to create a connect that goes beyond the now. “Pinkathon, a run for women, who are our target audience, gives us the perfect opportunity to come outside of the television set and make the brand a part of the consumer’s life," explains Jaipuria.

Despite a large number of brands looking to tie-up with sporting events, it is not easy for promoters to secure associations and sponsorships. “If you can guarantee high standards at your event and have a clear differentiator that brands can leverage, it is comparatively easier to secure sponsors," says Vikas Singh, chief executive officer of APG Running, who promote the Bajaj Allianz Pune Half Marathon. Pune-based Bajaj Allianz wanted to own a massive property in its home base, one of the factors behind becoming a title sponsor for the race. “For our brand, associating with running made sense as it is inclusive and cuts across age, income, social and gender profiles," says the insurance firm’s chief marketing officer Chandramohan Mehra. “The messaging is perfect for us as we want to be seen as a brand that is an enabler of fitness and good health," he adds.

There are plenty of reasons for India Inc to invest in sports partnerships but an organization leader’s love for a particular sport is not good enough. However, Mehra points out, “a company seals a tie-up with sporting events only if it meets its marketing and messaging objectives". The good news is India Inc. is earnestly looking at sports beyond cricket. The Tatas have partnerships with running events globally, and Tata Mumbai Marathon has broadcast partnership with Star Sports. IDBI Federal set up a badminton talent hunt a few years ago and kabaddi has generated a lot of interest from a wide range of brands. Going by GroupM figures, companies spent 179 crores on football, 114 crore on kabaddi and 99 crores on running events for on ground sponsorships in 2017. Clearly, for India Inc., it’s game on.

The Running Company is a column that explores how sporting events impact brands.

Shrenik Avlani is co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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