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NEW DELHI : Cricket teams and companies are betting big on sports merchandise, encouraged by the thousands of crores of rupees raked in from the auction of media rights for the Indian Premier League (IPL).

Sales of team jerseys and sports gear are expected to grow more than 100% for some—though on a small base—in the coming years, the teams and companies behind the products said.

Several new companies like The Souled Store and Dream Sports Inc-backed FanCode are selling official team merchandise on their websites—jerseys are in the ballpark of 300-1,000—and said such sales across cricket and football are growing in double-digits.

For instance, Gujarat Titans, which won this year’s IPL, are selling English willow bats for as much as 53,000 as well as gloves, pads, caps and jerseys on their website.

A Kings XI Punjab fan cheers prior to the start of an IPL Twenty20 cricket match in Mohali.
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A Kings XI Punjab fan cheers prior to the start of an IPL Twenty20 cricket match in Mohali. (Photo: HT)

Others like Chennai Super Kings are selling jerseys, smart bands and travel bags branded under their own name.

Mumbai Indians, which won IPL last year, allow fans to make customizable jersey on their website.

The Kolkata Knight Riders franchise, for instance, has recently started working with various vendors to promote its products online. In turn, the franchise is getting a fixed royalty and a steady revenue stream when a product is sold via a partner or on its own website.

Typically, companies producing the merchandise tie up with teams to give them royalty per product sold. These companies retail on their own platforms as well as via the teams’ websites and offline through other channels.

Binda Dey, chief marketing officer for Kolkata Knight Riders, said both brand licensing and merchandising are warming up with several partnerships across e-tail stores such as The Souled Store.

“It’s now going to be cricket around the year for us at Knight Riders Sports," she said.

The franchise has gone global: There’s IPL with KKR in March-May, CPL with The Trinbago Knight Riders, a franchise cricket team of the Caribbean Premier League in August-September, UAE’s ILT20 with Abu Dhabi Knight Riders in January-February and more with Major League Cricket coming soon.

“The business of merchandising is growing at 150% year-on-year for the Knight Riders. There is a lot of interest in the IPL a month before and about a month after. The unique thing is that we have multiple teams across different parts of the world under the same name, so it’s cricket year round for us. We have a core set of players common across our teams, like Andre Russell. For such players, there is a genuine love and interest in the merchandise. We expect it to grow exponentially," she said.

While sports merchandising has been a big part of the larger sports industry, it is generally underserved in India.

“Two years ago, all that was available was sports merchandise in the form of official jerseys. But now, we have been able to scale our merchandising business by expanding the range of products and, consequently, the range of pricing. By making merchandise available for as low as 499, we are decreasing entry barriers and making ownership of sports merchandise accessible to fans. Fans now have a wider variety of products at different price points to choose from," said Yannick Colaco, co-founder at FanCode.

Colaco said IPL is just one part of this business for them, with fans also coming for football and basketball and NBA. Football fans, he said, want merchandise through the year. The company offers merchandise for 30 teams or brands and about 800 products on its site.

“It’s not just expressing fandom by buying the merchandise, but also by including that into the daily normal life and not just wearing it at sports events," he added.

Nearly every IPL team now —India’s biggest sports event outside—is selling its products online on its own website.

While there are no consolidated figures available for the category, it is estimated by IMARC Group that the global licenced sports merchandise market reached a value of $29.9 billion in 2021. It expects the market to rise to $39.8 billion by 2027 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.9% during 2022-27.

Another seller, The Souled Store, said it has 150 partnerships across sports merchandising, which is primarily driven by cricket and football sales.

“We worked with nearly all IPL and several other teams like the national football team. IPL has been a very interesting experience for us. About 80-90% of the sales for their IPL jerseys on their site and through teams happens in the three months around the IPL. This year we retailed products of six teams."

“Earlier, nobody was doing this business at scale since there were fewer teams like the international level Indian cricket team which fans wanted jerseys of. But now, the space is opening up. Earlier just a handful of international brands sold jerseys but weren’t able to scale up their businesses," said its co-founder Harsh Lal.

While the IPL is a 45-day event, other club leagues play for 8-9 months a year, especially in football, and fans are engaged for a longer period and do end up investing in merchandise. The IPL media rights were sold for 44,075 crore on 13 June.

Nikhil Bardia, head of sponsorship sales and talent at RISE Worldwide, a sponsorship and licensing firm in the IPL, said that over the last 15 years, the IPL has seen its loyal fan base growing and now teams and brands are leveraging various platforms, including digital, to reach out to their audiences.

“There is an increased trend in consumers, both in India and globally, to own branded premium sports merchandise and the market has opened up for teams to explore and experiment with products to build a stronger fan connect through these types of products. There are now also limited-edition offerings such as team branded cricketing gear and kit bags, which let fans display their passion for the team," he said.

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