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Ahead of the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2021, Rajasthan Royals has revamped its team by adding an expensive Chirs Morris and another seven players, a new director in former Sri Lankan player Kumar Sangakkara and a host of new sponsors while retaining older and bigger ones like Red Bull, Jio and Colgate. In an interview, Rajasthan Royals team franchise COO Jake Lush McCrum talks about sponsorship revenues and building fan engagement through gaming and content on the dedicated team app. Edited excerpts:

How do you foresee team’s performance in IPL 2021?

We are really happy with the team we built in the auction, with more strength in depth than we‘ve ever had before. Kumar (Sangakkara) has immense experience in high pressure situations and is very tactically adept. I’m sure he will be very motivational for our players and will get the best out of this talented group. We are really excited for the season to begin under our incredibly talented new captain Sanju (Samson), who will excite our fans around the world.

How has been the sponsorship response this year?

We’ve always tried to differentiate ourselves from other teams when it comes to sponsorship deals. It’s a competitive and congested market but we always try to add value to the brands going beyond jersey position. It could be digital content or additional activations that can go well with their marketing campaigns so that they get better RoI. Our sponsorship deals are also based on shared values. Expo 2020 Dubai, for instance, resonates well with our team values of innovation and impacting society positively.

When global brands look at associating with IPL, Rajasthan Royals becomes a front runner since we help enable brands to target their consumers better. We have a cool jersey launch with Red Bull which would be happening soon. Colgate would be launching a co-branded product (toothpaste) and campaign. We believe their consumer data can be converted into fan data which would increase our reach as well.

What is the percentage increase in revenue you are expecting over IPL 2020?

The percentage increase would be well over 50% in sponsorship. We are probably in the top three teams when it comes to sponsorship revenue. It’s difficult to give a definite number for overall team revenue because there’s no ticketing revenue this year. Apart from the central sponsorship we are hoping that team merchandise sales would increase this year. In 2020, we started selling merchandise internationally and became the highest selling IPL team merchandise. We are hoping to grow it further this season with big orders coming from UK and US. The merchandise is available on our team website and app along with The Souled Store.

In absence of in stadia audience, how do you plan to engage with fans?

The Rajasthan Royals app is our key focus this year with massive investments being pumped into it. The most important thing is to convert fans from social media and bring them to our app where we provide best personalised experience to them. When they use our app, we get to know their preferences, interest in content and gaming so we prioritise and present them with tailored offerings. This way they are more engaged and are more likely to spend on merchandise or tickets in the future. We can also partner with sponsors on various areas of gamification.

The second screen usage has become critical in sports. We will be introducing a bunch of new games on our app this year. Users get to play while the match is going on. We are looking forward to see how it works out. Last year, we partnered with online grocery platform Big Basket for a prediction game on our app during IPL 2020. Over 80% of our app users played this game across the season where winners received Big Basket vouchers. We are yet to partner with brands on our soon-to-be launched games.

How do you see short-term digital deals?

We do sign several off jersey partnerships which focus on IP and different mutual benefits. For instance, Kotak Bank has IP rights which they will use across their branches to engage with fans but we are also doing co-branded cards with them which increases our reach as well. Our aim is to go beyond the pure cash deals. We avoid signing multiple partners which can dilute our brand.

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