The paradox of cricket sponsorship beating the economic blues: Dr. Asit K Barma & Dr. Mafruza Sultana, IFIM Business School

A youthful working-class population with a huge aspiration in their heart make the IPL a perfect platform for many brands to engage with their target audience write Dr. Asit K Barma & Dr. Mafruza Sultana.


Ending the suspense of the last few months, Fantasy gaming sports platform Dream 11 has finally replaced Vivo as the title sponsor of Indian Premier League (IPL) 2020 being held in UAE this September. As we understand, two EdTech companies, BYJUs and Unacademy came second and third, respectively, in their bidding. Why do brands compete so fiercely in sports sponsorship arena, perhaps more intensely than the sporting teams do? Doesn’t it defy the fundamental business practice that always sees a drop in marketing budgets with every economic or geopolitical crisis? Let us draw evidence from the last five years. The year 2017 saw a slow-down of economy, with India’s GDP growth rate falling from 8.26% to 7.04% following the demonetization in November 2016 and the subsequent GST implementation in 2017. However, this did not bring down the level of corporate engagement with IPL in India. Rather the tournament saw a greater number of sponsors joining the party. India’s GDP growth saw a further deceleration by 0.92% in 2018. 

To our surprise we find the number of sponsors that year even doubled, with some new brands joining in, such as Jio, Dream 11, Ford, PayTm, etc. Vivo continued to remain a title sponsor, increasing the sponsorship fee to INR 439.80 crore from INR 100 crore per annum in 2017. The following year 2019 witnessed a further economic slow-down, but again there was no impact on the number of sponsors and the amount of sponsorship. Vivo’s exit this year, 2020, has nothing to do with the pandemic or country’s economy. While they wanted to continue with their existing sponsorship commitment, it had more to do with a geopolitical fall-out.

The B2B relationship between the brand of the sponsoring company and that of the sport can enhance over time with great synergy (Stipp and Schiavone, 1996), making sports sponsorships an ideal platform for co-branding with evidence of huge business impact (Beech et al., 2000; Morgan and Summers, 2005; Cliffe and Motion, 2005). IPL creates a risk-free investment opportunity for brands with a high RoI. Voltas, having associated with IPL 2019 as a sponsor, experienced a 39% increase in brand salience, with a 47% rise in revenue (the ET, March 12, 2020). The Chinese smartphone manufacturer Vivo, not a known entity in India a few years ago, recognised IPL as their platform of choice for brand activation and experienced an overall growth of 119% in India by introducing multiple audience touchpoints like ‘Vivo Box’. India, the land of billion minds offers a gold mine of opportunity for sports marketers, especially in cricket, to tap the passion running high among the loyal supporters of various state specific teams and their favourite cricket icons. IPL became synonymous with the ‘whistle-podu’ crowd in Chennai, cheering for CSK and MSD, or that chorus chant of ‘korbo, lorbo, jeetbo re’ at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata. The IPL also saw different teams coming up with their own team anthem.

Besides direct sponsorships and the associated eyeballs gains, IPL also sees several fan activations programs, whipping the unbeatable spirit of nationality. A youthful working-class population with a huge aspiration in their heart make the IPL a perfect platform for many brands to engage with their target audience. Sports marketing is all about “buying and selling audiences” (McDaniel, 2002; Trail et al., 2003). No wonder, sports marketers leverage platforms like the IPL to influence consumers to increase their consumption of sports products and services. Massive TV audience in the APAC region, Rise in video streaming, usage of social media and smartphones, the new hashtag culture, live global broadcast, provide opportunity to the advertisers to engage with their global audience, deeply absorbed in their immersive sports content, and cheering for their teams.

Coca Cola became the official drink during the 1996 Wills Cricket World Cup. Pepsi responded to it by running its "Nothing official about it" ambush ad campaign. The fizz is gone, but the campaign remains fresh still.

Back in the nineties, Wills, Prudential, Benson & Hedges, Reliance were synonymous with the ICC World Cup. Cricket gave a new identity to a certain type of brands, matching brand personality with the character of the sports, throwing a new window of opportunities to the marketers. Sports marketers look for a long-term association with customers. Not to be surprised that the ICC and Coca Cola announced a five-year global strategic partnership in January 2019. Nissan Motors signed an eight-year sponsorship deal with ICC five years ago as the global sponsor. We observe the same trend in IPL too. Cricket is truly a religion!

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