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There is a lack of innovation and disruption in event merchandising say experts

The session on merchandising and licensing in India at e4m BW Applause Conclave & Awards 2017 was moderated by Kanika Sethi Babbar of Bespokensemble Events and the key speakers were Bhavik Vora, Founder, Black White Orange Brands and Indranil Blah, CEO, Mumbai City FC, ISL.

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Ahead of the exchange4media BW Applause Awards ceremony, there were panel discussions and sessions by industry experts organised to give more insights into the changing dynamics of the events domain. One of the dialogues held at the summit was on event merchandising and licensing. The session was moderated by Kanika Sethi Babbar of Bespokensemble Events and the key speakers were Bhavik Vora, Founder, Black White Orange Brands and Indranil Blah, CEO, Mumbai City FC, ISL. The trio spoke about the huge scope of merchandising and licensing in India today and the challenges normally faced in realising the same.

Babbar first asked both Vora and Blah where India stands when it comes to event merchandising. Blah said, “In specifically sports, it amounts to one per cent. Honestly, it is pretty negligible. If you look at a successful venture like IPL, merchandising won’t be more than five per cent.” While Blah gave a sports industry centric analysis, Vora had a wider perspective on the topic as his agency has been associated with a number of successful in entertainment and media industry, like Baahubali and Game Of Thrones.

Vora said, “Merchandising industry in India is very nascent. There are hardly four-five agencies like us. Because people think its rocket science which it’s actually not. Merchandising in India is seen as a kids’ domain. Everybody is looking at what Disney is doing in this sector and trying to follow them. What people are not realising is that times have changed. There is a large demographic in the country which is consuming a lot of different content like Game Of Thrones, soccer, cricket and Bollywood.

Nobody is targeting them. There is lack of innovation and disruption in the space. In sports, I can’t imagine that an event like IPL, which has media rights going for Rs 60,000 crores, has the most underserviced merchandise programme. Frankly, the franchises are putting so much money in the event, but they are missing out on not monetising the teams which the EPL does brilliantly. The kind of revenue they generated out of this is unheard of.” He further said that the kind of culture built around the franchises abroad is so aspirational that fans love to be associated with it. Blah objected to Vora’s observation and opined that the many a sports franchises have tried tapping into the merchandise market but they are mainly faced with the challenges of piracy and cost.

Babbar then posed a question to Blah asking him how does ISL manage the balance between keeping costs of the merchandise low but yet meeting the artistic, aspirational expectation of the fans. “We are at an early stage. I city is just a three year old property. We  are trying to grow the brand. It is still page one for us. We are not looking at minting money out of it right now. It might be a controversial thing to say but when I go to Mumbai City team and I see lot of kids wearing jerseys which are pirated, it still works for me because the brand is being integrated into the market.”

Babbar then moved on to Vora and asked him what is that their agency does when say a client comes to them with a Bollywood/Musical event. Do they have a style guide to go about? Vora said that the whole merchandising/licensing industry depends on fans. But it’s just a starting point, according to him. Giving example of his agency’s handling of Baahubali in the merchandise space he said, “Creative aspect is the most critical part of any successful merchandise. A fan would not want a jersey with fifty logos blasted on it because it is not aspirational. They are paying Rs 1000 for a t-shirt, it might as well look good on them.”

The next challenged faced by agencies, as posed by the moderator, is what are the other means to retail the merchandise apart from using the online medium? How does one encourage spectator interaction? Vora said, “With respect to IPL, the owners need to invest in brands to create legacy. Players will come and go. They can use players like Virat Kohli to communicate to fans and endorse the merchandise. “

The panel then moved on to discussing licensing. Talking about ISL, Blah revealed that in India, licensing happens both on centralise and individual club levels. Coming back to their success story, Vora revealed how the agency got into the game with Baahubali makers very early on and for them it was not about slapping the movie logo on T-shirts and selling. They tried to tell the story of Mahishmati, Bhallal Dheva and Baahubali through every product created by them.

Both speakers said that merchandising and licensing cannot be an afterthought but a well planned out process by the brands. The session ended on a positive note as all members at the panel discussed that good things are finally happening in the industry with regard to merchandising as things are transformed with brands like Being Human and Baahubali.


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