CWG: Everybody is a player

The 19th edition of Common wealth Games to be held in Delhi are in midst of a huge crisis. Obviously the brand CWG is floundering under the sustained media pressure and this in turn is knocking at India’s equity too.

The media has been running a sustained and high pressure campaign dubbing the Commonwealth Games as common stealth games. Everyday there is a new revelation about a misdoing or corruption. The key opinion makers too have had field day writing about what is wrong with the games.

One leading writer of popular fiction has called for the boycott of games, called it the tool of repression and has gone to the extent of saying that the games should be used a tool to overthrow the current Government and install a new regime. In saying so he is only furthering the views of the ex sports minister of India. The jingoism has sunk to a new depth.

As it happens in any prolonged debate, the facts get muddled and perceptions start to become reality. A lot of the facts and figured that are being quoted by various people are more fiction than reality. The Indian Express story on tracking the expenses is possibly the only contrary voice in the debate.

The debates are now slipping into a very predictable pattern of raising a lot of issues but offering no solution. Interestingly the Winter Olympics in Vancouver and even the impending London Olympics are not beyond criticism. There was a very harsh criticism of estimated $6Bn (yes 6Bn Dollars, and by a first world country where supposedly the infrastructure is not a problem) spent by Canada in hosting the games, and London is facing criticism on its entire branding programme, which they say isn’t ‘British’ enough.

The only fact that is absolute truth in this debate is that there has been corruption in hosting these games. It also seems that entire logistics management for hosting the games has seen a collective brain freeze.

So let’s compartmentalize the whole issue.  There are the games to be hosted and there are issues in hosting the game. Should we allow the issues to overtake the event? If the brand manager messes up with the distribution should the brand be withdrawn and consigned to dustbin? Or maybe even close the company down which owns the brand? It’s become a classic case of throwing out the baby, but keeping the bathwater.

Now this raises the crucial question: who owns the brand CWG? No, it’s not the organizing committees, it’s not the sports ministries, and it’s definitely not the Governments. The brand is truly owned by the ordinary citizens of the participating countries and the host country has a special interest in the brand for a definite period of time. The athletes who will compete in the games have special interest in the brand, so do those who have competed in past and those who aim to compete in future. Unlike what the critics may be saying about who bothers about the commonwealth club, the special interest group bothers about it. We must see the brand from this prism.

The common public of India, however skeptical it may be, wants India to hold the most spectacular games ever. For its not only the athletes who would be competing in these games, it’s the whole nation that will be competing in these games. The pride, identity and value system of a whole nation is at stake. If the games are all about triumph over adversity, hard work, dedication and going for glory than the time to display all that is now.

We all own the brand, and we must ensure that we pass the right set of legacy and heritage to the next set of trustees. For that to happen, we have to ensure that we as a nation win, and not score a self goal.

Games we will play

The motto of Commonwealth Games Federation is Humanity, Equality, and Destiny. Who would have ever imagined that destiny will become the major driver of Games when India will host it! There is a lot that is being debated and written about the games. There is still suspense about the state of readiness, and about the infrastructure and about our ability to conduct them. The campaigns have started with the baton travelling across the world and the city trying to learn civic sense. There is a lot said about by various stakeholders, including a politician openly saying that he will be happy if the games are a failure.

Looks like Destiny will have a key role to play in the success of the games.

I am not joining the debate about success or failure of the games. Let’s for one moment assume that India will host the most spectacular games ever in the history of the Games. Let’s also assume that spectators in India and possibly around the world will remember these games for the spectacle it will provide.

Now if this really happens what can happen? Are there trends that the games can trigger?

The commonwealth games are the biggest branding exercise that India has undertaken to build its brand imagery. The games will trigger a new wave of interest in India. India will become the theme for many brand campaigns across the world. The interest in tourism in India will go up many folds and our share will see a sharp rise.

We would also remember the games for clever marketing by the brands. Years later we will be discussing how one brand upstaged the other, how we were forced to change our credit cards because the games had an official credit card, or how we decided to change the car we wanted to buy because the games had an official car.

“Official” would be a fashionable word in more ways than one. As usual there would be official brands, and as usual there would be ‘officials’. So would the word unofficial be as fashionable, as we would have the unofficial brands, and the unofficial (read players)

However these are not the trends that we will remember the games by. Possibly we will remember the games for some very interesting things, and they will be outside the ambit of brands and sponsorship deals. They would be the things that the spectators, players and possibly the coaches will spark off.

The first thing we will remember the games for is Twitter. The games will truly prove to be the tipping point for Twitter in India. If FiFA world cup is anything to go by, Commonwealth Games will truly revolutionize the micro blogging habit. The players will be Tweeting their opinions. The coaches will be Tweeting their reactions. And the spectators will be Tweeting their experience. People will follow their stars without boundaries any time, all the time. Twitter will go main stream in India and will rival every other social networking site. The impact of Twitter will last way beyond the games.

The second thing we will remember the games for is for user generated content. The real story of games will not lie with what is being telecast on TV, but in what the players, coaches and spectators are saying. The ‘insiders’ point of view will always carry more weight than the telecast version of the games. The viewers will be spoilt for choice as they would get to see very vantage point that is there to see or experience.

The third thing we will remember the games for is Mobile Phones. If the 1982 Asiad was about colour televisions than the 2010 Commonwealth games will be about mobile phones, apps on phones, streaming videos on phones, videos shot on phones and a virtual medial networks created by phones. I agree none of this about mobile phones is new, but the scale would be radically different. There would be a massification of the mobile apps.

The New Delhi Games motto of come out and play can have completely different meaning. Now if only the basic assumption holds true

Maths Of IPL

Currently there are 88 players playing in IPL, and guess how many brands are involved with them?  There are 125 brands involved with these 88 players. These are brands who are team sponsors, beverage sponsors, insurance sponsors, jersey sponsors, smile sponsors and even a university sponsor! Now that’s not where the count ends, add to it the title sponsor, the five television telecast sponsors, the strategic time out sponsor, the catch sponsor, and brands whose ads are telecast inside the stadium on giant screen, and brands that have taken the perimeter boards on the boundary, and the branding on the blimp above the stadium and the online video streaming partner, and the sixer sponsor and the four sponsor. We are looking at over 150 brands that are chasing 88 players

Is that fair?

Why is it that all brands are chasing the IPL bandwagon? The basic rule of brand communication is to do your best to avoid clutter. Brand managers work hard to ensure that they are in an environment where there is less clutter for their brand to stand out and connect better. IPL, though is different. Afterall there are 88 players and almost everyone across the world is only watching IPL, if not on TV than on you tube, and if not on you tube than in theatres. The brands have no choice but to be on IPL. How can you miss out on the good thing?

I must add here that empirical evidence is really against me at this stage. While IPL is generating good numbers, the numbers are not overwhelmingly huge. And while GEC are showing decline, the decline is not alarming.

How can than the brands miss on India’s biggest sports carnival? Here are some ideas and innovations that will go a long way in ensuring that 150 brands become 300, and the audience cheers for each brand.

There are sponsors who sponsor fours and sixes. The tourney should now have brands that sponsor singles, twos, and threes as well. And while we are at it lets get a sponsor for every dot ball and for every maiden over. In fact the most expensive sponsorship should be for the maiden over, as you are not going to get many of them. Imagine how well will the brand stand in clutter and what kind of recall it will generate.

Now let’s look at the player jersey’s. There is a lot of scope here. While the upper half of uniform is fairly branded, the lower half is fairly devoid of any branding. That is really a precious waste of advertising space. Especially when the fast bowler comes charging down to bowl and the camera pans him, there are large gaps that you can see.

The umpires too are feeling left out, as the players get to don a lot of brands, but the umpires have only one brand. This will create an imbalance that will hurt the umpires in the long run. They need to be enriched and empowered. They are waiting for brands to be associated with them. With just two umpires on field who have to constantly run across the pitch they are very valuable moving advertising mediums.

But the real waste of space is the ground itself. How unfair is to have just five logos on the ground? Imagine how much value can be unlocked by just opening the ground for brands to occupy? Imagine the revenue that can be generated if 100 square feet of area s given to each brand on ground, we can easily fit in 50 more brands.

And we love watching ads. We cannot do without our daily dose of ads. Before the start of ecvery match, we must screen at least 15 minutes of ads on the giant screen, and the cheerleaders should cheer every ad in their unique style.

You see, it’s not difficult to increase the number of brands involved with IPL, after all why should any brand miss out?

We at Dentsu recently did a very large study on IPL just before it commenced, and came up with some startling findings. After two years of high octane action, the recall of principle sponsor of IPL does not cross half way mark. For most teams the fans don’t know the principle sponsor, or worst their full names. People are watching the games, following the stars, but are they connecting with brands?

May be its time for the brand managers to evaluate the issue of being associated with IPL with new perspective. Either you own it in a big way, or don’t venture near it.

Not 300, may be just 30

Published at in April 2010

Sports is bigger then Movie Industry

The challenges that face sports as a brand are very different from any other product. Suppose you bought a product and didn’t like the quality, you can get it fixed, or exchanged. Now if you bought a ticket to a sporting event and didn’t like the quality of sport being played, there is no refund that you will get. And if the result is not to your liking, than all you can do is suffer. There are no guarantees, no consumer courts, and at the end of it, nothing to show. And therefore marketing is a very difficult concept to grasp for sports

Yet sport is a multibillion dollar industry. There are no authentic figures, but it is upwards of $200Bn globally. This makes it much larger than say movie industry or music industry, larger than possibly both combined. In developed markets sport contributes between 2-3% of GDP of the country. By implication than sport can only be next to tourism as an industry.

What makes this an extremely challenging service to market is people’s enthusiasm for sports. People follow sports as a religion, and the sport stars as gods. And despite a Tiger Woods or Ashley Cole, there are more role models than fallen angels. It has long been believed that generally men follow sports with much greater involvement than women. I am not sure if that is necessarily true. There are two kinds of sports followers, one who is rigorous team sports enthusiasts and who follow team sports. These are people who drive the following of cricket and football and hockey. Then there is the relaxed individual sports followers who love golf, and shooting and snooker and chess. In both the sport there is no reason for women to not get involved. It’s less of a sport and more of a cultural thing. As the culture evolves, women power will grow in sport fandom.

Sport has existed in culture for generations. From eons back rulers used sport both as a tool to test human endurance and to create a feeling of superiority between kingdoms. Somewhere along the way sport started to merge with entertainment. This too is a fairly old trend. Now in modern age, its entertainment that has become the prime driver behind sport. And with people having a far greater involvement with sport, brands have leveraged them to create engagement with their consumers. This merger of human endeavour, with need for entertainment has made sports sponsorship a very sophisticated service. And with media getting fragmented sports sponsorship is possibly the best bet marketer has to aggregate eyeballs.

So what are the challenges that the marketers will face in coming years?

One big issue that sports marketers need to address is kids dwindling interest in sports. This will have a large implication on future of sports marketing. It is in marketer’s interest to work at grassroots level and keep kids engaged from an early age

The other big issue that sports marketers need to invest in is measurement of effort. This will go a long way in keeping the brands interested in sports

Sports marketers also need to expand their ambit. In India cricket dwarfs every other sport is partly also because brand marketers only market cricket. If the sports marketing pie has to be increased than sports marketers will have to ensure they expand their basket

And finally in future consumers will question the kind of brands they see involved in sports. Alcohol, tobacco and fast food brands will be seen with increased skepticism and they might find their investment not giving them optimum return

In these days of fragmented media and widening consumer power, there is no better way of creating enduring consumer engagement than through sports

(part of this article was published in Business and Economy Magazine’s March 10 Issue)