Mumbai: Ways and means of marketing hard-pressed Indian sports were devised at the first-ever gathering of sports leaders and commercial bigwigs at SportzBiz 2003 at the ITC Grand Maratha recently. The Sports Marketing Forum was jointly organised by SportzPR and www.indiantelevision.com.
Four-time World Billiards Champion Michael Ferreira, All-England Badminton Champion Pullela Gopichand and Formula 3 driver Karun Chandhok lit the lamp to initiate the debate and discussion in which sports marketers, broadcasters, advertisers, media planners, sports associations, sports management companies and sports celebrities participated.
SportzBiz 2003, sponsored by ESPN Star Sports, dealt with various issues like 'Business of Sports - Is Sports Giving You the Right Bang for Your Marketing Buck?,' Cricket and Beyond Cricket,' 'Harnessing the Power of Television,' and 'The Future: Can we Realise the Full Potential of Sports Marketing in India?'
The debate largely turned out to be cricket versus other sports and eminent speakers were of the view that cricket was organised better than other sports. ''The corporate houses which pump money in cricket are in fact buying audiences in return and if other sports manage to draw as much viewer ship as cricket even they would get equally good sponsorship deals,'' said M Suku, national director, BroadMind-WPP Marketing Communications.
Pullela Gopichand, too, admired those who administered cricket. ''The sponsorship for cricket was not as big as today about 15 years back. But while the cricket administrators were looking for newer and newer ideas to market the game better, administrators from other sports faculties were sleeping. Even after I won the All-England Championship there was no international tournament held in India and the blame should go to those who administrate badminton in India.''
K P S Gill, the president of the Indian Hockey Federation, was of the opinion that the government should take the responsibility of developing other sports including hockey. ''We want to spread the game, we want more and more youngsters should take up hockey, but there is no cooperation from the government. We have no grudge if cricket gets a major chunk of the money but there should be co-relation between the earnings and performance.''
Refuting Gill's charges Shekhar Dutt, director general, Sports Authority of India (SAI), said: ''SAI provided two Astro turf pitches to the Hockey Federation but the pitches were never used. Under such circumstances how does one hope that the game would spread in the right way?''
Answering Dutt's question Gill said: ''Hockey can be spread across the country by holding international games only under flood lights. And the hockey federation needs support from the government to build the infrastructure.''
Michael Ferreira, the ace cueist, quipped: ''The Board of Control for Cricket in India [BCCI] should spare 5 per cent of its income for the development of other sports.'' Kamal Morarka, the vice-president of BCCI, retorted: ''If I were the sports minister I would have done it.''
Ayaz Memon, all-India sports editor, The Times of India, and editor, Bombay Times, emphasised on the fact that the sports organisations other than cricket are not very well organised. ''And the result is there for all of us to see.''
The debate took an interesting turn when popular commentator Harsha Bhogle took the mike. ''Other sports can prosper too but the federations should allow them to grow. The federations do not want to make stars. They forget that the crowd will go the stadiums or sit in front of the television to see stars perform. They do not want to watch federations. And to make stars the game has to be packaged well, presented well, and then the channels will perform the glamourising part. It is the glamorous sport that captivates audience and captivated audience brings in money for the sport and for those who play it.''
Anil Singh, managing director, Procam International, agreed with Bhogle and said: ''You must try and create a USP for the clients. If the sport is packaged well the administrators will enjoy the position of confidence, will have clearer communication and they would not be required to falsely paint the picture rosier. Any sport needs icons and to make them what is needed is a vision. There is money, it will go to other sports too, but the question would be, is a particular sport attractive enough to rope in audience?''
Anurag Dahiya, business head, ESPN Star Sports, said: ''Sports is a story of heroes. But to present this story better what one needs is government support. When ESPN created Asian X-Games about six years back, the Thailand government supported the games for three years and now the Malaysian government is doing the same. And these governments have the vision. They have developed their tourism by supporting the games.''
Ravi Kiran, general manager, Starcom, said: ''The marketing buck will create a bang only if it is engineered. The sponsorship should be constructive - at the grassroots level. But in India sports as a medium is underdeveloped, under explored and under disciplined. Only half-hearted attempts are made at the school and the district level. One must make a concerted effort to associate with the communities. And the sponsorship should be looked at as a long-term investment.''
Added www.indiantelevision.com CEO Anil Wanvari: ''Some call television the villain of the piece as it only encourages cricket, some label it as a hero, because it along with cricket's administrators have lifted the sport to its stature. But the fact is that television is a key driver of the growth of the sports business and of sports marketing globally.
''If the sports business has to become vibrant and buoyant other sports have to imbibe learnings about packaging and marketing themselves better and working closely with the various constituents of the sports business chain - be they sportsmen, administrators, marketers, broadcasters, producers, management and merchandising companies, consultants and what have you. SportzBiz2003 was our effort to highlight these key points.''
While concluding the forum Samir Kale, president, SportzPR, said: ''With the Cricket World Cup just around the corner, SportzPR and www.indiantelevision.com thought this was the right time to pause and reflect on the evolving sports marketing scenario in the country. Hence SportzBiz 2003, India's first sports marketing forum, was conceived.''
Kale, who is also the managing director of CMCG India, the parent body of SportzPR, exhorted the leaders of sports and commerce to become ''the torchbearers of a new order in Indian sports.''