The Times of India has done an analysis on the falling viewership in live cricket and the impact the performance would have on the cricketer as a celebrity, the rates for live cricket telecast, the impact on sponsorship rates, and so on. While the analysis does tell us that cricket is losing, it does not tell us who will be the gainer in cricket’s loss.
“The time has come for people to realize that the business attached to cricket has been inflated manifold without providing the returns. Cricket is too volatile, in terms of brand ambassadors, sponsorships and broadcasting rights and they need to be questioned…the price points at which the sport is being sold,” said Anirban Das Blah, MD, Kwan,” the Times of India article says. Note: While Blah, in his previous professional stint at GloboSport was significantly involved in sports, Kwan, a company he has founded, is involved largely in Bollywood stars.
The poor performance of the Indian team – more the dramatic slide – puts rights-holders, marketers, entrepreneurs and TV channels in a quandary. Never has a sure bet looked as misplaced as it does in the case of a punt ON any aspect of Indian cricket.
So what happens to all the money that’s in cricket? Let’s take a look to the big areas of IMPACT:
a) Brand ambassadors: If cricket loses popularity, as it seems to be doing based on data that is available what will the brands who have banked on the continuing popularity of stars such as Tendulkar, Dhoni, Dravid and Sehwag do? Many of these brands have no interest in cricket or even in sport; all they are doing IS riding the positive imagery and exposure of the stars. These brands will look for stars in other domains WHO can deliver the same – and they will probably be Bollywood stars. Brands such as Nike and Adidas will wait and watch, as they clearly need a sports connect. They will have to wait for new cricket heroes to emerge – or, perhaps, look at sportspersons from other sports. Will it be Saina Nehwal who is the big winner? Even Bhaichung Bhutia? Golfers such as Jeev Milkha Singh? Leander Paes or Mahesh Bhupathi? Will it be safer to opt for the cricketers who have retired recently, such as Anil Kumble? Recently retired sport stars have a distinct advantage; while they are still fresh in our memory their images are not tarnished by the current team’s performance.
b) IPL investments: It will be more difficult for IPL franchisees to sell their ‘sponsorable’ assets, such as branding on the players’ uniforms, association with an IPL team, and so on. The brands THAT make such investments – MasterCard, for example, will still need audiences. Where will these audiences come from, if cricket cannot deliver them? Will other sports, such as football, deliver at least a part of what they lose from cricket? Will the money move out of sport, and into entertainment, mainly Bollywood?
c) Advertisers on cricket: As in the case of brands who use cricketers as brand ambassadors or models for their popularity rather than for a connect with sports, they will seek replacements who will be measured only for their popularity. They will use Bollywood stars in place of cricket stars as brand ambassadors and models, while they will advertise on/sponsor big-ticket programming on general entertainment channels. We could also see the bigger spenders more involved in Hindi feature films, at every level – in film placement + brand ambassadorship + on ground events. We might even see a spurt in advertiser funded programming on the bigger TV channels. The smaller brands will keep an eye out for the smaller opportunities as and when they arrive; but, till then, will play it safe by advertising on entertainment television.
d) Rights holders: It’s clear that the next year will be a buyer’s market at every single level of cricket. Whether it’s the BCCI trying to sell the rights to Indian cricket or SET trying to re-sell the IPL, buyers will be questioning delivery – and asking for safety in the event the audience numbers dip. The big challenge is for those channels who have invested heavily and (imprudently) dependently on cricket. If cricket is on the wane, so are the channels. We will see channels scrambling to buy rights to non-cricket content – and the gainers will be (international) football, NBA (and other international basketball), tennis and F1 (and other motorsports).
Cricket has been an easy bet for marketers ever since India won the Prudential Cup in 1983 and made easier by the advent of satellite television in 1992-93. What has changed since then is the multiplicity of channels and the remote control. Now, if a viewer tires of a programme, he switches his allegiance by the mere press of a button on the remote control. Marketers will do the same; they have a remote control which follows the actions of the viewers. If the viewer moves away from cricket, so does the marketer.