The Indian Premier League, which enters its 16th year in 2023, has had a significant impact, inspiring leagues around the world and attracting the best international talent.
It has transcended critics and become a brand that not only contributes to Indian cricket’s financial health but also takes care of the financial well-being of all its stakeholders.
“A lot of things have changed since my early playing days. Opportunities are coming after our playing careers and IPL has brought on much of that. A lot of us have work because of it [IPL] at multiple levels and in many roles. Pehle jaise nahin hai, ki if you retire, pata nahin banda kahan gaya (It’s not like the old days when you didn’t know about a player’s whereabouts once he retired),” Harbhajan Singh, the former India cricketer, said on Monday during a panel discussion titled The power of sports and its superstars in brand building at Sportstar’s first-ever National Sports Conclave in New Delhi.
“I was still doing okay then. Many of my seniors, someone like Anil Kumble, his not getting recognized as Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar, or Rahul Dravid was surprising for me. Bowlers are not given their dues in terms of ad-making. They (Big companies) are always looking for someone who bats, who scores the 50s, and 100s. Nevertheless, I am someone who got a lot of endorsements, despite the controversies surrounding me. Today, Jasprit Bumrah is as big as Virat Kohli, but if you see their endorsements, there’s a huge difference.”
Piyush Pandey, chairman of Global Creative & Executive Chairman India, Ogilvy, was quick to add a caveat for brands. “Don’t be under the misconception that you can use a cricketer or sportsperson and succeed. What people need to know is if you’re not good, it doesn’t matter if you’re a cricketer or swimmer or whatever. It will show.”
Atit Mehta, head of marketing, BYJU’S, weighed in on why major brands have now also tapped into talents outside cricket. “India is changing, and we need to be able to adapt to it,” he said. “Cricket is there, but other sports are also coming up. There’s a lot happening outside cricket. It is natural that other sports and sportspeople are becoming heroes. We’ve grown up with Gavaskar and Kapil Dev and Bhajjis and Dhonis and Virats. But now athletes outside cricket are also growing in stature. See what happened at the Tokyo Olympics. The ecosystem - government, corporates, and other stakeholders - are all going that way, so it’s natural we follow.”
Bharatendu Kabi, head of corporate communication and corporate social responsibility (CSR) at Hero MotoCorp Ltd, emphasized the need to ride on the popularity of a sport to build the brand, especially relatively new brands. “When you’re committed to nurturing sports and sportspersons for three decades, multiple sports that too (football, golf, motorsports), it has to come from an inherent commitment to support sports, and it has to come from the top.
“Dr Pawan Munjal (chairman and CEO Hero MotoCorp Ltd), has been at the forefront of that. It is at a marquee commercial level, especially when you’re dealing with global sports. What’s lesser known is our work at the grassroots level. We’re associated with PCI, not talked about so much. We work with Mary Kom Foundation in Manipur and the Deaf Cricket Association. This speaks of the long-term commitment of the brand to support sports.”
“In 2010, when World Cup was to be hosted here (in India), FIH was struggling for sponsors. Hero Honda came on as a sponsor. You just don’t sponsor and sit back. We knew it needed far more push to promote the event. We ran a campaign called “phir dil do hockey ko”. We had stars like (Virender) Sehwag, and Priyanka Chopra saying they will be headed to the stadium to watch hockey. When a Viru comes on TV and says ‘I am watching this, are you joining me there?’, it’s a huge impact. We organized intra-city and inter-city tournaments across cities to promote the sport. We had former hockey stars like Aslam Khan coming to honour the players. It was not part of our contract. This is what I mean by commitment. It’s not always about a high-visibility major event,” Kabi added.
The Conclave is being held in association with Hero We Care, a Hero Motocorp CSR Initiative, ONGC, Jain University, Vajiram & Ravi, Institute for IAS Examination, Cric HQ, ShivNaresh and News X. The Conclave will be live on sportstar.thehindu.com.