The COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on everyone. For sports fans, it was a double whammy. They locked inside their homes and were also forced to deal with the cancellation of major sports events. For a cricket-loving country like India, the postponement of this year’s IPL was a big blow earlier. However, after changing the venue to UAE, the IPL did take place, which was a big relief for the sports enthusiasts and the brands.
But the cancellation of other major sports events created turmoil for marketers too. Since brands and advertisers rely on live sports to drive their revenue, they were deeply impacted.
But now, after months without live sports, we slowly see the return of many sports leagues. There are still risks involved, and the games are being organized in empty stadiums, but sports-starved fans have a smile on their faces.
Since most of these leagues are returning after months of absence, there is huge hype among fans. There has been pent-up demand for sports like never before. This has translated into record viewership for live sports.
When IPL 2020 started after months of being delayed, it garnered a viewership of 269 million in its opening week. That was at least a 15% growth as compared to last year’s IPL. And that’s just cricket. India has a large following of football and kabaddi as well. Add to that the viewership for the evergreen English Premier League, European soccer, and even the French Open in tennis.
So, what does this mean for the Indian brands? How can they benefit from the opportunities provided by online sports?
Let’s kick-off the discussion.
Online sports explosion in India
At the start of the lockdown, when most live sports events were suspended, broadcasters had to develop strategies to keep the audience engaged. Sports re-runs became a common occurrence. Sure enough, India’s biggest sports broadcast networks – Star Sports & Sony Pictures Sports Network saw a significant dip in viewership. Dealing with the cancellation of the IPL and Tokyo Olympics was a big challenge.
But with the return of live sports, things have started to look bright again. The record viewership of IPL 2020 has been a sign of encouragement for the broadcasters. In football, La Liga saw its viewership rise by 72% in India after return from the COVID-enforced break. The EPL has always been popular in India, establishing viewership records each year.
Live sports on over-the-top (OTT) platforms have been another shining light for advertisers. India, being a youth-majority nation, has always been more open to digital advancements. It is also the country with the second-largest smartphone ownership in the world. This, along with the falling data prices and better access to data in rural areas, has significantly boosted the popularity of OTT sports content.
Hotstar, the homegrown video streaming platform developed by Star India, is already the leading OTT platform for online sports viewing with almost 45% of market share. Improved sports content delivery, pent-up demand for live sports, and innovation are further driving the growth of digital in the country. In fact, OTT was expected to be responsible for about 40% of sports media revenue generation by the year 2024. It’s a reasonable bet that the share could be much higher as the pandemic-led habits take root.
Leveraging the opportunities created by the explosion of the online sport
Brands can use online sports as a means of communicating better with their consumers. The current circumstances call for brands to be creative and thoughtful in their media plans.
The renewed growth of sports post-lockdown has been impressive. But how exactly are brands and agencies leveraging the opportunities presented?
Let’s play on.
The sports sponsorship market in India is constantly growing. As per consultancy firm IEG, India will be the fastest-growing sports sponsorship market in terms of spending in the Asia Pacific. Indian brands are thus picking the path of sponsorship to widen their reach across a larger set of consumers.
For instance, this year’s IPL is mostly sponsored by Indian startups, several with a significant web component to their business models. These brands are from varied sectors, including gaming (Dream 11), EdTech (Unacademy), and fintech (Cred). The immense public interest in this year’s tournament has benefitted these sponsoring brands.
By some estimates, there have been at least a 20% increase in organic installs for these sponsoring companies’ mobile apps. There has also been an increase in their average revenue per user during this Dream11 IPL season.
Sponsorship has thus proven to be a lucrative way for brands to get noticed. Indian brands are following in the footsteps of foreign counterparts by sponsoring marquee events.
Sports-focused marketing strategies
The brands that can create an emotional connection with the consumers are the ones that benefit the most. Sports is something that can help build such kind of emotional connection.
That is why numerous brands keep sports at the heart of their marketing strategies to drive growth. This includes leveraging sports-adjacent themes in their ads, sportspersons as brand ambassadors, and sports-linked messaging. By establishing a clear association with sports, brands can deliver on purpose-driven objectives. Using sports-themed marketing campaigns, brands can also deliver messages that can drive behavior change among consumers.
Brands can boost consumer demand by using targeted advertising. Given the increased data availability on consumer behavior from online platforms, brands can build more carefully considered and nuanced messaging strategies and ad delivery plans. Technology can help them deliver these messages more efficiently. Many Indian brands are already leveraging the popularity of sports events like IPL to connect with their target customers strategically.
There’s massive potential for Indian brands to leverage the spike in online sports viewership. By optimizing investment, leveraging technology, and strategically advertising across channels, brands can communicate better with sports-minded consumers. If you are looking for a transparent and flexible ad-trade platform or are looking to manage coordinated omnichannel ad campaigns that can tap the best of what the sports season has to offer, then get in touch with us.