Business Today

Let's not forget sports is an industry

From a purely commercial standpoint, it augurs well for other sports that cricket is expensive and does not fit many companies' sponsorship budgets.

Ravi Krishnan | Print Edition: April 18, 2010

The question that is often asked these days is whether sports, other than cricket, can be developed successfully on and off the field. The answer, undoubtedly, is "Yes".

The talent for on-field success is evident when you see our youth on golf courses, tennis courts, football pitches, badminton courts and even go-kart tracks. Combine this with an obvious passion for our sports stars and you have the foundation to make India a sporting powerhouse.

The defining moment for millions of children to aspire to make cricket their profession was India's victory in the 1983 World Cup. This victory was also the catalyst for increasing corporate investment in the game. Companies quickly realised that they could harness the reach of the game, and its associated fan passion, to achieve their marketing and business objectives.

But how can we make millions of Indian children aspire to be professionals in other sports? We need to develop strong domestic and international competitions and events for our talent to aspire to be a participant.

From a purely commercial standpoint, it augurs well for other sports that cricket is expensive and does not fit many companies' sponsorship budgets. If other sports can find a way to deliver return on investment, companies will line up to support them. The Aircel Chennai Open is a great example of an international event that has succeeded in India. This tennis event has been running consecutively for 15 years showcasing the best tennis players—Becker, Rafter, Nadal. Importantly, the infrastructure at Chennai provides an enjoyable (though not quite world-class) fan experience for the spectator who pays for the privilege of watching the stars of the game.

The last point is an important one: if fans get a worldclass experience, Indian sports promoters can charge international prices for tickets and hospitality to pay for, maintain and develop infrastructure. The Wembley Stadium, London, was in fact funded on the back of long term, pre-sold, premium seating. The IPL and its Chairman, Lalit Modi, to their credit, have focussed on the "fan" experience.

As much is evident in IPL 3, where improved hospitality, merchandising and food & beverage concessions all combine to make the experience enjoyable for the family demographic the IPL is now attracting. There is no dearth of private organisations that would want to invest in developing world-class infrastructure—if the government can help by providing suitable land, single window permissions for development, equipped and suitable public transport. These stadiums do not need to be in the centre of town as long as public transport exists—Wembley is a fine example.

The stadiums should be multi-purpose, so that they can be monetised throughout the year. The O2 Stadium in London, for example, is busy year round with sports, entertainment and cultural programmes. Let's not forget sports IS an industry. Mahindra tied up with Renault to develop their mid-size cars. They believed, correctly, they could benefit from Renault's expertise. Similarly, organisations and individuals in sports and sports administration must import, where needed, the expertise in order to develop the best infrastructure and talent.

There is no need to start from square one when you can hit the ground running by working with the best in the business. Of course, getting the product right is vital. Some recent attempts, like the Premier Hockey League, which have not caught popular imagination show that getting it wrong, at a formative stage, can actually send a sport's development backwards.

In developed countries the next five sports in popularity garner approximately 60 per cent of the revenues flowing into the #1 sport. India is one of the fastest developing economies in the world and there is no reason that cannot benefit other sports.

The writer is MD, IMG South Asia and Senior VP, IMG

(Views expressed are personal)

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