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Ball by (eye)ball

Ball by (eye)ball

Online cricket coverage grabs viewers and advertisers.

Cricinfo’s Kumar: On a strong wicket.
Beating South Africa in Ireland may have earned Team India a few brownie points, but that's about it. That series win is hardly enough to erase the debacle at the ICC World Cup. But even though advertisers are still chary about pouring big bucks into cricket, an encouraging fallout of this is that online cricket sites are slowly but surely finding favour with marketers. "Disillusioned fans of cricket in India are actually being driven online," says R. Ramesh Kumar, 37, Commercial Director, Cricinfo India, which was recently acquired by sports channel ESPN from the Wisden Group.

That disillusioned bunch is expected to number 100 million in India in the next three years, powered in no small measure by at least 10 million broadband connections. The current global universe of cricket fans online is estimated at 144 million (according to an industry source), and growing at 100 per cent annually. That should explain the interest of advertisers in cricket portals which, for their part, are dressing up for the occasion. Take, for instance, Cricketnext.com, now a part of the tv18 network, which has revamped the site, added new content and, consequently, has got new advertisers interested. "We find that FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) has come on in a big way with the presence of brands such as Colgate and Perfetti. This is bound to happen as marketers are finding this to be a far more accountable medium. It also offers them reach to key non-resident Indian audiences and those brands wanting to talk to consumers here," says Lakshmi Narasimhan, Business Head (News Ventures), Television Eighteen India.

That online spends are lower than conventional media also means that advertisers aren't likely to pullout in knee-jerk fashion if India does a flop act (as it is prone to do). Ramesh points out that almost all the 40 advertisers that came on board of Cricinfo during the World Cup stayed on through the entire duration of the tournament. "Only Pepsi dropped out as their creative about the 'Blue Billion' winning was really not in sync with the ground reality. But we exceeded our targets on all counts," he says.

The brand owners, for their part, recognise the efficacy of the medium: "Cricket sites are especially good as they are available to us at attractive rates and offer a segmented, premium audience. Gone are the days when people used to take off to watch a match; most people keep track of the game at work-online. So, even if connectivity is not there at home, office is the right place for catching the right profile of users," says Arun Sharma, gm, Head of Media, Airtel.

Cricket on TV, observes Sharma, has become grossly overpriced and fragmented while the online medium offers opportunities to play around with creative and provide interesting options. For instance, Airtel, which was the leading sponsor on Cricinfo during the World Cup 2007, chose to offer its cricket-related products and games by launching a micro-site on Cricinfo. "Results were encouraging as we got the young, upwardly mobile audience to sample our games and a chance to convert them into buyers," adds Sharma.

Industry estimates indicate that 22 per cent of online advertising is accounted for, ironically, by broadcasters. Another 30 per cent is split equally between telecom players and internet portals; and auto and financial services clients each make up 12 per cent of the pie. Says Sundar Raman, MD, Mindshare: "Just as cricket is unlikely to fade away and is the most emotive connect for Indians-just like Bollywood-the online medium, too, is only likely to gain ground, rapidly." Dravid and company can heave a sigh of relief.