Forbes India – Badminton: Is The Sport A Hard Sell To Marketers?

Today, badminton has become a household name, experts say. Image: Shutterstock

In August 2021, as shuttle ace PV Sindhu won her second Olympic medal, brands flocked to congratulate her on the historic moment. However, Baseline Ventures, the sports marketing agency that manages all commercial deals for Sindhu, didn’t think it was a great idea. The agency sent legal notices to around 20 brands on her behalf, demanding Rs 5 crore in damages from each for unauthorized use of her name and images for marketing purposes.

In March of this year, when Lakshya Sen finished runner-up at the 2022 edition of the All England Open Badminton Championship, Baseline Ventures received calls from some brands asking permission to use Sen’s name and photos for marketing campaigns. The agency declined and sent brands the commercials if they wanted to use images and the shuttle’s name. Not many buyers remained.

Ramakrishnan R, co-founder of Baseline Ventures, told Storyboard18, “It’s not fair for brands to build on an athlete’s success for just short marketing campaigns. Honestly, they only use it to get attention for themselves.”

A hard throw

With Kidambi Srikanth, Lakshya Sen, doubles pair Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty recently clinching India’s first-ever Thomas Cup, Ramakrishnan believes that despite the nation’s positive attitude towards the sport and the players, it will still be difficult to reconcile sell marketers.

“Why a brand supports an athlete after a successful event is not rocket science. When you pitch a non-cricketer to marketers, they want to know what eyeballs the player will bring. They evaluate the factors with a micro lens. The comparison with cricket is unfair in my opinion. Cricket will always be a popular sport because of the strong economy behind it. However, each sport is unique and brings value to brands,” explains Ramakrishnan.

He admits that winning brands’ trust was difficult when Sindhu was just climbing the ladder of success.

Today Sindhu has over 10 brands in their portfolio. Among others, Vizag Steel, Bank of Baroda, Li Ning, Spinny, Stayfree, Bridgestone, Asian Paints, Visa and Maybelline Sindhu have supported. Endorsement deals range from Rs 3 crore to Rs 4 crore.

In 2020, Sindhu’s brand value was about $12 million and could increase by 20 to 25 percent this year. Srikanth has long-term contracts with Bank of Baroda and Li Ning. For Sen, Baseline Ventures is in talks with some brands. He currently has Herbalife, Country Delight and Japanese sports equipment manufacturer Yonex in his treasury. Rankireddy and Shetty are also on the list of baseline ventures. The duo are also backed by Yonex, a brand that has been instrumental in supplying Indian shuttles with world-class equipment.

Saina Nehwal, two-time Commonwealth Games gold medalist and London 2012 Olympics bronze medalist, has also had her share of major publicity wins. Over the years she has promoted brands such as Herbalife, Star Sports, Godrej, No Marks, Emami, Sahara, Indian Overseas Bank and Iodex, among others.

According to Ramakrishnan, the best brand associations in sports are those that become part of an athlete’s journey. “At the end of the day, it’s a game. There will be ups and downs. Marketers who stand by an athlete through the ups and downs are also remembered by consumers.”

Away from the court performance

The recent success stories of shuttles prove that a robust system for sports exists, says Anil Jayaraj, CEO of Viacom18 Sports.

Today, badminton is a household name, Jayaraj believes. “Badminton at the highest level is played 30 weeks a year, giving players ample opportunity to show off their skills and be seen,” he adds.

Sports18 and Viacom18 OTT platform VOOT was official broadcast partner of BWF Thomas and Uber Cup. It is also the official broadcaster for all BWF World Tour events including the upcoming Thailand Open, followed by the Indonesia Masters, Indonesia Open and BWF World Championships later in the year.

Nikhil Paramjit Sharma, Founder and CEO of Zlait Sports Management says that sports performance off the field sooner than later reflects performance on the field or pitch. “Badminton is now a pan-Indian sport and not just confined to a few strong pockets. So the sport’s identification with the country is stronger and more solid than it was maybe a decade ago,” he says.

Brands are also investing to go deeper into different parts of India with minimal marketing and maximum local support. For example, in the past Tata Trust has partnered with Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy (PGBA) to promote badminton in Mizoram.

Last year Padukone Sports Management (PSM), founded by Indian badminton legend Prakash Padukone and Vimal Kumar, hosted one of the largest grassroots badminton tournaments in India. Earlier this year, Gaurav Khanna, the head national coach of the Indian Para-Badminton team, and Ageas Federal Life Insurance teamed up to found India’s first Para-Badminton Academy in Lucknow. The aim is to encourage more para-shuttles to come on board.

Badminton Association of India and Japanese sports equipment manufacturer Yonex also have grassroots programs to promote the game and nurture young talent.

However, for the sport to continue to grow, there needs to be more grassroots movement in training and tournaments.

“Brands could actively participate in esports at all levels of the player pyramid to ensure that enthusiasm for esports is maintained both in competitive and recreational settings,” suggests Sharma, adding that a content-centric approach to marketing benefits brands will come to attract more talent on the pitch.

Note to readers: Storyboard18’s new “Month In Focus” initiative spotlights themes and issues that are driving marketers to reinvent and rethink the way brands interact with today’s consumers. Our first topic is Just Sports, a special spotlight on sports marketing presented by Sports18. We bring you stories of how marketers harness the power of technology, innovation and creativity in esports to create powerful storytelling in campaigns that increases audience affinity and loyalty. From traditional sports platforms centered around cricket, to emerging games and the rise of esports, we receive leading voices from the marketing and sports worlds who give us sharp and quick insights into forward-thinking marketing practices. Also tune in for analytics that unearth ideas and strategies that help brands improve experiences and storytelling with authentic collaborations. So watch out for this section for Just Sports.

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