Why A Life Insurance Brand Set Up India’S First Para-Badminton Academy

In an exclusive interview with Storyboard18, Karthik Raman, Chief Marketing Officer and Head – Products, Ageas Federal Life Insurance, discusses the need for India Inc to invest in sport with a vision for the future, the potential of Indian para-athletes and more .

Tell us about the company’s involvement in sports marketing? What are the short and long term plans?

At Ageas Federal, our goal is to empower people to create and lead the lifestyles of their choice. So while part of this empowerment is financial planning and timely investment in life insurance, we also believe individuals must focus on their physical health and fitness in order to live a whole life. After all, good health is the best insurance one can have.

Over the years we have used the platform of sport to communicate our purpose to our customers and other audiences. With cricket being dominated by big companies with deep pockets, we decided to look at other sports where we could make a difference. Running makes the most sense as it is the easiest way to get fit.

Since 2016 we have organized our hugely popular marathons in Mumbai, New Delhi, Kochi and Kolkata and our efforts have been instrumental in building the running culture in the country.

We have also been associated with other sports such as badminton and football and support various programs and academies that provide quality training and infrastructure to grassroots players.

Our partnerships are always long-term. We invest time, money and effort into identifying and nurturing emerging grassroots talent who will be the country’s champions of tomorrow.

What convinced the brand’s shareholders to work with Gaurav Khanna to create India’s first para badminton academy?

We were blown away by the overwhelming performance of the para badminton players at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. After meeting Gaurav Khanna, Dronacharya Awardee and Chief National Coach of the Indian Para Badminton Team, we realized that much more needs to be done for our country’s extremely talented Para Shuttlers.

To advance the sport in the country, we have partnered with Gaurav Khanna to launch the Ageas Federal Quest for Fearless Shuttlers program in January of this year.

The aim of the association is to increase India’s chances of winning a medal at the 2024 Paralympics and to discover and develop new talent for the 2028 and 2032 Paralympics. Our support will also help transform India’s first Para Badminton Academy into a state-of-the-art, high-performance center with advanced equipment and facilities.

As a marketer investing in parasportsmen? What do you think they bring to the table? How can brands empower them?

As a brand, we have always spoken the message of positivity, hope and optimism. Our association with Para Badminton fits perfectly with our brand vision to be #FutureFearless.

The Para-Shuttles are amazingly talented athletes who have overcome disabilities and, in many cases, financial disadvantages to represent the country at the highest level. Their determination to succeed against all odds is very inspirational and we want their stories to continue to be amplified.

Brand support can go a long way for these deserving para-athletes by providing them with better coaching, physical therapy, training infrastructure, nutrition and finance to travel abroad and compete in international tournaments.

Greater awareness and financial support will also help more disabled children and their parents realize that parasport is a viable career option for them.

What are some of the challenges of sports marketing in India? What obstacles are you trying to overcome as a brand?

The future of sports marketing in India certainly looks brighter today than it did a few years ago. We see many brands associated with sports beyond cricket, from football to badminton to kabaddi and athletics.

In the past, sport was not considered a viable career option due to limited jobs and not much money to be made. But in the current scenario, the sport gets a lot of visibility and opportunities.

In order to truly build and sustain the sports ecosystem in the country, several changes are needed.

Firstly, any sports investment made by India Inc must be long-term in nature. Short-term supporters would always have this dilemma of predicting the next consumer trend.

By providing long-term support in terms of facility maintenance and support to deserving athletes and academies, the sport is given the time it needs to grow and thrive while providing opportunities for the company to earn appropriate brand miles.

Aside from Neeraj Chopra, who has received multiple brand endorsements after his gold in Tokyo, there isn’t much corporate endorsement for athletics, for example. At the grassroots level, much more financial support is needed from Indian companies to identify and build the next batch of potential Olympic medalists.

Secondly, much more needs to be done in terms of sports development. Sport must be compulsory in our educational program and we should encourage educational courses in sport management.

We need a transparent map of how an individual can progress to reach the highest level in the sport of their choice; this would encourage many more to actively participate.

Also, we need to significantly improve the quality of coaching and sports infrastructure in the country. We need coaching academies to produce a larger number of quality coaches. Whether it’s education or sports, the better the teachers, the better the students.

As more and more athletes reach the peak of their game, interest from the media, parents, children and sports spectators grows, prompting companies to invest in different sports

India is rich in sports culture, but why do most brands play it safe and only invest in the tried and tested?

Getting live coverage of their tournaments or leagues at a reasonable cost, whether on TV or OTT platforms, remains a challenge for many of the less popular sports in the country. Additionally, for many smaller tournaments, getting fans to buy tickets to the live events is another test.

We see leagues supported by the major sports networks continue to thrive, while others come to an end after just a few seasons. A combination of these factors makes brands reluctant to invest in sports facilities beyond cricket.

Do you think brands are investing more in sports personalities than in the sport itself?

A marketer evaluates sponsorships based on the reach and impact they are likely to generate for their investment. Whether it’s a sports personality, tournament, league or academy, sponsorship depends on the perceived mileage the brand is likely to pull from the association.

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