#ISL2019: How Marketers and Advertisers look at the opportune growth of Football and Indian Super League

As non-cricket leagues like Indian Super League gain traction and popularity, we take a look at the opportunities that come in tow.

Jagruti Verma
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As non-cricket leagues like Indian Super League gain traction and popularity, Social Samosa takes a look at the opportunities that come in tow. 

About half a decade ago, Ranbir Kapoor’s visit to a Vashi college ground had caused waves of euphoria in the city. He was supporting the Mumbai City Football Club through a pre-training session. The craze for kicks has only gone up since then, with a hard push from social media, OTT platforms and on-ground matches across the country. While these factors have made it possible for Indian fans to feel closer to international teams, there is a whole other spectrum of opportunities that open up when it comes to a team that represents their city, them. This is where the Indian Super League comes into the picture.

Rahul Pansare

After all, isn’t it better to shout for your team in your tongue? To support players that have your city’s name scribbled on their jersey? Rahul Pansare, CMO & Head of PR, FCA, Jeep tells us how the massive fan following and appeal of international leagues along with an increase in mobile and OTT consumption has changed the game. “Football has acquired diehard fans in markets like Kerala, West Bengal, Assam and Goa. Metros such as Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore are also catching up,” he says. 

According to the India Watch Report 2018 that mapped football viewership in the country, Mizoram, Assam, Kerala, Meghalaya and Tripura are the states that love football the most. Availability of sports broadcast in regional languages is another factor that helped expand the appeal of the genre deeper into India, says BARC. Sports in the single largest genre for English language consumption. However, interestingly, Hindi-only channels clock up viewership that is a notch higher than English channels. It reflects the importance of not just sports content but the language in which it is being served. 

Process to integrate

These trends are likely to make the game, the teams and the players viable for brand associations. The important question is how? “The organisers need to create attractive opportunities for brands and elevate the overall viewer experience, whether it’s on TV or in the stadium. Bring in focus football heroes as we do in cricket. Fans love the game, but they admire players more. Brands need to leverage such opportunities to engage with their audiences,” suggests Pansare.  A quick look at the social media pages of sporting teams corroborates this. 


Prasun Kumar, CMO, Magicbricks tells us how the non-cricketing leagues still have lower penetration and appeal in the country to be used for generating awareness or driving any top-funnel metrics. “Through a football league, brands can effectively target football appreciating audiences in pockets of the country. However, pure sponsorship association will not do the trick. The brand will have to get into deeper activations and leverage the core following. One of the strengths of non-cricket leagues is that they deliver audiences, who are almost like fanatics of this sport. There is little spillover and hence if played well, can drive good ROI,” he explains, adding that the marketing opportunities here are big and can be leveraged for a lot of brands, especially youth brands.

There seem to be three key levels that are taken up by teams to grow as brands and cultivate a lucrative marketing ecosystem. First, the push is to create a demand and reach those who love the game. The next is to attract potential fans and the third is to leverage these with brand associations and merchandising. In the first stage, the focus is on the game, in the second, the players and in the third, fans are at the heart of all initiatives and collaborations. By the third stage, they are invested enough to spend in support. 

Content is key to it all

Abhishek Gupta

What binds it all is content. With improved internet penetration, Indian fans have found a way to stay connected with their favourite football clubs around the world, which in part justifies the hunger for content relating to this sport, says Abhishek Gupta, CMO, Edelweiss Tokio Life. “Brands will have to strike the right balance between relatability, relevance and interesting content. The spurt in football consumption has also impacted the commercial and advertising landscape relating to the sport. So, the content will be a key factor to ensure that they stand out in the cutter,” says Gupta. 


Adding examples to the discussion on content, Rajat Khurana, Managing Director, ASICS says, “Athletes like Rohan Bopanna, Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia are leaders in their fields and together with them, we have managed to inspire good content for our consumers,” adding that their association with these sports is not just through players but also through content. Khurana tells us, “It is very important to on-board an influencer who resonates with the brand ideology and has an emotional connect with the consumers,” adding that though the product is the hero, the influencer is the voice of the brand that helps it reach a wider audience.

Also Read: ISL has taken organised football to tier II & III markets says, Apollo Tyres’ Satish Sharma

There have been a few really interesting ways in which brands have associated themselves with the Indian Super League. DHL took to delivering the trophy, the ball that was used in the final match and the jerseys worn by the players of the competing teams. Maruti Suzuki created a front seat experience for hardcore ISL fans who couldn’t make it to the stadium to watch the finale. Apollo Tyres used the association to increase the visibility of the brand and create a unique position in the minds of the consumers — in sync with the tagline of ‘go the distance’. 

Quick checklist for brands

This phenomenon can be seen unfolding in an interesting way with sports players and teams becoming the face(s) of campaigns and advertisements. It could be a simple picture of them sipping a canned beverage at the venue during half time of a full-fledged poster, where they are interacting with the product. As the popularity of the players grows, these opportunities are bound to grow leaps and bounds in the space of commercials and merchandises. Here is a checklist that brands should keep in mind:

  • Have a comprehensive approach for different media verticals, with a focus on on-ground activities. 
  • Consider players to be assets in the marketing strategy for the football-centric campaigns.
  • Focus on video content that highlights the attributes of the sport, the team and the players. 
  • Leverage the viewership available in geographies outside the metro cities.
  • Activations at colleges and school-level leagues must be a part of the mix.
  • Merchandises are key to building fandom — include them in the strategy.
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