Sports marketing 2019: A year that was

Sports marketing

Tracing the increase in the number of leagues, fandom, and brand interest, Social Samosa takes a look at how sports marketing evolved in 2019.

2019 was the year that saw Sports content consumption behaviour evolve, giving rise to many trends and subsequent marketing opportunities. The year of ICC Cricket World Cup, Indian Premier League, Indian Super League, Pro Kabaddi League, and more was a hotbed for sports enthusiasts and marketers who managed to strike off KPI’s with investments in specific sports and leagues

2019 – A quick Summary 

The quantum of sports advertising in India has increased from Rs 24,230 million in 2008 to Rs 77,630 million in 2018, states a recent KPMG report. Other factors in the mix include the proliferation of sporting leagues, wide-ranging and inescapable digitalization, the growing popularity of sports other than cricket, and rising female and rural audiences. 

If a brand is looking to associate with a sporting league, what should they look for? Ashish Bhasin, CEO APAC and Chairman India at Dentsu Aegis Network Asia Pacific explains, “The kind of association depends on what your objective is, how soon you want recognition and what your budget is. Nothing beats a direct association because the whole country gets to know you in a minute. While there are indirect ways to leverage the tournaments in campaigns, nothing beats a direct association.”

The rise in the consumption of sports content was also reflected in BARC data throughout the year.

“Celebrities are emerging beyond cricket, shorter formats are driving consumer interest, Out of Home viewership is becoming big, thanks to mobile, niche leagues will develop for emerging sports, in-stadia facilities are improving and this will lead to higher on ground interest and ticket sales,” shares Navin Khemka, CEO, MediaCom South Asia, when asked about Sports Marketing trends. 

Hyperlocal Marketing 

Sports got hyperlocal not only in terms of marketing but also in consumption. With Star Sports launching regional feeds, brands leveraged the opportunity to create niche need-based campaigns. 

The potential of hyperlocal marketing is what makes such national leagues (Indian Premier League, Indian Super League, Pro Kabaddi League (PKL)) interesting. Not only has partnering with regional teams worked, but brands also started reaching out to Metro 1 & 2 audiences through streams offered by Star Sports. 

Coca Cola India for instance, leveraged regional by Star Network/ Star Sports to advertise their stronghold brands in various regional markets. While Maaza campaigns were specific to the Tamil feed, Thumbs Up focused on Telugu. For Sprite, the brand created the same ad with regionally familiar actors to increase its relevance, popularity, and engagement. 

“Sporting events are unifiers across geographies. While the sporting map of India is diverse, for instance, football does well in West Bengal and Kerala, cricket does the best in metros and West Bengal, kabaddi has a huge following in tier 2 and tier 3 cities, overall sports provides the marketer with a wide range of choices basis their market needs,” says Vaishali Verma, CEO, Initiative India.


While direct advertising in association with the league or during the league is one of the sure ways to create mass awareness, brands were seen creating multiple touch-points for their campaign elements, driving RoI through various metrics. 

Swiggy in 2018, went big on the proposition around of ‘No Order too Small’ backed with integrated campaigns like Swiggy Match Day Mania and Swiggy Sixes. These were 10-seconder ads that emphasized on how consumers can use the app for the smallest of fixes and cravings. Post the release of a particular spot, featuring a consumer ordering a single Gulab Jammun, Swiggy saw a rise in the percentage of orders and even an increase in Gulab Jammun’s orders. 

On the back of the success of these metrics, the brand this year launched an ad featuring a Laddoo to carry on the momentum. 

“Unlike a lot of other brands for whom IPL is a great media vehicle, we believe that Swiggy is a brand that can generate a transaction and a great food ordering experience right when the consumer is viewing the ad. It’s also a great opportunity for us to reach out to potential new users who may not have used the platform before and bring out our brand benefits in an engaging manner,” explained Srivats T.S., Vice President – Marketing, Swiggy.

Uber, on the other hand, went big with a massive global campaign during ICC Cricket World Cup where they picked their brand ambassador, Virat Kohli and took him out of the stadium through quirky video campaigns that were popularised through television and digital. 

“Sporting events are where people and communities come together. It moves people forward collectively and that’s what Uber’s brand philosophy is. It is a very good brand fit for us,” said Manisha Lath Gupta, Head of Marketing, Uber India and South Asia. Gupta further said that it was the biggest campaign by Uber for the year. 

Sharing insight into the trend of sports personalities becoming brand influencers, Initiative India’s Verma says, “Sports personalities are strong influencers. Brands use athletes and their storytelling power to garner massive interest from fans. Advertisers that seek mass media exposure via TV and one-to-one engagement through social communities are rediscovering the true value of sports personalities.”

Football too witnessed a similar trend as brands applied cross-platform dynamics for a larger impact.

Further, DHL associated with Indian Super League, delivering trophies and other collaterals during key matches. The brand claims to have received 30X RoI through its association with the football league. 

Sports Marketing for Product Launch 

In the automobile category, MG Motor used Indian Premier League as a platform to announce and launch their cars in India. Reportedly, their Google searches increased and the brand received an overwhelming number of bookings, so much so that they had to stop taking bookings for a while.

Entering the Indian market at roughly the same time, Spotify hit the boundary with 240 playlists in a matter of hours — live-tweeting along the way. The idea was to combine every event that happens on a cricket field during an Indian Premier League match and Spotify’s repository of 3 billion playlists. Using the brand’s Twitter handle, the brand leveraged moment-marketing by covering the match ball by ball and giving #HarBallPePlaylist. The tweets garnered a reach of over 4.45 million. 

“When we work on the marketing mix, it is built very holistically,” Neha Ahuja, Head of Marketing, Spotify India told Social Samosa. Ahuja explains that the brand devises all marketing strategies keeping in mind the following: 

  • Sticking to consumer insight
  • Playing to the cultural nuances
  • The tonality of the brand is aspirational that needs to be maintained

Tactical Approach

Fashion & Apparel brand, FabIndia took a tactical approach. The brand associated with Star Sports as the official styling partner for men’s wear during the Indian Premier League. As opposed to air time and ad spots, the brand was popularized as the styling partner through ashton and tickers during the Live matches. Further, all Cricket Live Male Commentators were wearing Fabindia clothing during the entire league. 

According to media reports, Fabindia styled 100 plus cricket experts in over 1000 designs from their exclusive collection and achieved 229 hours of brand exposure with a 96 percent increase in sponsorship awareness. 

The axioms of sports marketing have re-written itself in the past year. From a platform of mass awareness to the one that also offers niche targeting, objective-driven messaging, and cross-platform engagement – sports marketing is here to stay and evolve. With every passing year, sports content consumption is set to see a hike; more and more leagues will make their way to the masses. Now is the time to leverage this marketing trend that is on its way to becoming a norm.