This year, FIFA saw 10 Indian brands endorsing. Social Samosa talked to industry experts who spoke about the growing fan base of football in India, the A&M industry finding this niche, and whether it is worth it.
India has always been a traditionally cricket-loving nation. But for the past few years, with international influence, people giving attention to the Olympics, and some domestic platforms opening up, Indian viewers have grown to acquire a taste for other sports as well. Just like the audience, the Indian brand front had always been cricket-centric. But with FIFA World Cup 2022 seeing 10 Indian brands sponsoring, there seems to be a shift in these dynamics.
In conversation with Social Samosa, experts give insights on Indian brands catering to this niche and whether FIFA is a sporting property worth investing in the Indian context.
The Football Fever
Football as a culture and religion has always had its footprints throughout the country. In the past, this reach was limited to certain areas (South & East India), but in recent years this craze has grown many folds, especially among the younger generations.
Talking about how the Indian audience has changed its mindset about this game, Santosh Navlani, COO – ET Money said, “Football is the only sport that can claim to be truly global. And its proliferation has increased over the years, owing to competitions like the Premier League, and the Indian Super League and increasing access to streaming platforms. There are approx 30 million football fans in India today. This huge number clearly displays the passion and frenzy of the game among Indians.”
ET Money launched a new brand campaign as a part of a marketing initiative timed with the inauguration of FIFA 2022.
Commenting on the usually neglected fandom in India, Sumeer Mathur, Chief Strategy Officer, DENTSU CREATIVE India added, “The Indian football fan is in a long-distance, long-time relationship, and the FIFIA world cup is where all these emotions come out in glorious display, unfortunately, we do not have a national team that’s worthy of these fans. India has the largest contingent of fans from a non-playing country at the Qatar world cup, 10% of tickets have been bought by Indian fans and thousands have signed up as volunteers.”
Kumar Awanish, Chief Growth Officer, Cheil India added, “Indian audiences are now evolving and their attention is getting diverted to other sports like Football which is in currency in other countries. Brands are also taking note of it given the huge reach of the FIFA world cup. Love for football is no more a phenomenon of only Tier I & II cities. This flurry of excitement has touched every geography in India.”
According to BARC India, FIFA WorldCup 2018 witnessed a spike in viewership. Kerala, Assam, North-east, Sikkim, and West Bengal accounted for 81 percent of the total viewership. Media reports further shared that, the previous FIFA WorldCup that happened in Russia saw nearly 300 million broadcast audiences. These numbers are expected to see a sharp spike in 2022.
Explaining this aspect, Rammohan Sundaram, Country Head & Managing Partner – Integrated Media, DDB Mudra Group said, “India, over the years has had its own share of stars like Bhaichung Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri. However, it hasn’t been consistent like in Cricket. You need stars to attract to the sport, world beaters at that to begin with.”
He further added, “Whoever fans look up to are the international stars in that sport, which apart from the franchisee leagues in Europe can only be seen together once in four years at the FIFA event. Therefore, you cannot take away that contribution from FIFA in terms of having a global audience.”
In October this year, Viacom18 announced that it will be streaming FIFA WorldCup Qatar for free on the JioCinema app, further boosting advertiser participation on the India front.
Adding to this, Ashish Bhasin Co-Founder & Chairman – RD&X Network, said, “While there are interests in certain sporting events like FIFA, they tend to be relatively niche. When you look at the bigger picture, cricket still holds the ground. The difference between cricket and other sports is that cricket has mass appeal. It cuts across age groups, geographies, and genders. While most of the other sports only get to reach a certain pocket of society.”
FIFA – A magnet for Indian brands
This year, 10 Indian brands have dipped their toes into this big bucket. This includes names like Amul, Vivo, ET Money, Byjus, and more. According to media reports, Byju’s has invested nearly USD 40Mn in its FIFA WorldCup advertising association.
Commenting on this phenomenon and how brands can benefit through this association, Yogendra Sriramula, Head – Brand Strategy, vivo India said, “FIFA World Cup is one of the most prestigious sporting events in the world. Its global appeal and popularity present huge opportunities for brands to engage with their audience in a meaningful way. The sporting spirit of the FIFA World CupTM is similar to vivo’s mission to promote connection and continuous creation, and we are excited to create an exceptional FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022TM experience for football fans worldwide.”
Adding to this N. Chandramouli, CEO – TRA mentioned, “For brands wanting to connect with this generation, football is a good bet, as most of this lot is agnostic to cricket. Football also crosses generations, especially in the FIFA world cup, as it brings memories and moments of games played decades ago. Brands with foresight and patience will invest in FIFA and gain through the brand association over many years.”
Speaking on how associating with FIFA, brands are opening to a larger audience, Rammohan Sundaram explained, “While brands might have a long-term association in the deal, the biggest advantage is when they get global visibility through a celebrity association to expand their wings in the international markets.”
He further mentioned that brands roping in celebrities will help them in gaining more recognition rather than just an association with FIFA as football as a game isn’t as big as cricket is in India.
Santosh Navlani added, “Considering there is a massive fandom globally for FIFA, companies get a chance to deliver an impactful brand story and run full-blown brand campaigns over the course of one month. Also, the primetime schedule of the tournament, its viewership segment, i.e. mass affluent aspirational Indians, along with the heightened interest of Indians in football can give brands a fair chance to grab maximum eyeballs.”
FIFA – Is it worth the money?
FIFA, as a brand, has without a doubt boosted the football craze in India. But in 2021 alone in India, the TV viewership share for cricket was 79% while football stood at 6%. The viewership might grow this year, but football continues to be a niche. Further, it’s still a very debatable topic as to whether the growth of football in India is profitable or not.
Commenting on whether FIFA is a sporting property, worth investing in for Indian brands, experts give their views.
Ashish Bhasin explained, “FIFA is a good investment for certain types of brands to make, provided its suits with their personality. One of the key reasons is that beyond viewership it also has great engagement. However, when you take a ‘helicopter view’ you realise that it is restricted to a very particular audience and not the mass, unlike cricket.”
Rammohan Sundaram added, “Unless brands have a global presence or global ambitions for growth, it is absolutely a waste of money for Indian brands to be associated with FIFA as a sponsor. Amul is an exception given they have a massive content generation that ensures continuous momentum for the brand with its target audience.”
Kumar Awanish said, “The content of the world cup is designed to keep audiences hooked to the screen which is a huge blessing for brands looking for scale and reach especially if the target audience is males in the age group of 15 to 35.”