Moneyball: Yes, it is still cricket all the way

The sports sponsorship juggernaut is picking up great momentum. And it has managed to breach the $1-billion mark in 2017. First, check out the numbers. The overall growth in sports sponsorship grew an impressive 14.1 per cent, touching Rs 7,300 crore ($1.106 billion), up from Rs 6,400 crore ($941 million) garnered in 2016.

On the broader front, it contributed 12 per cent of the total advertising pie, which itself only grew 10 per cent to reach Rs 61,263 crore. The recently released ESP Properties–SportzPower research report points out that the real growth came from media spends which touched Rs 4,065 crore, up 16 per cent from Rs 3,511 crore in 2016. It was driven strongly in 2017 by Television On Air, which grew an incredible 42.7 per cent, from Rs 2,367 crore to Rs 3,379 crore.

On TV, sports adex is largely driven by cricket, with other sports contributing a minor share. While the number of match days remained the same more or less between 2016 and '17, the number of advertisers on cricket has increased. This is true for other sports as well. The other reason for sports adex increasing is the annual increase in ad rates, especially on IPL. In what has turned out to be Sony Pictures Networks’ tenth and final year as the India broadcaster for the Indian Premier League (IPL), the network signed off on a high note, with ad sales revenues hitting the highest ever in the league’s history. At the end of IPL 10, SPN mopped up Rs 1,204 crore net, compared to Rs 1,020 crore in 2016. This 18 per cent jump is all the more remarkable when viewed in the context of how the post-demonetisation drag on income was still being felt across the media sector.

The drag was evident in stark relief on print adex, which overall saw a slowing growth in 2017 and this impacted sports adex to an even greater degree. Print contracted by 59.2 per cent, down from Rs 874 crore to

Rs 356 crore. It is worth noting that print adex had managed a 4 per cent upside in 2016, though the situation also has much to do with more advertisers on sports turning to digital. According to the report, print was seeing a steady decline in any case, but it is fair to say that no one would have predicted such a steep fall at the beginning of 2017.

In the case of on ground sponsorships, a healthy 15 per cent growth rate has been maintained to reach Rs 1,337 crore. India playing more matches during the year in cricket helped it to cross the $100-million mark (Rs 669 crore) for the first time. However, it was football which showed a momentous 64 per cent increase to Rs 179 crore on the back of a successful hosting of the U-17 FIFA World Cup, which, incidentally, was the most-attended one in the history of the tournament.

The proliferation of IPL-type leagues continued with the launch of five new franchise-based ones, while four new teams were added in Pro Kabaddi and two others in the Indian Super League (ISL). The Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT), Super Boxing League (SBL), Cue Slam, Super Fight League (SFL), and Powerboat P1 Racing made their mark felt and added to the Team Sponsorship & Franchise Fee spends.

While UTT has announced that its second edition will commence in June, Powerboat P1 failed to make an appearance in 2018. The launch of these leagues, while it spreads the reach of the game and brings some money into the overall pie, cannot still match the impact that cricket has, even at a regional level. The recently concluded first edition of the T20 Mumbai League would have added more money to sports sponsorship. With just six teams, the successful inaugural season has already created a Rs 25-crore property. The Karnataka Premier League and the Tamil Nadu Premier League are already existing successful tournaments. With each major city, and state eyeing this lucrative option, the regional leagues will itself start contributing substantially to the cricket story, which already reigns supreme with blockbuster deals in the IPL.

Cricket, or rather, a cricketer, rules by a large margin when it comes to endorsements. While we were witness to a Sachin-Dhoni-Kohli era for a few years, India's dynamic captain across all formats decided to do a sprint in 2017, leaving all others including the two legends way behind. With nearly 20 brands and over Rs 150 crore worth of endorsements, Kohli contributes nearly one-third of the total endorsement kitty.

While endorsements overall de-grew by 17 per cent, cricket, resting on the shoulders of one man, grew 16 per cent. Other sports as a category dropped from

Rs 197 crore to Rs 73 crore mainly because two major deals with international superstars Tiger Woods (Hero MotoCorp) and Lionel Messi (Tata Motors) came to an end.

The heartening story in other sports is the rise of P V Sindhu to the No. 3 position, even ahead of Sachin, in the endorsement space. With 11 brands writing cheques worth over Rs 30 crore, she is close on the heels of Dhoni. With a silver medal in the Rio 2016 Olympics, Sindhu was expected to do well, but her management team seems to have upped their game dramatically to place her amongst the greats.

Sindhu’s rise and Virat’s dominance also brings to fore a point about sellable stars in cricket. Though the biggest money spinner in all aspects, cricket unfortunately has not been able to live up to its billing in producing sufficient number of stars who will have brands queuing up for them. It is a telling statement that after Virat, the top two cricket brands are names who are past their prime.

While 2016 had shown some promise of other sports giving a fight to cricket, 2017 has shown that cricket is only on the path to greater growth during 2018. With monster deals in IPL leading the way, cricket is expected to contribute heavily to the over 20 per cent growth predicted for the current year. Two sports, which could add significantly to the other sports basket are basketball and volleyball. For the former, it seems like one more year before a professional league takes off. One is more optimistic about volleyball in 2018 as Baseline Ventures has announced plans for a league in October. These leagues, however, would take some time to get off the ground and grow. Meanwhile, sit back and watch as cricket tightens its stranglehold on the gravy train.

(The author is a co-founder of SportzPower and The Fan Garage)

CP Thomas