Moderated by Jitendra Joshi, co-founder of Sportz Village, the panel discussion on the ‘Untapped potential of women’s sports marketing’ touched upon the ideology, challenges, successes, and potential opportunities for the growth of women’s sports marketing in India.
The panel included a diverse mix of experienced marketers, sportspersons and coaches, namely Shabnam Panjwani, head of marketing and communications at Edelweiss Financial Services; Mira Erda, a Formula 4 Racer and coach; Kuldeep Singh Bist, coach to the Delhi Hurricanes rugby team; Prachi Mohapatra, chief marketing officer – FBB, Future Group; and Sujatha Kumar, head of marketing for India and South Asia at Visa.
Panjwani of Edelweiss Financial Services revealed that the brand’s involvement in women’s sports did not begin as a marketing strategy, but with the EdelGive foundation that partnered with Olympic Gold Quest, a non-profit which supports the training of top Indian athletes. “We started when names like Mary Kom, PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, Ayonika Paul were not even known. We realised during the London Olympics that there was tremendous opportunity to actually create awareness. It was quite shocking but when we went around asking varied people across ages whether they recognized these names and pictures, it drew a blank,” said Panjwani.
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Mohapatra, CMO at FBB acknowledged that it is a tough space for Indian sports players and even more so for women. FBB first associated with Bengal Warriors and then came to fore with IPL, with which the brand found great success. “What we have failed to do as a collective community of business people is to support budding talent right from the grassroot level,” she added.
Kumar revealed at Visa, they don’t call athletes they associate with brand ambassadors, but Visa Team athletes. “Interestingly, for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics which has been pushed to next year, we had 83 Team VISA Athletes out of which 49 are women. So there’s a whopping 60 per cent of women within our portfolio,” remarked Kumar proudly. “In India as well, we have signed up PV Sindhu as our Team VISA Athlete. When you take women in sports and as a brand, endorse them, you help them because all sports need is finance to evolve. As marketers and brands, we extend their reach, she added.
The youngest on the panel, Erda, tries her best to use her influence to spread awareness on motorsports in India. She confessed, “Having huge brands like JK Tyres, Redbull, and GoPro supporting me, I have been able to create the right message for motorsports in India.” She admits that motorsports is an unconventional sport in general, but it is even more uncommon as it is very expensive. Thus, brands are reluctant to approach racers and don’t know how racers can help brands.
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Coach Kuldeep Singh Bist established the Delhi Hurricanes in 2004, which has given about 50 players to the national rugby team and 17 girls have represented the Indian national team till now. The women’s rugby team was formed in 2009 and about 40 per cent of the Delhi Hurricane players are girls. Bist believes that girls rugby has a great future and brands must support the sport to help not only the sport, but their own brands as well.
Both Panjwani and Kumar made a case for sponsoring sporting events and athletes not solely for the TRPs and what brands could extract out of the deal, but for the values that these events and sportspersons uphold. Kumar explained, “What really worked is choosing someone whose values align with the brand’s value. The Visa brand is about inclusiveness and the Olympics is inclusive – it breaks barriers and brings people together.”
Explaining the philosophy behind sponsoring sports-women like Rani Rampal, Dipa Karmakar, Manika Batra, Hima Das, Mirabai Chanu, across different sports, Panjwani said, “It was very easy: Do you become a small fish in a large pond? Or be a big fish in a relatively small pond, and you make that pond grow, meet other fish. That’s how you are going to be seen and respected.”