" />
Sponsorship Around the World: India Edition

Sponsorship Around the World: India Edition

7 minute read

  • Cricket dominates sports viewership in India and therefore attracts the greatest amount of sponsor interest.
  • Although cricket dominates the sports landscape in India, there are a number of other sports on the rise giving sponsors more options.
  • The top Bollywood actors are the most highly recognized personalities in India and routinely are leveraged as brand endorsers.

Sponsorship Around the World highlights sponsorship trends and best practices from various global markets. As a global agency with 32 offices across 19 countries, MKTG Canada tapped into the global MKTG network to gain local expertise from brand experience leaders across the world. To further enhance this edition, MKTG Canada spoke with Brian Tellis, Co-Founder and Group CEO of MKTG Fountainhead Promotions & Events in India.

Home to over 1.3 billion people – making it the second most populated country in the world – India is well known for two of its strongest cultural passion points; cricket and the Bollywood film industry. And while these two areas dominate culture in India, the country’s sport and entertainment offering is diversifying, as emerging property types gain momentum with an expanding consumer base.

Marketers are recognizing this and the sponsorship spend in India has grown substantially. Last year alone, sports sponsorship grew by almost 20% reaching over $1 billion CAD (outpacing advertising growth which increased at 12%).

In a very populated country, with a growing middle class that could become the 5th largest consumer economy by 2025, sponsors are presented with an intriguing opportunity to target this emerging middle class. India’s wages have steadily increased with the daily average wage expected to increase 24% by 2020. As India’s economy continues to grow steadily, consumers are beginning to have more spending power in the country, increasing the opportunity and demand for sponsorships.


1. Cricket reigns as the top sport in India both for fans and sponsors

Cricket is by far the most popular sport in India, and as a result, has attracted significant sponsorship interest. With the majority of sponsorship spend invested in cricket, the sport has proven to help connect sponsors with mass audiences. Both team and player sponsorships command very lucrative deals. The Indian National Cricket team recently announced a new five-year sponsorship deal with Oppo Digital worth over $200 million CAD and the captain of the team, Virat Kohli, recently signed one of the largest endorsement deals for an individual player in India with Puma. In addition to the National team, India also has various Cricket leagues in the country. Domestic cricket competition in India has 7 different leagues, ranging from a Celebrity Cricket League made up of film actors to the Indian Cricket League that consists of four international teams. Domestic Cricket in India provides an additional option for brands to enter the world of Cricket sponsorship. The current sponsor of the Board of Control for Cricket (BCCI) paid close to $40 million for a four-year title sponsorship.               

Brian Tellis - “Cricket is the clear number one in India and with that, sponsorships are very large. This is quite simply because the audience comes out in large numbers both in person and on television. India is also very enthusiastic for cricket, making it something that many people are passionate about. There are a number of other sports gaining attention in India, but they still do not come close to cricket.”

2. While Cricket is number one, there is rising interest in other sports providing sponsors with new opportunities to connect with niche audiences

While Cricket may attract the biggest audience and sponsorships, there are a number of other sports that are experiencing increased interest. Field Hockey and soccer are greatly influencing the sponsorship market. Field Hockey is the country’s national game and has seen a considerable increase in sponsorships in recent years. The national field hockey team recently renewed their partnership with Indian conglomerate, Sahara India Pariwar through 2021. The company’s sponsorship of the national teams is aimed to improve and provide adequate support for the younger generation to bring further success for India. India’s professional field hockey league, Hockey India League, has secured a three-year title sponsorship by Coal India, the largest coal producer in the world. In addition, soccer has seen a rise is popularity since the creation of the Indian Super League (ISL) in 2014.  Shortly after the creation of the league, Hero MotoCorp became the first title sponsor. In recent years, the ISL has secured sponsorship from Puma, Flipkart, and DHL, propelling the league’s appeal and prestige to new heights. Emerging sports offer a unique avenue for brands in India. Brands engaging with emerging sports can have the opportunity to gain an early mover advantage and by being present as the sport grows, viewed as a facilitator of growth.

3. The Indian sport of Kabaddi is quickly growing, reaching a differentiated fan base

The sport of Kabaddi originated in India in the 19th century and is a very unique and regionalized sport. Kabaddi is a contact team sport that consists of two sides of seven people, each occupying its own half of the court. Each team takes turns sending a raider into the opposing team and earning points if the raider is successful in returning to his own half after attempting to touch the opposing team’s members while holding their breath. As Kabaddi became very popular in India, a professional kabaddi league was formed in 2014, gaining support throughout the country, evident through the recent partnership with Vivo, a Chinese electronic company. The professional league consists of 12 teams with a number of teams based in cities that do not have a professional cricket team, offering sponsors an opportunity to reach differentiated markets and consumers.

Brian Tellis - “Kabaddi is a much more rural game than cricket and will generally smaller, more focused audiences. Kabaddi is definitely on the rise it has grown significantly over the past ten years. Although, it is a uniquely Indian game and will not achieve very much international appeal.”

4. The passion for Bollywood and their performers creates valuable endorsers for sponsors

India’s movie industry, known as Bollywood, is one of the largest film producers in the world and attracts a very loyal following from Indians. Bollywood actors and actresses are some of the highest paid celebrities in India and widely recognized. They also represent some of the most in-demand brand endorsers as they are routinely used in television commercials and print ads. A trend among Bollywood performers is to obtain a stake in the business that he or she is promoting.  For example, Salman Khan, a top Bollywood actor, has a minority stake in travel company Yatra.com and also appears in their marketing. Despite India being an avid cricket country, Bollywood performers are the most sought after endorsers due to their mass appeal and the avid following the industry attracts.  Bollywood’s top actor, Shah Rukh Khan, known as the “King of Bollywood”, is consistently one of the top earning actors in India and widely leveraged by brands. Since making his Bollywood appearance in 1992, his rise to fame in the mid-1990’s propelled his career and endorsement opportunities. In the past ten years, Khan’s endorsement deals have increased, working with brands such as Pepsi, Hyundai, Nokia, and TAG Heuer. This brand activity led him to be named “Brand Ambassador of the Year” in 2008 at the CNBC Awaaz Consumer Awards as he was working with 39 different brands that year. With high recognition and a vast experience of working with brands, Khan represents one of the most sought after endorsers in the country.

Brian Tellis - “Bollywood is all encompassing and followed across the country; it is a religion, not just an industry. The amount of money in Bollywood is huge. There are about 7 to 8 top male Bollywood actors and about the same for female actresses. This top group will attract large sponsorships, however, if you fall outside that top group you will be hard pressed to find any sponsorship interest. If you are looking for mass reach you look to top Bollywood performers.”

5. Multiple top Indian brands leverage sponsorship to launch their brand outside the Indian market

India is home to several international corporations that do business beyond the Indian borders. It can be difficult when expanding beyond domestic borders as you are entering markets where the brand name could be relatively unknown. One way to create awareness in a new market is to sponsor a top property. This was done by Indian tire company, Apollo Tyres when in 2013 they signed a deal with Manchester United to be the team’s official Tire Partner. The deal worked well for Apollo Tyres as in 2016 they agreed to a second three-year term with the club. Sponsoring one of the top soccer teams in the world provided Apollo Tyres with significant brand awareness especially in the UK market. In 2014 Hero Motor Corp, an Indian motorcycle and scooter manufacturer became the title sponsor of Tiger Woods’ World Challenge tournament, now known as the Hero World Challenge. The sponsorship announcement came at a time when Hero MotorCorp were making their expansion into the United States as in 2014 they were approved to sell their products in the country. This sponsorship could help Hero MotorCorp gain recognition in the United States as the tournament was broadcasted on NBC attracting a large American audience.  

Gatorade & JJ Watt

Poker Stars & Usain Bolt and Kevin Hart