Even the viewer with no interest in football found the launch of the Indian Super League (ISL) hard to miss. A catchy tune (composed by one of Bollywood’s young talents, Amit Trivedi) led the blitzkrieg on TV. After all, ISL’s illustrious parents were not going to let a league, mounted on a scale larger than earlier Indian leagues, appear without fanfare.
The private football league, owned by Football Sports Development, the JV between IMG-Reliance and Star India had eight team franchises for 61 matches over 70 days. IMG-Reliance is, in turn, a JV between Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries and IMG, a global sports, fashion and media company. The promoter investment is estimated to be Rs 300 crore. The ISL is also part of Star’s grand scheme to promote non-cricket sports in the next few years, having set aside 30-40 per cent of its Rs 20,000-crore investment in sports.
Amin Lakhani, leader, South Asia, Team Unilever, Mindshare, says the TV and in-stadia reach of ISL has been “encouraging”. ISL reached 429 million viewers and its on-ground attendance was 1.5 million.
While football has grown from 96 million viewers in 2008 to 215 million in 2014, industry experts say ISL’s first season garnered television viewership in thousands (TVTs) a little more than half of the FIFA World Cup (in 2014). It points to how the TV audience sampled the league’s broadcast widely but the time spent was not as much as on the FIFA matches.
However, it seems the sponsors gained in the digital world. Around 32 million visited Star’s digital stop, starsports.com, for ISL; there were 2.2 million conversations on social media, with 11 billion impressions on Facebook, Twitter etc. Simplify360, a social business intelligence firm, using its proprietary tools, has calculated that the buzz on social media around ISL has resulted in savings for some of the key sponsors of the first season.
Simplify360 monitored the overall buzz around ISL and some of the sponsor brands, covering discussions on ISL, the teams, players and the ads that the sponsors ran. Using its algorithm, it found the reach and impressions (see tables). Taking an average cost of Rs 100 per 1,000 impressions (the actual cost for getting as many impressions could go up to Rs 150, as charged by agencies and networks), the value of the free publicity, or earned media, was calculated.
In the world of social media, brands either pay for visibility (ads), own space to become visible (official pages/handles), or hope for the most coveted form of buzz – earned media. When social media users voluntarily discuss a brand, it amounts to earned media for the brand. It is both a measure of its relevance to the audience and free publicity. While Hero MotoCorp generated around Rs 58 lakh worth of earned media (around 3 per cent of its spends), Amul notched up Rs 13 lakh (around 3-4 per cent of spends). While Hero, the title sponsor, reportedly invested Rs 20 crore, Amul, an official partner, spent Rs 3-5 crore. The pouring partner, Pepsi (PepsiCo’s flagship drink) received free mentions worth Rs 18 lakh (estimated spends Rs 3-5 crore, so around 4-6 per cent) and the Muthoot Group, the sponsors of the referee’s jersey, cornered earned-media worth Rs 4.6 lakh (9-15 per cent of reported spends of Rs 3-5 crore). Another sponsor, Dr. Reddy’s Nise el (pain-reliever), increased its Facebook base by 3,879 per cent.
Amul MD R S Sodhi says the benefits of the association proved to be above his expectations. “Wherever the matches were played, we also ensured the distribution of our products, to generate buzz.”
Lakhani says ISL’s true digital potential will be realised in the future: “It is on social networks that the well-informed football viewer can be found discussing the game. The needle would really shift if ISL can win them over with its quality of players etc.,” he says.