India is placed third in the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games medal tally after five days of action. Five of the eight gold medals have been earned by Indian girls. In event wise distribution, weightlifting tops the chart with five gold medals, two in shooting and one earned by the women’s table tennis team.
Amidst the Indian Premier League frenzy, the emergence of Indian sports’ news icons in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia, is making big headlines in national dailies. Manika Batra, the lady to lead India’s campaign for women’s table tennis team gold, lifters Mirabai Chanu, Sanjita Chanu and Poonam Yadav; and shooter Manu Bhaker have garnered headlines in big fonts otherwise spared for the glitz of cricket. Their presence on media cannot just go unnoticed even amidst the Indian Premier League frenzy.
Mirabai, the iron lady to open India’s gold medal account, had assured the nation of the precious metal even before her departure for Gold Coast. The 23-year-old from Imphal had such a faith in her own abilities, that she had gently dismissed the challenge before getting into the competition. The assertion that “other competitors in her weight category is too weak” reflects Mirabai’s class and confidence as well as her iconic status in the sport too.
Manika has taken Indian table tennis to a never before peak, while shooter Manu Bhaker is hitting the bull’s eye with utter precision event by event, competition by competition. The girls have reinforced their iconic status. However, in the sporting world driven by corporate support, the Indian achiever at Gold Coast are drawing tremendous respect, but little commercial values.
Harish Bijoor, brand and business strategist and owner of Harish Bijoor Consults Inc., says that corporate decisions are driven by potential ROIs than the achievements of the sporting heroes. “ This is tragic but true. A wrestler or a weightlifter possibly puts in more efforts to reach the pinnacle probably than what cricket takes. In weightlifting, it’s 99% practice and 1% competitive action, which could be watched by people. In cricket it is 90% competition, which attracts millions of eyeballs, and say just 10% practice,” says Bijoor.
“These (like weightlifting) are sports which attract the least number of eyeballs. Then there is yet another issue that fixtures are far and few, whereas cricket happens almost every day and football may be at least once in a week and then golf happens every fortnight. But weightlifting will happen once in six months or maybe once in a year. The worst is that premier fixtures happen once in two or four years. There lies the tragedy. There are two aspects going into it – one is the sport is not watched by people at all, and second is the frequency of the fixtures. You multiply these two aspects and you have a metric which says what kind of commercial attention a sport or a sportsperson will get,” adds Bijoor.
Tuhin Mishra, Managing Director and co-founder Baseline Ventures, is the man behind PV Sindhu’s iconic rise in the brand market. He too believes, consistency in competition and visibility are the keys to the commercial success or a sport or sporting heroes. “A sport will develop commercial interest only with consistency in competition and broadcast on television. Otherwise, there is no value for sponsors. Cricket won’t be getting the kind of sums the sponsors are paying if there is no television broadcast. Ironically, these sports are not in news on a regular basis. Headlines appear once in two or four years. What value do brands get if a sport or icon has no exposures? Federation has to play an important role in marketing the sport and sportspersons. At the same time sponsors need to change their outlook. Media, too, has to play its part,” says Mishra.
However, sports entrepreneur Ashish Chadha dismisses these conventional theories as lack of initiative by brand managers, brands and sports fraternity. “Any player making headlines or being talked about has a commercial value,” says Chadha, founder and Chief Executive Sporty Solutionz, the 360° sports business company. “Marketing is all about strategies. A smart and confident marketer will always find value in an achiever. There is a limited investment and proportionately bigger gains. The brands and agencies need to look beyond traditional theories. What was cricket before 1983 World Cup? The BCCI needed a Lata Mangeshkar concert to raise sufficient funds to honour the World Champions. The medallists at CWG, Asiad, Olympics, World Championships, World Cups are no mean achievers. Even if the brands celebrate achievements of these sporting icons, they will find bigger ROIs than the other popular means of sponsorships. It’s not that only stars build brands, brands too hold the potential to build stars out of these sporting icons.”
For now, the players have shown their might and worth. Now is the time for the managers, federations and corporate to change the approach to inspire not just these achievers.