DoIT Sport, Meraki IP to keep India pedaling sportingly

Saksham Pedal Delhi, slated for Friday in New Delhi, is much more than a sporting event to propagate the importance of fuel conservation and efficient energy utilization. The brains behind India’s first cyclothon have long-term goals. Professional and viable. To sustain and grow as a commercial IP.

Already recognized by the Cycling Federation of India as the National Championship in its category, the event is here to stay and grow as a commercial entity for mass participation sport. Two professional sports enterprises – DoIT Sports and Meraki Sports – have come together to create the commercial IP in cycling sports. discussed at length the technical and commercial nuances of the venture with DoIT Sports CEO Saumya Khaitan and Meraki Sports Ajit Ravindran. Here are the excerpts:

 Insidesport: DoIT Sports and Meraki Sports and Entertainment are like competitors in the same business sphere. What brings the two major players from the Indian sports industry together?

Saumya Khaitan: DoIT Sports has a rare distinction to own team franchisees in three sports leagues in India. After having owned team franchisees in the hockey, kabaddi and table tennis leagues, we were aiming to create our own IP. In an endeavor to be a 360° commercial enterprise in sports, we have been following cycling for quite some time. We felt the sport though not a mass discipline yet has tremendous potential. In the process, we met Ajit (Ravindran). His company Meraki has a very good credential in mass participation sports. We have been looking for a niche product and they had it ready. That was the best chemistry to start a working relationship.

Ajit Ravindran: Meraki Sports and Entertainment founder team comes from a marathon background as we were part of Procam International (IP owners of India’s premier marathon events). At Meraki, we were aiming to do something different. There is this phrase, “Cycling is the new golf”.  As we explored cycling, there was a realization that more and more people were moving from running to cycling. We became clear about what we have to do. Our association with cycling started on a good note with Tour of Nilgiris. We gained the confidence that cycling has a tremendous potential to be a mass participation sport in India.

 Sporting IPs are primarily driven by sponsorship revenues. Again we adopted a different approach of getting a partner on board and shape our vision to be that over-arching entity by actually channelizing our energies to make this into a movement.

IS: A sporting IP is as a business would need a viable commercial model to self-sustain and grow. What are your common goals and commercial plans?

Saumya: We have planned to start it (Saksham Pedal Delhi 2017) as a flagship property. In the second phase, we aim to go to two, three or maybe a few more cities by the end of next year. Ultimately we are targeting to have about 77 cities on our event calendar over the next 5 years.

The event in various cities will act as feeders for the main flagship event in Delhi. We can have only one National Championship in a year. The city events will also serve to identify and attract talent. The champions from the city events can come for the flagship event. We are adopting a top-down approach. Once we have created a benchmark, people will aspire to come there.

With the support from the  PCRA and CFI, we are hopeful of breaking even by the next year. We are getting great response. We have also got Farhan Akhtar on board for three years. We are creating an ecosystem and then we can streamline further opportunities.

 AR: No event will sustain or grow without commercial success. As Saumya shared with you, we have short-term and long-term plans and a viable model in place for our initial five-year roadmap.

 IS: What are the common goals for DoIT-Meraki association?

AR: We foresee a definite need for cycling to become a mass participation sport in the country. There is a need to nurture the elite athlete. India did not have a representation in the Olympic cycling competition since 1964. To have India back on the Olympic cycling track or velodrome is one common objective. We are aiming to provide Indian cyclist good opportunities to compete with the best in the world in the process of nurturing and grooming the talent.

IS: PCRA and CFI have come on board as commercial associates to support your vision for cycling sport in the country. What are the commitments?

 SK: CFI has given us the National Championship status. There can be a not bigger commitment from the governing body for the sport in India. PCRA is also equally committed to success and growth of the event.

AR: CFI as the governing body is involved in all the technical aspects of the event. PCRA is an interesting addition. Honestly speaking, getting PCRA on board was not a dotted objective. It happened more like a meeting of minds for a good cause. This association has added the fourth dimension – sustainability – to our vision.

IS: How big is cycling sport as an industry in India?  

AR: Unlike running, there is no yardstick to measure the industry size for cycling sport in India. The running industry is somewhere between INR 750-1000 crores. For cycling in India, I would say we have just folded the first page of the book. It will take a couple of years to ascertain the potential and market size and business volume for the sport.

IS: You are just off the blocks with an event of this level to structure cycling sports as an organized sector. How is the initial response?

AR: The response to our inaugural event is overwhelming. The people who shape the culture and the community fabric of Delhi have come together to support our initiative. We have seven or eight NGOs coming forward to participate in the inaugural Saksham Pedal. We do have a charity partner as such but these NGOs just became the gateway for the others to follow the suit.

IS: How is the corporate support in terms of sponsorship and commercial partnerships?

SK: PCRA is our lead sponsor. We have other partners like Concern India, Choose My Bicycle and then Meraki, of course. However, at present, we only have a financial understanding with PCRA. Our talks with other commercial associates are in advance stages. However, it will not be appropriate to reveal any names. It does happen at the formative stage of a venture. Talks and signings continue till just before the event.

AR: Honestly speaking, having brands on board is not on our priority list this year. We are rather giving the brands an opportunity to come and be a part of our initiative. Enerzal will provide sports nutrition drinks, then ‘Fortis’ is our medical partners, and then there are a few others. These are no financial transactions involved but the people are coming together to create an ecosystem.

IS: But commercial tie-ups is important for a product to sustain?

AR: Obviously. That is an important aspect of our commercial plans. We in the first year are more focused on creating a successful product.

IS: You have signed Farhan Akhtar as the face of your event.

SK: Farhan Akhtar is on board not just to be the face of the event. He is not just a celebrity face. He is a dialogue. He is a fellow cyclist. The people into cycling want to be spoken about with the one who understands their sport. That was one critical aspect of getting him on-board. Everything else just follows. After all, other benefits are equally important.

AR: Having Farhan on-board will create a nationwide buzz. Such events are geographically bound and having a recognized face and ambassador gives you the chance to make an appeal beyond geographical limitations.

IS: What is your USP?

AR: We keep talking about the public-private partnership. I don’t think anybody has ever realized what does it mean in a sporting eco-system. We are going to make a difference there. Ministry of Petroleum, PCRA, CFI and we have come together to create a mass participating cyclothon that will spread the message of ‘Fuel Conservation’ and ‘Sustainability’.

 Saksham Pedal Delhi, India’s Premier Cyclothon will be held on November 5 at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi to propagate the importance of fuel conservation and efficient energy utilization. Being organized by Petroleum Conservation Research Association (PCRA), which is a registered society set up under the aegis of Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas, Government of India, the event has Cycling Federation of India and DoIT Sports as partners. The event is marketed and managed by Meraki Sport & Entertainment & Choose My Bicycle.