A whitewash for the Indian cricket team in Australia. An unexpected, thumping win for the country's hockey team in the Olympic qualifier. Can the contrast swing eyeballs in cricket-crazy India towards its national game rarely discussed in public?
The jury is out, but the bets are on in the world of advertising and marketing.
Consider the fact that the prize money for the winning team in Indian Premier League cricket is R15 crore - three times that of the World Series Hockey (WSH) being played this week in India.By hockey standards, the amount on offer may be attractive for the joint initiative of the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) and Nimbus sport. Telecom giant Vodafone and whisky maker Seagrams are among sponsors for the tournament. Others will pay Rs 30-50 lakh to get their brands on hockey sticks being used in the WSH games.
Though the TV ratings for the inaugural match played in Chandigarh are yet to come, the ceremony took off to a packed house. Marketers are also betting on Formula One (F1) racing, hockey, Olympic games, tennis and golf to see if they can build their brands over something outside of the wicket.
The risks are clear, though the success of the Bollywood movie on women's hockey, Chak De India, should boost optimism.
"It is difficult for advertisers to put money in something that will not be as per expectations because of administrative hassles," said Yannick Colaco, chief operating officer of Nimbus Sport, which has launched a promotional campaign to lift viewer support for hockey.
"Cricket is unaffordable for companies with limited budgets. The interest and awareness for sports other than cricket has gone up. Our focus is to target the youth and F1 and Olympics are viable platforms," said RS Sodhi, MD of Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation that owns the Amul brand.
Amul sponsored the Dutch cricket team in the World Cup cricket tournament and the Switzerland-headquartered Sauber F1 team at the inaugural Indian Grand Prix. It will sponsor the Indian contingent at the London 2012 Olympics.
"WSH has tremendous long term potential and we would like to engage subscribers around this property," said Anuradha Aggarwal, senior vice-president, consumer insights, at Vodafone.Wrestling, shooting, boxing, volleyball and even kabaddi are catching media attention. Punjabi channel PTC broadcast the second edition of the World Cup Kabaddi last November. The prize money was a little over Rs 2 crore and the viewership extended to Canada, the US and UK. At 7.6 million viewers, this was the tournament's second edition and saw a surge of 65% in viewership from 2010 .
"Kabaddi is huge among Punjabis. Indians and NRIs have been at their glorious best in this sport, never having lost a medal at its pivot level," said Rabindra Narayan, President - PTC Network. India has been world champion in kabaddi twice.
At the higher end of the market, golf is a growing opportunity.
The Zee group is looking at a 24-hour channel, TenGolf. It already has TenSports, TenCricket and football-oriented TenAction.
"Football viewership has grown by 40% in the last two years. It is only a matter of time before golf, hockey, and boxing cross the threshold to catch the attention of broadcasters," said Atul Pande, CEO, Zee Sports.
PepsiCo is training its eyes on football. "After cricket, Bollywood, and music, soccer is the next big thing on our radar here," said Homi Battiwalla, category director for cold drinks at PepsiCo India.
Media researcher TAM says viewership for other sports is rising even as cricket is ebbing somewhat with fans disappointed by defeats. But there is a question of whether it is temporary.
"Advertisers realise the strong connect of fans with the game and continue to invest in cricket," said Rathindra Basu, senior director at ESPN Software India.
And so, cricket is still the main bet, but everybody seems to agree that other sports are gaining ground.