Telecom major Airtel earned millions of eyeballs by associating with the maiden Indian Grand Prix in October last year. AFP Photo
An interesting thing happened in cricket-crazy India last year. After 28 summers India were world champions once again, they were also the number one team in Test cricket. In April, 2011 seemed destined to go down as the year of cricket, then, the unexpected happened. The TRP ratings for the IPL went on a downward spiral, India received a shellacking in England, Test matches at Eden Gardens where being played in front of empty stands, sponsors where leaving cricket to switch to other sports.
Airtel was one such brand. In August last year they pulled out as the title sponsor of the Champions League T20. Two weeks later, they announced a reported $13.5 million-a-year deal to become title sponsors of the inaugural Indian Grand Prix for the next five years.
While cricket still remains the sport of choice, the emergence of Formula One showed that there was room for more than just one sport to flourish. A fact further substantiated by hordes of football fans turning out to watch Lionel Messi's Argentina in Kolkata, and German powerhouse Bayern Munich's match in New Delhi.
A challenging circuit which rewarded aggressive driving, hundreds of thousands of fans withstanding, and even, revelling in the ear drum-splitting din, a Sebastian Vettel win and Sachin Tendulkar waving the chequered flag. The inaugural Indian GP had it all.
It wasn't just on the sporting front that the race was a success. It was a hit in the business department as well with Brand India firmly throwing its weight behind the event which was held in the last weekend of October.
Single-race sponsors aren't that common a feature of Formula One. In a few countries there is strong network of local sponsors who use their home race to further their product visibility, and there have been occasional link ups of major motion pictures with F1 teams to promote their movies (George Lucas tied up with Red Bull to have the car outfitted in a Star Wars livery and the pit crew dressed in Stormtrooper attire to promote the sixth instalment of the franchise 'Revenge of the Sith' during the 2005 Monaco GP. One could even see Chewbacca on the pit wall with Red Bull team principal Christian Horner).
"Single race deals are not common, but there are many local brands across various circuits that ink such deals. There was coffeemaker company in China that had a single-race sponsorship, there are many local brands in Germany that sign similar deals.
A single-race deal works out cheaper and depending on the brand, the team, the spot and size of the logo can vary between $100,000 in the lower-run teams to a few million dollars with the Red Bulls and the Ferraris," said FMSCI president Vicky Chandhok.
Brands such as Base Battery and Hero Motors threw their weight behind the Indian face of F1 Narain Karthikeyan and inked deals to sponsor the HRT car. However, the sponsors interest wasn't just restricted to the Indian participation.
The bigger picture
Diary products manufacturers Amul chose to tie-up with mid-table Sauber. A move that drew praise from the team's Dehradun-born CEO Mohnisha Kaltenborn. "For a sponsor to sign up with non-Indian team without an Indian driver is very heartening," she said of the deal that was reportedly worth $125,000 for Amul branding on the driver's helmet and car's rear wing during the race weekend
Telling HT why he opted for a team with no Indian connection, Amul MD RS Sodhi said, "F1 is a sport which has a youth connect. Irrespective of the fact that there was no Indian connection in the team, the partnership did offer us great visibility in the Indian market. F1 is a very sponsor-friendly sport, and the returns are worth the investment."
Still opening up
While Brand India may have lapped up the Indian GP, Indian sponsors are yet to fully explore the potential of F1, feel many pundits. "If we take into consideration our original estimations the number of Indian sponsors that got involved during the Indian GP was far below expectations.
Even though most of the corporates here are aware of the potential of F1, with a global television audience of 600 million (third, only behind the Fifa World Cup and the Summer Olympics), I would call the response lukewarm," said Chandhok. However, all that could be set to change with Tata Communications multi-year marketing and technology partnership with the FOM. According to agreement, Tata will provide connectivity to all the Formula One race locations. The F1 website will also have content and hosting provisions done by Tata. "Why this deal is significant is because Tata Communications has tied up directly with the FOM. This gives them a great platform to further their brand. It will also show other sponsors how beneficial associating with F1 can be for a brand," felt Chandhok.
India sport viewership pattern | How Tata is wired into F1