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Indian TV viewers and sponsors bet big on sports in 2016—and it wasn’t just cricket and men

Reuters/Marcelo del Pozo
India’s PV Sindhu at the 2016 Olympics
By Suneera Tandon
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The year 2016 was big for sports in India with Olympic wins and the T-20 World Cup getting locals to tune into their television sets and mobile phones.

It was an even bigger year for sports-related sponsorship, including team sponsorships, rights for on-air and on-ground advertising, franchise fees, endorsements and media spends. The total amount spent on sports sponsorship in 2016 was Rs6,400 crore ($941 million), up 19.3% from Rs5,363 crore ($825 million) in 2015, a report by ESP properties, part of media and advertising company GroupM, and media company SportzPower shows. Sports sponsorship accounted for 11.5% of the overall advertising expenditure in 2016. The previous year, it was 10.4%.

While cricket continued to draw the biggest sponsorship and advertising dollars, it declined marginally as investors paid more attention to other leagues.

Kabaddi kabaddi

Kabaddi, a popular sport played across India, emerged a big winner in 2016, with brands pumping a lot of money into the game.

The fourth season of the Pro-Kabaddi League and the Kabaddi World Cup, held last October in Ahmedabad, saw a massive surge in sponsorship. Backed by brands such as Patanjali, Amazon, and Thums Up, the sport raked in Rs122 crore in sponsorship money in 2016, the report says. That’s over three times the money it received in 2015.

Of course, that’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the money spent cricket. Almost 70% of all sponsorship and advertising expenditure went to this one sport, with the Indian skipper Virat Kohli earning the most for endorsements. His deals with brands such as Pepsi and Puma rose to Rs279.3 crore, from Rs264.4 crore in 2015, according to the report.

While cricket sponsorship did decline slightly as advertisers increased their spending on other relatively new sporting leagues, it is expected to pick up this year. Earlier this month, Chinese smartphone maker OPPO spent over Rs1,070 crore to grab sponsorship rights for the Indian cricket team for a five-year period.

Olympics win

The Rio de Janeiro Olympics had most Indians glued to their television screens, taking in the amazing feats in gymnastics, badminton, and wrestling in particular. Sportswomen such as Dipa Karmakar, PV Sindhu, and Sakshi Malik came home to massive endorsement deals, on the back of their impressive performances.

Thanks to Sindhu and Malik, non-cricket endorsements for the year grew by 83.5% to Rs77.1 crore.

Sindhu, who won a silver medal at the Olympics, signed up to endorse six brands by the end of 2016. She also locked in a three-year deal worth up to Rs50 crore with sports management company Baseline in September, the highest amount ever given to a non-cricket sportsperson.

Amid the rise of female Olympians, the audience for sports is also evolving. For instance, in 2016, women and kids formed the biggest audience for the Indian Premier League cricket tournament.

“What has helped is the way sporting events, both cricket and non-cricket, are being packaged by broadcasters…they are a lot about entertainment, and that is helping them get a whole new set of audiences,” Vinit Karnik, business head at ESP Properties, told Quartz.

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