India Rising

The signs have been there. From Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat to my own version: The (Sports Marketing) World Is Flat, it’s been clear that India was a country about to explode as a global leader from a sports perspective. Maybe not as participants – though that wouldn’t surprise me at all – but as viewers, and more importantly as consumers, the subcontinent (and the Indian diaspora) is poised to change the global face of sports marketing.

Anecdotal perhaps, but here are a couple of things to be aware of:

Earlier this year it was announced that YouTube would begin live streaming of select sports content. NFL football? English Premier League soccer? No, IPL cricket.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b1dXehhLVl8[/youtube]

Yes, that’s a 4 hour 30 minute YouTube video. Cricket, more akin to religion than sport in India, is exploding all over the world. When ESPN bought the stellar cricket website, cricinfo, not many people here in the States took notice. Or rather, not many in the sports marketing world took notice. But ESPN saw what was happening. They saw that during the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup cricinfo got it’s highest percentage of page views from India. No prizes for guessing that one, but which country came next? The United States. Shortly after the tournament ESPN announced the purchase, and even today the U.S. ranks fourth for audience percentage on cricinfo, trailing India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

As cricket’s popularity continues to grow internationally, India’s players, teams and sponsors figure to cash in and they’ll be able to thank YouTube for helping to spread the word. As of this writing, the IPL’s official YouTube page had more than 16 million channel views and more than 55,000 subscribers. By contrast, ESPN’s official YouTube channel has more than 33,000 subscribers.

Outside of soccer, cricket is perhaps the most popular sport in the world. If any other sport could make an argument it would be F1. Another sport in which India is poised to become a major player.

It started in 2005 when Narain Karthikeyan became the first Indian to secure a ride in F1. Leave it to consummate showman and legendary hustler Eddie Jordan to be the first to try to capitalize on India’s huge potential by giving Karthikeyan a chance. Ultimately, Karthikeyan may have been a pioneer, but he didn’t achieve breakout success. Since then an Indian-based team,Force India, fronted by billionaire Vijay Mallya, has joined the F1 circus and a new driver, Karun Chandhok, has also entered the F1 ranks (see this Forbes India post for more on Karun and F1 in India).

We know that Indians are fans of cricket, but what about F1? That’s not really their sport is it? Well, a good friend, Mansi Trivedi has recently been doing some research on the subject which she was kind enough to share with me. I was somewhat surprised after reading some interviews she did with F1 fans of Indian backgrounds. This certainly speaks to my ignorance, but they sounded like Italian, British or Brazilian F1 fans (what should they have sounded like?). They loved the drama, the speed and the technology. They watched with friends, had favorite drivers, and though most had never seen a race in-person, that was high on their ultimate wish lists. According to ESPN-Star Sports, there will be 22.6 million such fans for the entire 2010 F1 season in India. With the F1-branded iPhone mobile app seemingly an instant hit, the sport is well placed to take advantage of this new fan base and the technology they are using to stay connected to friends and family who are spread out across the globe.

Kunal Shah is calling 2010 The Year of Indian Motorsport and with a round of the 2011 F1 championships scheduled to take place in India at the Jaypee Group Circuit in Uttar Pradesh, expect F1, and sports in general, to continue to gain traction in India.

About author

Rick Liebling
Rick Liebling 8 posts

Rick Liebling is a veteran sports marketing professional based in the United States. Over his career he has worked with brands to help leverage sponsorships of FIFA and UEFA events, F1, cricket and just about every American-based sports league. You can follow him on Twitter (@RickLiebling) or connect via Linkedin.

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