It has been a roller coaster ride for Indian sports in the year 2008, after having won so many laurels. Abhinav Bindra won the country’s first-ever individual Olympics Games gold medal. Then Vijender Kumar and Sushil Kumar’s bronze medal at Beijing also gave the country a lot of joy, as did Saina Nehwal, Jeev Milkha Singh and Viswanathan Anand’s performances. And as always, there was a lot to cheer for on the cricket front as well, as Sachin Tendulkar broke Brian Lara’s record of the highest run-scorer in Test cricket history. And India’s victory over Australia is another commendable achievement. No joy matches the joy of defeating Australia after some recent hot and spicy events, which need no mention.
Undoubtedly, there is nothing bigger than cricket in India when it comes to sports, but now, with some of the recent achievements of Indian sports persons; the sorry state of affairs towards other sports in India is changing. The preferred partial treatment that cricket was enjoying since the last few decades seems to be finally nearing an end. The steps taken by BCCI, India’s richest sports board, is plausible, as the BCCI has made an announcement to donate $11 million annually to the National Sports Development Fund (NSDF), which was set up in 1998 by the Government, to mobilize resources for sports other than cricket, which is, by far, the most popular sport in the country. This fund will not only be used to assist prospective medal winners in boxing, judo, swimming and archery, but also help any other deserving sportsperson from any other discipline. This gesture, just when the country has brought accolades in the Beijing Olympics, is a welcome move, and will give a boost to sports which have been suffering due to lack of adequate finances.
Till some time back, the situation was so bad that Indian shooting officials were on the verge of pulling the team out from the Beijing Olympics before the sports ministry and private sponsors stepped in. The BCCI has, no doubt, played the role of a savior, for other orphan sports.
This way, the BCCI will surely help sports persons by providing the requisite facilities, resources and platform to the potential sports talent in India. Now one thing more that Indian sports needs is good marketers. The National Sports Development Fund (NSDF) has found a solution to its lack of adequate funds; now, it has enough money to bring out the allies of Dhoni’s and Tendulkar’s in other sports. What they need is a manager like Lalit Modi, under the leadership a personality like Sharad Pawar, to become a successful brand by associating with big corporate houses and thereby induce television viewer ship, spectators and sponsorship.
For instance, the moment one thinks of cricket, the first thing that comes to mind is Pepsi and vice versa. The same is with Reebok; thus Pepsi and Reebok have become household brand names, courtesy cricket, only because the benefits they get by being associated with cricket are enormous. And in turn, it helps cricket too, because they give sponsorships for ticket sales, media broadcast, websites, books, magazines and games, and helps in promoting cricket. Undoubtedly, marketing of cricket events is a big business in India and associating one self with cricket is the mantra for getting the maximum market shares and brand image.
Learning from cricket, the NSDF needs to strategize and associate different sports with such brands which are house hold names. They need to promote sports, not just as a good career or a profession for a person, but a good business proposition too. It’s challenging, but then, sports is all about turning every challenge in to an opportunity. What is required is good public relations and generating good will.
Firstly, using the media to its advantage, by giving special attention towards publishing the news of Indian sports achiever in headlines and on cover pages in news papers and magazines; not in some corner in the middle pages. Secondly, showing games live on different upcoming sports channels by self funding, but after proper promotion and advertisement, to raise TRP’s. Thirdly, establishing academies and clubs for people interested in that sport, with the help of public and private partnership. Fourthly, continuous live updates on news channels of games; the same way we have for cricket. Fifthly, to get promoters and advertisers who endorse sports stars in their product promotion, to create awareness about sports and to make the sports achiever a house hold name as a celebrity who features in advertisements.
Investment in brand building of sports in the beginning helps in reaping benefits later. It definitely requires funds in the beginning, but in long run, this will help sports. For the future of sports, it’s important that people start feeling the same pride in associating themselves with other sports; the way they feel in association with cricket.
After all, some day, the people will get tired of watching the same cricketer celebrities in each advertisement and Vijender Kumar is no less good looking than Irfan Pathan. Variety is the spice of life!