Aurora Magazine

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Can the Pakistan Super League get its marketing act together?

Published in Nov-Dec 2015

The PSL will have an uphill task if it is to survive – and much will depend on how it's marketed.
Illustration by Creative Unit.
Illustration by Creative Unit.

Cricket, like most other sports has become a business and a multibillion dollar business at that. Although I am a purist ruing the loss of the authenticity of the gentlemen’s game, many people hold (and I am not saying that they are totally wrong) that sport needs to be run like a business. Fair enough. Financial statements matter. What is not right is the inequitable distribution of wealth; just like in any other walk of life.

Here are some numbers.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) has an annual net income of $128 million after tax (Source: ICC Annual Report 2014-15).

A projection of the next eight years’ profit stream by the ICC shows that a total of $2.58 billion will be distributed to its members. If there were no ‘big three’, every full member would receive $117 million from that income. Now, based on the new system, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) alone will receive $568 million out of the total, taking its share from four to 22%, while Pakistan, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, West Indies and South Africa are set to collectively lose $162 million.

Contrast this with how TV money was distributed among the English Football Clubs in the 2012-13 season. Queens Park Rangers (QPR), which finished last still banked £39.75 million, roughly two thirds of what Manchester United (the champions) made (£60.8 million). United is a global brand, with millions of followers across the globe, while QPR are not even the fifth most popular club in London.

So what has given the BCCI so much power? Apart from being the cricket administrator for the largest cricket playing country in the world, a lot of credit has to go to the Indian Premier League (IPL). Forbes and The Economist have run lengthy articles on the business side of IPL, showing how it has introduced an unprecedented commercial element into Indian cricket.

Sponsorship money, broadcasting rights and on ground activities rake in millions of dollars every year. Although the success of the IPL led to the creation of other leagues – Caribbean Premier League, Sri Lankan Premier League, Bangladesh Premier League – none of them were able to replicate IPL’s success. Why? Because of the sheer size and mass appeal of IPL in terms of viewership and consumerism, thanks to a large Indian population and a growing economy. Now the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has announced the constitution of a Pakistan Super League (PSL).

Based purely on the business generated by the IPL, the PSL will not even come close to what the IPL brings to the BCCI and Indian cricket. So will a ‘me-too’ product be able to establish itself in cricketing as well as commercial terms? The answer is that it will be an uphill task with a lot of intricacies.

With the tournament played in the UAE, rusty international players signing up for it, delays in its inception and controversies (match fixing, corruption and sponsorship withdrawals), one can only question the timing and the logic of the idea itself; at best the PSL may turn out to be a glorified version of local T20 competitions.

Despite this, Sheikh opines that the PSL is still not a completely lost proposition.

“Brands such as HBL, PIA and UBL can still pump money into the PSL in the form of franchises and sponsorships; they have an established association with cricket and their own cricket teams. Plus they can always play a patriotism card.”

Behind all major sport events, there is a successful marketing campaign. From De Ghuma Ke to All in One Rhythm, sport events have to create a strong identity which becomes the reason why brands want to be associated with them.

Marketers in Pakistan see things differently. For example in the view of Shariq Mustafa, Regional Director Sales & Distribution, Telenor:- “the success of the IPL was based on multiple factors, which are missing here. Most significantly the fact that people will not be able to enjoy the game in Pakistan limits the chances of the PSL becoming a huge success. However, I think that the first edition of the PSL is still worth investing marketing dollars in, if only for the novelty factor. Even if the title sponsorship of the tournament proves too expensive, media mileage can still be gained through spots and sponsorships.”

The success of the IPL was based on a well-orchestrated execution. From the glamour brought by Bollywood to branding such as DLF Maximum and Pepsi IPL, their marketing team was able to create a strong product and the PSL will need to take a few learnings from their Indian counterparts. So far the logo and the launch event have been underwhelming and the marketing since has not been a show-stopper. Nonetheless, it’s still not all over.

The key will also be how many revenue streams the PSL will be able to generate. As Sheikh says, “the costs are huge and these cannot be covered only from gate money and broadcasting rights. There will have to be merchandising, franchise fees and more. From the broadcaster’s point of view, the offering will have to be attractive enough to gather sponsors.”

Although the sporting side of such events is always important, behind all major sport events, there is a successful marketing campaign. From De Ghuma Ke to All in One Rhythm, sport events have to create a strong identity which becomes the reason why brands want to be associated with them. Seen from this perspective, it will be very tough for the PSL to become a commercial success in the first year. However, they can still set the stage for bigger tournaments to come if they play their cards well. The PCB needs to step outside the crease and take the challenge head-on. Meanwhile, let’s wait for our own ‘Zong Chowka’ or a ‘TCS Run Out’.

Sami Qahar is a Dubai-based Pakistani looking for excuses to write. Aurora gives him a few.