Published in Jan-Feb 2023
The exponential growth of technology in the last two decades and the commercialisation of sports globally has opened up opportunities for financial gains for everyone involved; athletes, team owners, sport governing bodies, advertisers and corporations.
In Pakistan, there is really only one sport that draws eyeballs at a scale to interest large corporate sponsors – cricket (why is hockey still our national sport?!). Cricket is what makes all sorts of companies come and flock in search of sponsorship opportunities that involve tournaments. They include news channels, real estate, consumer goods and manufacturing. However, the one industry that pumps the most money into it is the banking and insurance sector.
So why are banks pumping billions into cricket sponsorships and could this change going forward? Let’s go over some facts first.
At the end of 2022, HBL retained their rights to become the title sponsor of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) until 2025. The PSL is the most watched domestic sports tournament in the country and the agreement to name it the ‘HBL PSL’ is worth over $22 million a year, at least until 2025. (With the number of real estate sponsorships going into cricket, I would not be surprised if it is called Bahria Town PSL in 2026.)
It is worth noting that although the most recent edition of the HBL PSL was watched on TV by 75% (almost 150 million people) of the country, there seems to be a shift taking place when it comes to the preferred medium of watching sports as streaming platforms are introduced (for example, ARY Zap).
In terms of the teams playing in the PSL, Bank Islami is currently the official bank sponsor for the team that represents Pakistan’s biggest city – the Karachi Kings. Bank of Punjab is the bank sponsor for the Lahore Qalandars and Soneri Bank currently sponsors the Quetta Gladiators.
Earlier this year, the first rights deal to name a stadium in Pakistan was signed and the National Stadium (Pakistan’s largest cricket stadium) will now be called the National Bank Cricket Arena. Furthermore, Bank Alfalah recently signed an agreement with the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) to sponsor school tournaments aimed at helping groom young talent. Faysal Bank has entered into a similar agreement with the PCB to support the PCB Grassroots Cricket Development Programme.
It is difficult to accurately determine the ROI from sponsor logos on shirts or at stadiums and marketing executives typically justify these investments by talking about qualitative factors, such as growing brand equity, improving customer loyalty and cultural relevance. In other words, putting the brand name in front of the most eyeballs in the expectation that they will consciously or subconsciously be converted into customers is the game banks are playing. These sponsorships have been an integral part of corporate marketing strategies since the advent of TV and most recently, the internet, which can take brand messaging to new heights.
From a traditional marketing point of view, this makes complete sense. The brand name is not only amplified within a massive TV audience; it is also shared countless times through the internet. However, there is a key difference between the two mediums – TV does not do what the internet can: convert customers instantly and enrich customer data.
In this context, it is worth noting that although the most recent edition of the HBL PSL was watched on TV by 75% (almost 150 million people) of the country, there seems to be a shift taking place when it comes to the preferred medium of watching sports as streaming platforms are introduced (for example, ARY Zap). With almost 90% of the population (190 million) having access to a mobile phone and the rise in internet banking transactions, there seems to be a real opportunity to draw in the unbanked population using cricket as a tool. For context, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) estimates that there are only 13 million internet banking users while there are almost 60 million bank accounts (for perspective, Pakistan’s population is over 220 million).
There are a number of ways to take advantage of the eyeballs that cricket attracts to encourage financial inclusion and attract customer behaviour data for the banking industry. One example is incentivising the desired behaviour through promotional codes. For example, a promo code displayed during a cricket match can be used to claim a monetary reward on the first online transaction or by inviting family and friends to open an account. Another example: as streaming becomes the preferred medium to watch cricket, anyone with an existing bank account (with the sponsoring bank), gets free access to premium content. Traditional banks have still not taken advantage of gamification to acquire or retain customers and engaging with audiences who watch cricket would be an interesting experiment.
The purpose of this article is not to give ideas on how the internet can be used for financial inclusion; it is to highlight the opportunities available to large financial institutions that are already investing millions of dollars annually but with no concrete way of knowing how these investments impact their bottom line.
The internet comes with huge opportunities for advertisers to get their brand across to even wider audiences, especially by allowing brands to take advantage of touch points like never before and using social media strategies to convert and retain customers. Cricket in Pakistan is not only a lucrative opportunity for traditional banks, but it will also not be long before digital banking institutions like SadaPay, Finja and NayaPay find creative ways to use cricket as a tool to reach the wider public and bank the unbanked as they enter the mainstream.
Arafat Mir is Global Head, Sales Development, S&P Global. email@example.com