Expensive branding, tight economic situation sends dims F1 enthusiasm
The second leg of the Indian Grand Prix, which kicks off at the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida today, has failed to carry forward last year's excitement. This despite the fact that ticket prices have been slashed substantially. Also, there are fewer brands on board this year
“This year, the overall buzz on F1 is low for two reasons. First, it is a very expensive proposition for the brands to associate with the event and this year, the whole economic situation is very tight. So, you will see either the global brands extending their partnership in India or those who have huge marketing budgets. Second, with fewer brand associations, the buzz will automatically go down,” Melroy D’souza, chief operating officer of PMG, the sports marketing agency, said.
In fact, the organisers are still sitting with a huge number of unsold tickets. Jaypee Group, the organiser, claimed to have sold about 58,000 tickets so far, excluding the over-the-counter sales that could happen on the race days, according to a Jaypee Group spokesperson. The company had sold 95,000 tickets (full capacity) last year.
“Last year, people from all over the country — Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai — wanted to come, as it was the first event. This year, partly because of slowdown and partly because of sky-high air fares, the inflow of enthusiasts from other cities would be much lower,” added an analyst and F1 enthusiast who did not wish to be named. “In India, where cricket is religion, other sports may not have that much success”.
D’'Souza agreed, “F1 is a niche sport and initially, a lot of spectators came to experience it. Now that they have got the feel of it, only the die-hard F1 fans will come this year. It is too early for F1 to become a culture in India.”
Airtel, title sponsor of the event, is upbeat but participation of global sponsors is low this year. Vodafone, lead sponsor of the McLaren team, has surely done its bit pre-event.
A senior media planner cites another reason for the less demand for F1 tickets: “F1 is more exciting to watch on TV than live. Sitting in a box does not give you different camera shots and running commentary. Hence, I will prefer to watch the event on TV.”
This explains why the scene is slightly different for the official broadcaster ESPN STAR Sports, which has sold almost all its slots early his year, based on the success of the F1 debut in 2011. “We are already sold out for the entire season. Petronas, Samsung and Vodafone have come on board as sponsors on the live telecast. Another 14 advertisers, including MRF, BPCL, Pernod Ricard, Sony India, Sistema Shyam Teleservices Limited, Bharti Cellular, Total, Exxon Mobil, Malaysia Tourism, UBS, Singapore GP, Q Net, India Tourism and DHL, have come on board as spot buyers. We are delighted with the response from advertisers,” says Sanjay Kailash, executive vice-president, ESPN Software India Pvt Ltd.
Last year, there was a spurt of 28% in the reach of F1 compared to the 2010 season. The 2011 season got an overall reach of 32.7 million, compared to 25.5 million for the 2010 season. The spurt primarily came from the introduction of Indian GP. The live telecast of the first edition of India Grand Prix generated TV ratings at least four times higher than those generated by the next best GP, Kailash adds.
Obviously, India is of great importance because it is a huge potential market and companies are keen on getting a foot in India, according to Bas Leinders, an F1 driver-turned analyst. “By sponsoring in F1, not only will they have a presence in India but also in Korea, Singapore, China, Malaysia and Japan. So, even if F1 is not so popular in those countries at the moment, it will grow every year,” he added.
There should be a long-term plan in terms of infrastructure, education and promotion, feels Adrian Atkinson, owner and founder of Sportfolio PR, a sport and entertainment sponsorship activation firm that has worked in F1. “F1 is also a showcase for the region and the country as a whole. Singapore uses F1 as a ‘destination marketing’ promotion,” he added.
Research firm Mindshift Metrics, which had conducted an analysis on the brand associations during the first edition of F1 in India, said this year the campaigns on social media, mainly on Facebook, were dominated by telecom companies Airtel and Vodafone. Other active campaigners included Sahara Force India, Monster India, Johnnie Walker and Renault.
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