IPL's new partner raises the pitch
Last week the BCCI and Star India, a Murdoch-owned, TV-centric media conglomerate, announced the latter's association with IPL as an "official partner". The announcement indicated that Star India was just another sponsor of the tournament but didn't mention the significance - it had effectively entered the territory of one of their key competitors using the same platform and possibly changed the rules of the high-stakes advertising game.
Multi Screen Media are the IPL's official broadcasters through Max, their Hindi film channel, and their recently launched 24-hour sports channel. The broadcast rights deal, revised ahead of the 2009 IPL, is worth around Rs 900 crore ($165 milion) per year till 2017.
Star India, on the other hand, have tied up with IPL to primarily promote their flagship channel, Star Plus. "We saw a great opportunity to use this platform to communicate our brand promise of Rishta Wahi, Soch Nayi [same relationship, new idea]," Uday Shankar, CEO of Star India, said in a statement following the deal.
The significance of Star's entry into a property owned by one of its competitors goes beyond the boundary signage that was shown frequently and prominently on the screen during Wednesday's opening game. While not being seen as ambush marketing, it has created ripples in the media and entertainment industry. "We view it as an act of desperation by Star to be part of the biggest sporting entertainment event," Manjit Singh, CEO of MSM, told Mint, a business daily. "Star's decision to be part of IPL simply validates our strategy of having bagged the telecast rights".
Some industry experts are looking at the deal as an innovative method of branding. "It could be a trend-setting deal in Indian advertising, where a company enters into a property owned by one of its competitors," says Kiran Khalap, a brand consultant. "It is kind of a steal for Star to use a platform as big as IPL in such a manner."
The Star India deal is believed to be worth at least Rs 50 crore (approximately $10 million) per year. Even though both Star India and IPL have kept the form of the association under wraps, it is understood that the former plan to have characters from their 33-odd daily soaps attending most of the matches. After the first match against Kolkata Knight Riders and Delhi Daredevils on Wednesday night, one of the female actors from Star's soaps handed out a Star Plus Nayi Soch Award at Eden Gardens. In fact, the unique partnership has also left franchises wondering "whether the players will be asked to make a guest appearance in Star's reality shows, just like film stars".
MSM's tetchiness - as revealed by Singh's unusually aggressive statement - is understandable, say industry experts. "It may turn out to be a profitable move, but Star India's partnership with IPL is certainly not in a good taste," a media buyer said on condition of anonymity. "It may start a vicious war between television media majors, similar to the ambush marketing campaigns run by the cola giants over sponsorship of cricket events in the late 90s and early 2000s."
Khalap, however, says this isn't ambush marketing. "I can't call it an ambush. It's effective deployment of resources by a media conglomerate to use a property that's as big and reach out to the target audience in one more way."
Ad filmmaker Prahlad Kakkar speaks from a financial perspective. "Cricket is the biggest money-spinning factor in India. The IPL is the second-most followed cricket event after the World Cup," Kakkar says. "So it doesn't matter whether it's ambush or not. Any association with a property like IPL is going to surely help a brand in a much bigger way."
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo