In an exclusive conversation with Siddharth Chury, Sr. Director, Licensing and Merchandising, NBA India sheds light how Indian market is evolving for non cricket IPs.
What potential do you see in licensing out a non-cricket IP in a country that has been known to be obsessed with cricket?
Well, India is a cricket crazy country, but definitely not a cricket-only country. Over the past decade Indian youth are actively looking for sports other than cricket. Not only are they playing, but also consuming & following a wide variety of other sports. Recreational spaces, leisure time, and attention spans are all shrinking in the country. The youth are looking for fast-paced sports which can be played in a smaller place in a shorter amount of time. Which is why basketball and turf football are the fastest growing sports these days. Given this change in the youth itself, it’s no longer difficult to sell other sports to them. The country has made a conscious shift towards becoming a multi-sport country, which is why if you see Khelo India initiative by the government of India & the national games, that’s also promoting the concept of playing multiple sports. So, it’s no longer a single sport country and no longer a challenge to sell the NBA to cricket fans because there are enough of them looking for sports other than cricket. Meanwhile, licensing & merchandising is one of the top three revenue streams for the NBA in India, but to us it means a lot more than just revenue. Merchandise is an essential extension of the NBA brand, and a means to closely engage with millions of Indian fans and those who are just learning about the NBA, as a part of their day to day lives. In a way, licensing is another way for the NBA to grow the share of non-cricket business in the Indian sports industry.
What are your immediate plans to market NBA in India?
Our marketing is usually centred around tentpole properties of the NBA, with the objective to create more awareness, buzz, and consumption. This season we launched a new flagship show, NBA Saturday Morning Live (SML). Based on direct feedback from our fans and insights from our broadcast & digital partners, SML was conceptualised as a much more casual, younger & more vibrant show. A fun & energetic way of presenting basketball, coupled with new celebrity appearances every week, makes SML the most entertaining property for existing NBA fans & brings in new fans into our ever-growing fanbase. The annual NBA All-Star weekend in February continues to be the biggest showcase of NBA’s top players. 2019 will see NBA All-Star hosted by the Charlotte Hornets & their team owner, NBA Legend Michael Jordan. March will see another key initiative take centre-stage – Primetime Games. For 5 Sundays, NBA teams will play games in the morning in the US, to enable live broadcast in the primetime slot in India. These games will be heavily promoted via wraparound shows, influencers and viewing parties, driving the culture of social viewing for the NBA in India. These will lead straight into the NBA Playoffs [knock-out stage of the season] and the NBA Finals in June. Apart from this, we continue to grow our Hindi broadcast (nearly 80 games this season) offering for relevant regions in the country. Games with Hindi commentary alone reached 40 million viewers last season, and we look to growing that even more. At times, some of our big & strategic licensing partnerships, and key launches thereof, define our marketing efforts. One of the biggest new partnerships the NBA launched in 2018 was our NBA Fantasy game with Dream11, India’s largest fantasy gaming company. This started with the objective to engage with existing NBA fans in a stronger way. Fantasy games give them a chance to play along, choose their players, build their team and win based on their performance. To our delight, not only did NBA fans take up the game as another unique way to engage with the NBA, but close to half a million fantasy gamers in other sports also adopted the new NBA game. Another great initiative was the launch of NBA Sneakers, in partnership with Jabong & Myntra. We identified a clear need, that the millions of NBA fans in India are looking to wear their love for the NBA casually, off the court. While we had addressed this need earlier with NBA Fanwear apparel, our NBAStore.in partner Jabong shared insights of a huge demand for NBA footwear as well. This led to the launch of a vibrant new range of NBA casual sneakers for the first time in India. The sales so far have exceeded expectations, and we’re looking to a 3x growth in 2019.
What are the immediate categories that you are looking to expand into?
2019 will see a huge expansion in NBA Fanwear apparel, increasing its presence in premium department stores across India and a significant focus in the launch of our new kids wear apparel. With more than 6 million youth fanbase already in the country, we are finally equipped to cater the growing demand of our young fans. For the same fanbase, we’re also keen to expand in the Back-To-School and Toys & Games categories.We believe there’s a lot more scope in the mobile gaming space that we haven’t yet fully tapped, and we continue to engage with gaming partners in India to bring new NBA games to life.
Recently, NBA has inked a promotional deal with McDonald’s. What has been the idea behind this deal?
With aligned objectives for both NBA and McDonald’s, the main aim of the association was to convey the message of encouraging kids to be more active, participate in sports and to step out and play to have fun and create happy childhood memories. The partnership has delivered as per expectations. McDonald’s created a completely new family meal bundle for this association, and the responses has been truly overwhelming. Consumers get an official NBA basketball with the purchase of a family meal and are encouraged to go out & play together as a family or with friends. Select stores also delivered interactive NBA Zones featuring VR content for fans to experience.
How, according to you, has the Indian market evolved for sports brands?
Sports in general has grown tremendously in India over the past 10-12 years. Be it participation, consumption, professional leagues & tournaments, sportswear sales, etc.; there has been growth on all fronts. Even in the licensing space, licensing in India historically used to be only entertainment licensing; but over the last few years, sports licensing has emerged as another strong pillar. Football leagues, basketball leagues, other sports properties from the US & Europe have been exposing India to their content, building their fanbase and eventually have started establishing their licensing programs. Interestingly, global leagues & teams across football, basketball, tennis, etc. have a much bigger licensing program in our country than our home grown local sports leagues. We believe on one hand this is due to the higher aspiration & “cool” factor of the global properties among consumers, and on the other hand due to their more robust licensing processes & guidelines built through years of experience.
What are the bottlenecks in the domain of sports licensing in India, both from the per say of market and the licensees?
A huge bottleneck I see in India is the dearth of appropriate conduits between the brand & its consumers. We have extensive data to show huge NBA affinity and fandom in the country. We want to reach the fans, and the fans want to reach us – but often the middle men (licensees, distributors, retailers) don’t truly know the pulse of the end consumer and don’t always share in the overall vision of the brand. Correcting these perceptions & overcoming these barriers is one of our biggest challenges in India.
What is your take on the experiential licensing? Are you planning to foray into any other non-conventional category after NBA academy?
Experiential licensing is a great way to extend a brand beyond the conventional tried and tested categories of licensing. Many successful global brands today have origins in completely different categories compared the categories they currently dominate. This would not have been possible if that brand hadn’t at some point in its journey decided to spread its wings. The NBA is unique in a way that its global appeal already transcends well beyond the actual sport of basketball. NBA players often are very successful movie stars, singers & musicians, fashion icons & media moguls. Even the league itself is seen not just as a sports league but as a holistic entertainment property. All this helps us explore a number of brand extensions. In India, there are several categories we are exploring, including branded retail stores, cafes/diners, and NBA playzones. We have a number of successful partnerships in these categories across the world, and we will look to replicate these in India.