Global payments company, Mastercard, has been deeply invested in sports globally with its sponsorship deals ranging from soccer to tennis and cricket to baseball to e-sports.
Mastercard is now aggressively looking to ride the Indian sports wave to broaden its strategic outreach in the country. The brand recently surprised everyone by replacing PayTM to become BCCI’s new Title Sponsor for the international tournaments played in India, even though the deal is for six months. With this, Mastercard has also become the title sponsor for all domestic cricket tournaments like Ranji Trophy, Irani Trophy, Duleep Trophy, as well as junior cricket tourneys organised by the BCCI.
This is also for the first time Mastercard has entered into Indian cricket sponsorship, although ace cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni has been its brand ambassador for long.
In a conversation with exchange4media, Rajamannar spoke on how sports sponsorship fits into Mastercard’s larger plans for brand building and growth within India, and what are his marketing plans around the sponsorship deal with the BCCI.
You replaced PayTm as the title sponsor for international matches and domestic matches organized by BCCI. Why did you choose cricket sponsorship, and why now?
Cricket is the second largest sport in the world in terms of fan following after soccer. Our strategy is to really go behind sports and areas where people are really passionate about, and curate and create experiences that are truly priceless for our customers and consumers. We call it “experiential marketing strategy”. Since 2013, when I took over as Chief Marketing Officer, we pivoted our strategy away from advertising-led marketing to an experience-led marketing strategy. We identified areas where people are passionate about sports, music, films, philanthropy, sustainability, fashion, arts and culture and so on.
In each of these areas, we started acquiring assets to curate experiences for our customers, which money cannot buy. Sports is an ocean, we are the largest golf sponsors, and we are sponsoring Australian and French Open Tennis. We are sponsoring soccer around the world, including UEFA, and women’s soccer; Lionel Messi is our brand ambassador.
Cricket is something which we have been studying for a while. We are fortunate that this opportunity came along to associate ourselves with the BCCI.
I have grown up in India, and have experienced the people’s passion for cricket back then. It’s delightful to see the same spirit and passion for cricket to date. This makes a lot of sense to involve with cricket and we feel very blessed to get this opportunity to sponsor these events.
What are your short-term and larger objectives with this partnership?
We want to make Mastercard a beloved brand for which people have an affinity. When we get involved with consumers in authentic fashion in an area they are passionate about, they start liking it. We call it ‘brand love’ and ‘brand affection’. These drive consumers’ choices and preferences towards the brand as things progress.
India is one of the highest priority countries for us and is extremely incredible. India’s population is very young, hence the future of the world is India. No company can afford to ignore India. Cricket is a passion in India. This is an opportunity for us to be involved with both of us. We wish to create priceless experiences and possibilities. Our brand statement itself is “Connecting everyone to priceless opportunities”.
How much ROI are you expecting from this collaboration, especially since it’s for six months only?
We have taken whatever is available. We look at ROI in three different ways: First, is it enhancing the brand in a measurable way? Secondly, is it driving business today and tomorrow? And thirdly, is it giving a competitive advantage in the market? The first two are quantifiable. We haven’t started activation with the BCCI yet. Hence, whatever ROI we are projecting (with BCCI sponsorship) is very positive and comparable to some of our best assets in the world.
How will you measure ROI considering the matches are spread from domestic to international levels?
Measuring ROI is not very easy. We have acquired many analytics companies, which help us to measure the ROI and optimize our investment. Unlike many other brands, we have one significant advantage – we can see data in real-time. We know where people are spending. If transactions are going up in the city where a tournament is happening, and in other areas transactions are low, that is a reasonable indication to understand the ROI.
What are your marketing plans around this deal? How do you plan to activate this deal with BCCI?
At present, we are in the process of brainstorming and our local teams will finalize everything soon.
What touchpoints are you looking at?
It would be a 360-degree campaign with holistic touch points. We have to choose the areas that fit our objectives. We have got a broad idea as of now. We are still working on the rest of the things.
Mastercard has been sponsoring the Delhi Golf Club Open. You have also signed up golfer Shiv Kapur and Anirban Lahiri as brand ambassadors. What is your strategy behind supporting Indian golf which is an elite game with a niche audience in India?
You need different brushes for different strokes. We are supporting golf and badminton to widen our spectrum and up our image to connect with consumers who are passionate about these sports. Cricket cuts across the entire spectrum of audiences. We need mass appeal with cricket but we would also look at a more affluent audience of golf. We sponsor ice hockey in Canada and sailing in New Zealand and so on to widen our portfolio.
Apart from cricket and golf, you recently partnered with badminton stars Lakshya Sen, Kidambi Srikanth, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty. How does sports sponsorship fit into Mastercard’s larger plan for brand building and growth in India?
We focus on experiential marketing strategy and passion-based methodology. Indians are passionate about sports, music and films. The idea is if you do something meaningful and authentic in these areas people deeply care about, brand ratings and perceptions will go up. We have tried this again and again across multiple countries.
When we started working on this strategy, we were at 87; today we are ranked at 12 among the most valuable brands across industries. We are occupying customers’ minds and hearts as we cut through the clutter, and stand out for something meaningful. This strategy has paid us well in the last 9-10 years.
Are sportspersons far more convincing and trustworthy compared to other celebrities such as film stars when it comes to promoting financial products?
If you look at consumer psychology, you will understand that consumers don’t trust anyone only in the context of the category they endorse. They trust the person, they trust their recommendations for any product and category.
We have Hugh Jackman, an Australian movie star, as our brand ambassador. It is our most successful campaign. Although he is not a finance guy, he is a trusted personality. There is a multiplier effect if a sports person or a film star is involved with a brand but at the base level, people have their own reasons to believe those persons and the brands they endorse.
I asked this question because most of your brand ambassadors in India are sportspersons.
We have Anil Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor as our brand ambassadors. Late actor Irrfan Khan too was our ambassador.
Do you have any plans to support Indian football as well?
We are supporting football in many parts of the world. If there is any opportunity which gives us higher ROI, we would absolutely take it up.
Indian sports have emerged as a big ad revenue generator. Experts estimate that sports ad revenue could be around $1 billion and can go up to $3 billion in the next five years. What is your prediction?
After the pandemic, there have been tremendous efforts to organise live events. People are going back to attending these events. Sports organizers are being thoughtful about how to bring their revenue back to pre-Covid values. People are dedicating more hours to watching live sports. Advertisers would like to reach those audiences. This momentum will continue. At the same time, there are some global events like inflation, the Russia-Ukraine war, and threat of another wave of the pandemic. However, the trend is positive, both in India and around the world. Media companies and TV channels are likely to benefit from this momentum.
Are you looking for more sponsorship opportunities in Indian cricket?
Sponsorship is just one way to connect and communicate with your consumers. There are so many other ways to connect with them, even independent of sponsorship. For the right opportunity, we are always open.