About 12 years back maybe 13, when Dhyan Chand National Stadium in Delhi was merely National Stadium, Indian Hockey was spiraling its way to what many illustrate a point from where there is only one direction, up. At that time there were 2 small Cricket grounds just outside this stadium. They did not seem like they were meant to be Cricket grounds to start with, until they were for commercial reasons. On 7th of every month, there were cricket trials for coaching at these grounds, under the jurisdiction of Sports Authority of India. Those kids who were selected had the opportunity to learn from coaches who had trained the likes of Jadeja, Nikhil Chopra and many Delhi Ranji players. Regardless of Indian Cricket team’s success, cricket was at the absolute peak of its popularity and young lads not just from Delhi but all around North India thronged to the stadium with dreamy eyes. In sharp contrast, the astro turfed, Field Hockey stadium had a lonely existence. One would rarely find a soul or sticks there as the sprinklers watered it merely out of duty. The cricketer’s would often run circles around it to warm up and would often be commanded to watch some state and international games, for free of course. If not for those in whites these games would have no spectators.
In years to come, Cricket’s popularity in the country took epic proportions and Hockey hit rock bottom, plagued with administrative wrangles failing to qualify for important world events and winning few and far between. Surely, from this point on one would imagine that there would be only one direction, up. The World Series Hockey an IPL like league with city based franchisee is being conducted by the estranged Indian Hockey Federation and Nimbus. There claim being that they will invigorate Hockey having bought into its stock at the lowest.
Except that, so far it has been packaged below averaged and has received a dismal response.
Here’s evaluating the marquee event:
- World Series Hockey is a US$2 million hockey competition patronized by Bridgestone.
- Franchisee model with 8 teams from major cities in the country participating. Punjab has 2 teams bearing in mind the popularity of the sport in the state.
- 17-and-a-half minutes quarters instead of half’s have been introduced to present more opportunities to sponsors and advertisers at the excuse of giving more rest to players during a game.
- Biggest Prize money in any Hockey competition anywhere in the world. Category of prizes encouraging team play and individual brilliance. In addition there are incentives for Indian players who perform at the national level/on the Olympic stage etc.
- Tickets are reasonably priced, starting at Rs. 49
Duality of federations is severely affecting the players and the sport as whole in the country. Hockey India (the body recognized by the International governing body) Vs Indian Hockey Federation has already lead to postponement of the series and pull out of a number of stellar first team performers.
2. Lack of a System to develop the sport at grass root level
Let’s say one fine morning a young kid wakes up with a hockey in his hand
What would he do with it? He’ll probably think it’s a version of Harry Potter’s wand. His folks will not be able to guide him, as in all probability National Stadium will be very far from where they live. Further away will be the idea that one could live a half decent middle life being a professional field hockey player. This if the kid wakes up in Delhi. What if he does in Gorakhpur?
In my entire schooling I picked up and dribbled a hockey ball once! And I did 10 schools in 8 cities/towns.
3. Knowledge of the game
One evening while watching a game with 5 other guys, mind you sporty guys with a Sikh thrown in the mix, our combined knowledge of the game wasn’t sufficient to understand the nuances of a fairly technical sport. The organizers and either federations cannot assume that their target audience (youth apparently) understands the difference between a penalty corner and a penalty stroke and if they cannot figure what’s going on why should they give a damn? Because once a upon a time we used to win Olympic golds. “Phir Dil do Hockey ko” it seems. While you’re on television your competition is not just other sports, it’s also Channel V Splits villa and MTV roadies. If I don’t get it I’ll switch.
Awareness/knowledge is the first step to genuine interest and as we stand in the middle of the tournament all anybody know’s of it is that Sunil Shetty is the brand ambassador and Saif Ali Khan was at the opening ceremony promoting Agent Vinod.
Compare this to the international precedent in the same sport:
European Hockey League
- Supported by the recognized body European Hockey Federation
- Politically clean
- Promotes grass root development of sport via lower tournaments that feed into this premier cup,ensuring a steady supply of talent and continuously improving domestic system. A win-win
- The system ensures following and therefore corporate interest, ABN Amro and Volvo being sponsors
On the other hand, the WSH follows a top down approach, creating a rebel exhibition tournament, perhaps with good intent but with no real foundations. This is an extremely short sighted approach to creating, even a commercial property. It has still managed to acquire a few sponsors.
Nimbus Sport, the marketing agency for the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF), had announced that it plans to invest INR 250 crores (US$56.5 million) in the inaugural World Series Hockey. All that money seems to have been scooped into perpetuity. There seems like no money’s been invested into overcoming the challenges stated above. Add to that the marketing effort’s lack imagination.
Neo Sports, whose parent company Nimbus Sport is the exclusive broadcast partner. Smells of the Indian Cricket League, the first rebellious T20 league in India that cost Zee TV dearly.
It’s not all that glum though, they’ve managed a few things just fine –
– the games will be during prime-time, and there will be no conflict with any live cricket
– Bridgestone, Imperial Blue and Vodafone have been roped in as sponsors
– The quality of Hockey has been great with 4 quarters of 17 and a half minutes each making space for advertisers and enough on-field energy
It is however disappointing that none of the sponsors have produced any tournament related mainline communication.
“We have been associated with marquee sporting properties like IPL and Formula One,” said Anuradha Aggarwal, senior vice president of consumer insights and communications at Vodafone. “There is a definite upswing in terms of awareness and sentiments for our national game. World Series Hockey has tremendous long term potential and we would like to create interesting and engaging outreach programmes for our subscribers around this property.”
So far though, it seems more like testing the waters, feet first.
From a branding perspective the logo is smart and representative of the sport and the country the event is being organized in. Of course, these days all sports logos tend to adopt the famous NBA format.
Tag Line, “Pheer dil do hockey ko” is a desperate appeal trying to leverage a legacy most of their target audience does not care about.
They have been promoting the players especially the captains which is probably because the team owners aren’t high profile enough. Good thing nevertheless, we are a country that worships individuals more than teams and the league will have to build its own demi gods.
Even though we do not have the TRP information there are other means to find out how World Series Hockey has fared amongst its primary target audience, the young and active:
- Youtube views – The top WSH video has only about 4700 views, 2 of them are mine.
- @WSHtweets twitter handle for the series has 502 followers
- Facebook is certainly better, with about 60,000 page likes. More importantly, the page seems engaged, people are commenting on most updates. It is one of the surprising positives in their effort to market the event. They’re using Booshaka to identify and publicize their top fans. Whether these fans are being gratified is not apparent. They certainly should be. FB is the most mass of the new media so even though this traction is good, the lack of any notable twitter exploits implies WSH has not yet been adopted by the opinion leaders….I mean why no celebrity tweets??? These are usually lapped up by traditional media. What if Sharukh Khan had said “Chak De, Delhi Wizards!!”? or something ridiculous to that affect.
Suniel Shetty’s quote about him “not missing Tendulkar’s 100×100” was more popular than anything he’s been saying since the WSH opening ceremony which was a disaster with an interning/drugged out cameraman at the prompt.
There should be two primary focus areas –
- Educating the audience about the sport
- Selling the event as an action packed thriller, something to the effect of “Feel the pace”/“Feel your game”(if you want to get too patriotic about it)
Better 360 degree ad campaign with more focus on OOHs and events at high youth traffic areas.
- Let people take penalty shots at a padded up goal keeper or be the goal keeper themselves
- How quickly can you get into a hockey goalies gear is another simple yet fun option
- Viral video taking on cricket (funny) and suggesting to the audience as to why Hockey makes more sense. Don’t explicitly demean the other game but ride its popularity in a guerrilla way.
- Free lessons at the venue during breaks.
- Summer is round the corner, organize and enroll kids for summer camps at the venue.Incentivize them by offering scholarships to potential talent (travel to another country perhaps).
- Run little competitions, give out quirky prizes.
- Volunteers in stands handing out fliers about:
- Rules of the game
- Legends of the game
- Little hockey anecdotes
- Doing a little hockey quiz and liberally rewarding winners so it becomes a talking point when they get home. These can extend online.
- There should be extensive campaigning at schools and young kids should be encouraged to come and watch the game
Most of this harder work is being short shifted in favor of the glamour this sport cannot afford at this stage. Without the affluence of Cricket, if Hockey attempts an IPL the vulgar noise around it would be the death knell of Hockey instead of being chin chin to a new beginning.
We believe that the organizers need to make sure-passes not unnecessary drives, unless they want this to be the last quarter, EVER.