KOLKATA: Pakistan has trailed its eastern neighbour in corporatising sports and roping in sponsors, says a top sports marketer in the country who blames its various federations and the government in equal measure for this.
“Sponsorship in sports is still a far cry in Pakistan,” rues Naveed Haider Khan, marketing consultant to Pakistan Football Federation (PFF), which has had some success in hosting foreign teams in recent times.
“India on the other hand has taken a leap forward towards professionalising all popular sports,” he says.
“After IPL, [the Indians] have successfully launched hockey, football, badminton, and now kabbadi leagues with great success. That is the way to go.”
Khan, who had secured contracts for Pakistani hockey players in an Indian league from 2004-08, says despite numerous corruption allegations in “every sport” in India, its sports administrators “have learnt, corrected and moved forward”.
Today, it is estimated that the Indian sports market is worth $785 million (about INR 50 billion or PKR 80 billion), which is expected to swell as the national economy grows.
Khan, who is also the Punjab Football Federation president, says the situation is different in Pakistan, with no sports federation making any efforts – other than in cricket and to an extent football – to build long-term corporate relationships.
“It is just limited to events,” Khan told this writer in the course of an extensive interaction over email.
“Sports management in India has moved forward in the right direction. In Pakistan, we are still going through the learning process.”
Khan admits terrorism has negatively impacted sports in Pakistan, but blames “politics, government interference and appointment of incompetent people” even more.
The “main hurdle”, he says, is the lack of professionalism in the federations – in their outlook, structure and lack of vision.
“They are more interested to seek government financing and keep their seats secure.”
While there is “no dearth of talent” in the country, he says this is the main reason for Pakistan’s “declining standards of sports”, which in turn, baulks sponsors.
As proof, Khan cites squash and hockey as “the biggest examples”.
Pakistan are former champions in both sports, but its hockey team recently failed to qualify for the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, while in squash, “none of our players is in the top 40 rankings”.
Consequently, Khan says, “there are no sponsors”.
Needless government meddling is now affecting football as well, with which he is associated and which he calls “the happening game in Pakistan”.
Khan says as PFF’s marketing consultant, he has swung several contracts such as team kit and apparel deals with leading brands, including Adidas vendor Forward Sports.
“With a lot of difficulty, I managed live coverage of international events though it is still a far cry for domestic events.”
But according to him, “recent politics and government intervention” in PFF affairs have brought everything to “ground zero” and also prevented the U-16 and U-19 teams from participating in the SAFF Championship and the AFC Championship.
“This is a big setback for the game,” he says.
…And India clicks
By contrast, says Vijay Bharadwaj, immediate past General Manager of IPL team Sunrisers Hyderabad, globalisation has ensured that India’s sports market is developing at a “fast and furious” pace.
Multiple studies now say that the $785-million sector is set to boom further as the economy grows.
According to a sectoral study by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, India’s sports market will also create 4.3 million jobs by 2025 and contribute to the economy.
“The growth of the Indian sports industry runs parallel with growth of the country’s economy,” the industry lobby says in its study.
While global economy tracker Dun & Bradstreet predicts India “would eventually surpass Japan’s GDP level” by 2020, global consultancy KPMG says more leagues like IPL will propel its sports business.
This is exactly what is happening in India. In recent years, it has witnessed a cloudburst of franchise-based leagues; apart from IPL, there are now leagues in football, hockey, badminton, boxing, tennis and kabaddi.
Formula One too made an entry in 2011, while another is being added – a professional wrestling league – slated to begin next month.
Interestingly, these sports are beginning to attract eyeballs in critical mass.
Reports say the Pro Kabaddi League attracted 435 million viewers in 2014, while football’s Indian Super League had 429 million. IPL was only marginally ahead with 552 million viewers.
As Bhardwaj – who taught sports marketing at India’s first management school – tells this reporter: “It takes time for audience perception to evolve in a young market”.
But that too is evolving — and evolving fast.