March 4, 2008

Reebok, UB plan to cash in on Under-19 India team

The Colts have struck. As India’s Under-19 cricket brigade lifted the World Cup in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday, all endorsement eyes were riveted on skipper Virat Kohli and his team who hold the future beacon of Indian cricket.

Brand pundits and marketers are already hard at work trying to evaluate and attach currencies to the young guns who fired to cast out the Springboks in the U-19 finals. While Reebok’s ‘Catch ‘em young’ credo has already snapped up five members from the U-19 team, others are ruing on paradise lost.

So, while on one hand BCCI may have come out with a diktat for Under-19 players to stop negotiating with the eight IPL franchisees and concentrate on their game, the colts are already being wooed by all major brands and Bollywood stars. With an endeavour to promote and support new talent consistently, Reebok already has players such as Ravindra Jadeja, Manish Pandey, Iqbal Abdullah and Srivatsa Goswami. Pitching these players for Indian Premier League (IPL) teams, brands also eye to leverage their equity.

“We have a tie-up with the Kolkata team and are sure that SRK would like to have young players in his team. If we can make these stars play in such teams, it will be good for India and Reebok,“ said Reebok India MD Subhinder Singh Prem. Promising batsman Manish Pandey, who is barely 18, has already been signed on for $105,000 by the United Breweries-owned IPL Bangalore team.
According to BCCI vice-president Rajiv Shukla, the demand for youngsters will further increase once they don the IPL tag. “The players, who are not only from remote areas but hail from humble backgrounds will surely catch the marketers eyes. They will also be favourite for brands that focus on youth-oriented marketing strategy,” he said.

Even though a price tag is not given to Colts, for sport management firms, the cricketers have a strong instant future who are already raking in moolah, thanks to the IPL. “Audience and marketers have realised that gen next is much faster than the gen past. Till now, they have not seen serious money, but IPL will be a big monetising step for all of them,” said Percept Holdings joint MD Shailendra Singh.

Considering the speed with which the young are raking in the moolah, BCCI may lower the age bar for national players. “There is an immense pool of talent in the Indian Under-19 team and surely they will get premium on their performance,“ says Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) president Arun Jaitley.

Liberty, a footwear brand which has a marked presence in tier II and III towns, could have done well to pick up a few players from the current under-19 team (a host of whom come from small towns). But Liberty director-retail Anupam Bansal seems bogged down by competition in the retail sphere. “Right now, we are not focusing on sports but fashion and lifestyle. But when we do, we would like to sign up under-19 players in place of established cricket stars,” he pointed out.

Industry experts are also of the opinion that locking in these players in a bunch would work for the upcoming cricket icons. “Excessive hype is dangerous for the new breed. If players are taken together rather than as a single brand ambassador, it will help them become a household name like Yuvraj Singh and M S Dhoni,” said Globosport vice president Anirban Das Blah.

For cricket fans and marketers, who have seen young players such as Ishant Sharma and Rohit Sharma create a frenzy on ground and off late in endorsements, the forthcoming attraction in Virat Kohli and Manish Pandey could only highten the excitement.

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