Recently Sony Pictures gathered together its sports channels, old and newly acquired ones, under one umbrella and called it, Sony Pictures Sports Network (SPSN). This includes the five channels it acquired from Zee last year under the brand TEN and two new channels it launched last month. With this the network is hoping to cater to the country’s growing sports viewership and corner a sizeable share of the advertising pie. 

SPN CEO N P Singh explained, “We needed to bring all the channels under the Sony umbrella and we felt that an exercise of this scale needs a face and voice to drive the message home. Who better than Sachin Tendulkar to do this?” He believes that it is important to present a unified image as it helps bundle all the varied sports offerings under its corporate philosophy (for sports) ‘Go Beyond’. Besides using Tendulkar as the face of the sports network, SPN has also worked on a differentiated positioning for the different channels in its bouquet. The Sony Six channels, for instance, are being positioned as a home for all the cricketing action; the TEN brands for wrestling, football, golf and Hindi language broadcasting and so on.

Singh believes that Tendulkar is a logical option because of his legendary status, brand expert Sandeep Goyal, founder of Mogae Media is not so sure. He says, “Sachin is a faded brand. He is not active anymore and most of the younger audiences today have not seen him play. If Sony wants the brand ambassador to embody the brand personality, then Sachin is the wrong choice. They should have gone with someone like Ajinkya Rahane who has a good amount of active years left in him.”

Graph Still there are many who believe that the SPN decision marks an interesting time in sports broadcasting in the country. Tendulkar is a good way to grab the attention of the people, given that SPN is a relatively new player in a category where Star has assumed a dominant position over the years. SPN’s big moment under the arc lights was when it acquired the rights to the Indian Premier League in 2008. In 2012, it launched its first dedicated sports channel Sony Six and has been acquiring rights to sports like football, NBA, cricket, tennis and wrestling since then.

Indranil Das Blah, partner and COO at CAA KWAN, a sports marketing and celebrity management agency says that the association is a big positive for Tendulkar. It helps him position himself better, and gives him an opportunity to remain visible in the public eye, despite not playing active cricket. “Being the ambassador for an umbrella brand and not one channel is something someone of his stature should do. The money of course would be great,” says Das Blah.

The effectiveness of Tendulkar as a brand ambassador will depend greatly on how Sony intends to use him. “If the intention is to increase viewership, then it’s not going to happen. That can happen only if the content is good. But if they want to get more people to sample the channels, then yes, it will work. Sachin is a known face and carries credibility and will definitely help grab extra eyeballs. However, retaining those eyeballs is not something he can do,” says Das Blah.

The challenge for sports television today, in India as it is in the rest of the world, is getting the young hooked on to the screen. With the increasing spread of OTT (over-the-top) platforms, most are viewing their games on the go. Goyal says, “The issue is that most times brands do not do enough research while appointing a brand endorser or ambassador. The people who make the decision are in a different age bracket than those who the communication could be aimed at. I may think Kapil Dev is a great player, but my kids do not relate to him. They haven’t seen him play at all. Brands tend to get enamoured by the personality.”

On the flip side, many believe that Tendulkar has been reinventing himself. He was recently made the face of a marathon event in Mumbai. He has been speaking about the need to further sports and participation by the young at various platforms as well. “Sachin is positioning himself as a statesman and that means taking up a cause. Health and fitness becomes the obvious choice,” Das Blah adds.- Business Standard