ESPN, sponsors look to cash in on Messi mania

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Mumbai, Sep 2: The giant amongst sports broadcasters, ESPN Star sports is looking to harp on Messi mania with some reputed corporates Hindustan Unilever, Bharti Airtel and Maruti Suzuki who are all set to deliver air-time commercial for the eagerly awaited international friendly football match between Venezuela and Argentina. The match will be played at the Salt Lake stadium, Kolkata on Sep 2.

Messi, for the first time will be leading his national team in the city. There is already a huge debate whether Maradona or Messi is the greatest player in the history of the sport, and sponsors are thus eager to cash in on the hype.

An ESPN STAR Sports spokesperson was quoted as saying, "Football is the fastest growing sport in India and after cricket it is the most followed by fans. The growth pattern of football over the years has been multi-fold."

The match happens to be at the time when the game has gained popularity among the Indian sponsors with this year's Barclays English Premier League (EPL) being sold out very earlier for the new season.

It is learnt that typically for broadcasting a ten second ad in English Premier League, Rs 25,000 to 30,000 is charged, but beyond that it is the audience profile that is attracting brands to the sport.

Meanwhile ESS has gained the right for Spanish league and La Liga for the next year, which is currently held by Ten sports.

"Increasingly, brands are acknowledging the growing popularity of football clubs in India, which is resulting in higher viewership. Football gives a brand exposure to the niche, cool and urban youth, a segment which also has immense purchasing power," said Basabdutta Chowdhury, CEO of Madison Media Plus, a media buying agency.

Broadcasting industry is getting around Rs 2000 crore annually from cricket advertising accounts, without events like cricket world cup, which is very large comparing to non cricket advertising. But non cricket advertising is also rising 30% to 50% every year. The upcoming London Olympics could also speed up non cricket revenue for the broadcasters.

"The Indian youth is increasingly getting global and with that is watching sports like tennis, football and Formula One. This population is about 25-30 million and is growing rapidly and brands who are looking to invest ahead of time are jumping on to the non-cricket platforms," said Gowthaman Ragothaman, Leader, Mindshare South Asia, the country's largest media planning agency.

Last year's FIFA World Cup saw a 59% increase in viewership over the 2006 edition. EPL has also seen consistent increase in reach. The 2010 season was sampled by 64.2 million viewers in 2010, up from 61.6 million in 2009 said ESS.

"While cricket in India is considered a religion, we cannot underestimate the increasing popularity of other international sports as they act as an ideal platform to connect with our audiences by offering a differentiated experience while providing stickiness to the brand," said a Vodafone spokesperson.

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