India advertisers keep faith with struggling stars

MUMBAI Thu Jan 19, 2012 10:55am GMT

India's captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni walks from the field after being bowled by Australia's James Pattinson during the first cricket test match, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground December 29, 2011. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

India's captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni walks from the field after being bowled by Australia's James Pattinson during the first cricket test match, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground December 29, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Tim Wimborne

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MUMBAI (Reuters) - The India test side's continued freefall in Australia has infuriated the media and angered fans back home but advertisers and broadcasters are refusing to give up on cricket, given a lack of alternatives and the fickleness of local supporters.

Since the euphoria of a 2011 World Cup victory on home soil in April, nothing has gone right for Mahendra Singh Dhoni's team, who lost the number one test ranking to England after a 4-0 series whitewash on a tour there a few months later.

A similar humiliation looms in Australia, where they have been thoroughly outplayed in the first three matches of a four-test series but media planners insist cricket remains a hot property.

"Overall, there won't be much of a difference. Cricket as a property is still hot and advertisers will look to get on board," Sanjay Chakraborty of ZenithOptimedia told Reuters.

The humiliation in Australia, however, would give more bargaining power to advertisers buying slots for the one-day international tri-series that followed the tests from February 5, he added.

ESPN-STAR Sports India are broadcasting the series and the company's senior director of corporate development, Rathindra Basu, believes the side only needed one good tournament to win back fans who may have turned their back on cricket.

"All it takes is one big win or one big hundred and you will find that all the negativity will disappear," Basu said.

Cricket drew more than a quarter of the country's total advertising revenue of $2.41 billion (1.56 billion pounds) last year and it is likely to remain the same this year with big-ticket events like the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the Twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka lined up.

"Cricket gets Indians together like nothing else. Also, events like the IPL are a mix of entertainment and cricket and they appeal to the youth and female audiences, which is a boon for advertisers," said Rohit Gupta, president of Multi Screen Media, who own telecast rights for the lucrative Twenty20 event.

In India's uni-sport culture, cricket dominates sports advertising revenue and Dhoni is one of the prime beneficiaries, having signed a two-year deal with a talent management company for two trillion rupees ($39.70 million) in 2010.

The previous highest by an Indian cricketer was Sachin Tendulkar's three-year deal with another firm for $35.8 million.

None of them stood to lose in terms of brand value, said television commercial maker Prahlad Kakkar.

"People like Dhoni and Sachin are sought after because they are icons. As of now, I don't see anything affecting their brand value," Kakkar said.

Hero MotoCorp, which has batsman Virender Sehwag and bowler Ishant Sharma as brand ambassadors, is another major sponsor staying loyal to cricket.

"Our commitment to the promotion of the game does not change on the basis of the fluctuating fortunes of the national team," Hero MotoCorp senior vice president (marketing & sales) Anil Dua told Reuters via email.

"Our commitment is for the long-term promotion of cricket and cricketers in the country," Dua added.

($1 = 50.38 rupees)

(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty and John O'Brien)

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