Cricket fans in our office are called ‘oldies’,” laughs Rajiv Mehta. The managing director of Puma South Asia is a keen sportsman who counts cricket among his many favourite sports but at 34, doesn’t take too kindly to being considered part of the senior brigade. But he values the derision for the insight it provides — the average youngster speaks more about football and social media. “Cricket is a mass sport and there is a certain uncool factor associated with it today. That is bad news,” he says.
It certainly is for Puma’s sponsorships. The German sports and lifestyle brand became the team kit sponsor of two Indian Premier League (IPL) teams — Rajasthan Royals and Deccan Chargers — in 2009 and, two years later, also signed on Yuvraj Singh as brand ambassador. Now, the market grapevine suggests that the deals with Singh and Sunrisers Hyderabad (as Deccan Chargers is now known) have been substantially renegotiated. Mehta refuses to be drawn into comment on this but does say, “We have now realised that cricket is far too expensive and comes with over-exposure. It just does not make business sense. We would prefer to look at other options that are far more effective for our brand.”
The other options include Bollywood. In the past, Puma has been associated with films like Chak De; more recently, it tied up with Student of the Year and ABCD, launching collections timed with the movie release and running events at Puma outlets, apart from promoting the brand in the film. Films are more affordable than cricket, says Mehta. “Besides, Bollywood is as mass as cricket and where cricket gives me a mostly-male audience, Bollywood cuts across genders.”
Puma isn’t the only company rethinking its association with cricket. The sport used to be considered almost a religion for most Indian men but that seems to be changing: viewership hasn’t really gone up in the past few years despite the launch of new formats like IPL. Meanwhile, advertising rates continue their strat