Sports will receive “lion’s share” of investment: Mastercard’s Nikhil Sahni 

Mastercard’s South Asia Division President Nikhil Sahni presents Man-of-the-Match award to Suryakumar Yadav
Mastercard’s South Asia Division President Nikhil Sahni presents Man-of-the-Match award to Suryakumar Yadav

For the sports business community, the real work often begins before and after a game is completed. This was the case at the end of the third T20 match between India and Australia last Sunday. Suryakumar Yadav was named Man of the Match for his blistering 69 off 36 balls, and it was Mastercard’s South Asia Division president Nikhil Sahni who presented the award.

Speaking exclusively to Sportskeeda, Sahni said:

“To see the branding that we had across the entire stadium was absolutely phenomenal. [Cricket] is the most popular sport, it unites Indians, it’s a passion point. I felt really proud.”

Earlier this month, Mastercard took over the title sponsorship for all of BCCI’s international and domestic cricket matches that will be played in India. The deal will also see it sponsoring junior matches (U19 & U13).

The timing couldn’t be more opportune for the multinational payments company, that only this June, after a bit of pause, Mastercard resumed card issuance in partnership with banks.

Commenting on the deal, Sahni said:

“It [the BCCI deal] was about getting our trust back, and getting our connect back. We wanted to get the brand really back where it belongs.”

He has been a passionate cricket fan since 1985 and avidly follows football, tennis, and badminton as well.

This isn’t the first time Mastercard is endorsing cricket. It has had MS Dhoni as a brand ambassador since 2018. The association has helped the global financial corporation promote the “safety of digital payments” in a country still hesitant to embrace cashless transactions.

Besides cricket, Mastercard also supports golf and badminton. As recently as August this year, the company signed four players from India’s Thomas Cup winning quartet — Kidambi Srikanth, Lakshya Sen, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, and Chirag Shetty — as its brand ambassadors.

Stressing the importance of gaining acceptance across diverse markets, he said:

Golf is affluent. Badminton is a little more Tier 2 and rural, and cricket pans across all. One aspect we are critically looking at is to develop acceptance across Tier 2, Tier 3, and Tier 4 markets.”

Mastercard India is “very open” to sponsoring other sports too, especially those following the team format.

“We continue to look at opportunities that make meaningful sense in terms of promoting the brand further. Some of these sports have piqued a lot of interest amongst the wider segments.”

So, in the coming days, expect to see Dhoni and other players promoting safety features such as tokenization and transactions through “soft POS,” “scan and pay,” “tap and pay,” and possibly even card-less payments done through “pure play biometrics”.

Sports to receive “lion’s share” of Mastercard’s Investment

Mastercard has identified nine consumer “passion points,” namely, sports, media & entertainment, music, travel, culinary & dining, art and culture, philanthropy, shopping, and the environment.

Among these, Sahni affirms that sports will receive a “lion’s share” of Mastercard’s investment, while at the same time not neglecting their other passion points.

In the last decade or so, many professional leagues in multiple non-cricket sports have sprung up. Sahni has the following words of advice for such promoters if they are to attract the sponsorship attention of reputed multinational brands like Mastercard:

“One of the most important aspects is how well you segment a sport, in terms of the customer. Ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s a message we have to pass on to the customer. Second, is when we develop these leagues you have to attract people with the right price point initially and maybe take a few punts…get a few sorts of brands associated. Finally, you have to invest in the sport and bring out the stories of the way some of these sports people have come, risen from the ranks, which frankly speaking the IPL did to cricket in India. Or if you look at the Pro Kabaddi League or…ISL…these leagues have also managed to get those stories out. I think that is what builds the consumer connect.”

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