It is the most sought-after patch of sporting real estate – the space on the front of a team’s jersey is perhaps the most visible form of sponsorship, not just during games but even after when photos, highlights, videos and gifs get shared over social media. Ever since the trend exploded in European football in the 1970s and 80s, it has since taken over the world of sports and in 2017 reached one of the last holdouts – the major American sports.
That year, the NBA allowed (MLB, NFL and the NHL have not joined the fray yet) its teams to have a sponsorship patch on their jerseys. Franchise have signed deals with brands ranging from Goodyear (Cleveland Cavaliers) to StubHub (Philadelphia 76ers) to Rakuten (Golden State Warriors) to GE (Boston Celtics) with a combined spend of about $137 million from the sponsors.
All of this would barely raise an eyebrow of anyone who has followed European football and cricket. Cricket, particularly in India, has a profile so high that any brand on the Team India jersey usually becomes a part of history – from Wills in the 1990s to Sahara to Oppo, brands from various industries have owned the rights to put their name on that coveted patch of sports real estate.
Why do companies seek that promised land? Unlike sponsoring a tournament, or running your ads during a game or on the ground, jersey sponsorship usually binds the brand more intricately in the mind of the sports fan. Any Barcelona fan won’t forget the UNICEF patches on the jersey they donned as the team led by geniuses like Iniesta and Messi conquered every club trophy there was. Even today, 20 years on, a Manchester United fan looking up photos of their famous 1999 Champions League win would see ‘Sharp’ on their shirts. That kind of recall and association is something that is hard to put a monetary number on.
Outside of the biggest football clubs, the Indian cricket jersey is the cynosure of attention of the largest number of eyeballs, and that’s why Oppo, the smartphone brand owned by China’s BBK Electronics Corp, in 2017 signed a record-setting Rs. 1079 crore deal for five years to be the shirt sponsor. The brand had been in India for just a couple of years, and the jersey association formed an important part of the marketing blitz that catapulted them into being a household name.
Oppo characterised their association as meaningful, and as their India strategy evolved, they wanted to explore a potential handover. They turned to ITW MediaWorx, a sports media agency and an arm of the premier sports marketing company, ITW Consulting Pvt. Ltd. to consult them on the process and to identify a suitable partner. It is only fitting that the ideal partner was found in the form of one of India’s leading education brands and the world’s most valuable ed-tech company – BYJU’s.
Nikhil Vyas, Director, ITW Mworx, describes the process as being unique in the sense that Mworx had “to find a partner with common interest and to meet objectives of all the stakeholders involved.” He adds: “We connected with leading brands in India and in BYJU’S, we found an ideal partner, there were a lot of synergies and common passion for Indian cricket. India’s leading education and learning app will now become the Indian team sponsor and will be seen on the jersey of the Indian national team.”
M S Muralidharan, Director, ITW Consulting (a Global Sports Commerce affiliate) also characterised the deal as unique and path-breaking: “ITW Consulting has been at the forefront of many a deal involving large multinationals with key sporting properties around the globe and this deal is a testament to the trust we enjoy with the brands we partner with.”
As Muralidharan puts it, “this deal is unique in more ways than one and a beautiful alignment coming together of two of the most trusted names with a behemoth which is Indian Cricket.” With team India taking the field on Sunday at Dharamshala against South Africa in jerseys that will bear the BYJU'S name, a new cricketing era is set to begin.