Six-time world boxing champion MC Mary Kom is giving life lessons on a show sponsored by an e-learning company. The biggest name in professional boxing in India, Vijender Singh, has uploaded an instructional workout video shot by family member for a fitness app, while track star Hima Das has promoted her paintings online as part of a ‘positivity’ campaign for a sportswear giant.
Indian athletes are tweeting, posting on Facebook and Instagramming like never before as studio shoots are on hold during the lockdown.
To make the most of the predicament, these ‘influencers’ have teamed up and bundled their collective reach on social media platforms into customised packages to suit every budget.
A company can pay for a single tweet or post by one athlete. Brands with greater spending power can sign deals with more than one athlete to post messages or upload videos on multiple platforms for weeks or months.
Vijender, the 2008 Olympics bronze medallist, is taking the help of his wife for shooting the promotional videos.
“I did a lot of videos during the lockdown, some were shot by my wife. It is always exciting to try new things. Shooting videos for the Curefit app was a really good experience,” he says.
The boxer feels as no sports events are being held, everyone’s attention span is greater on social media.
“Visibility was really good during the lockdown, seems like everyone was on social media as people had fewer options for entertainment,” Vijender says about going digital.
Social media has been a steady revenue source for celebrities during the extended lockdown. India cricket captain Virat Kohli, with 63.3 million followers on Instagram, earned £126,431 or approximately Rs 1.2 crore per post during the lockdown (March 12 to May 14), according to a study complied by digital agency Attain.
Football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo made the most with £470,000 (Rs 4.4 crore) per Insta post.
IOS Sports and Entertainment CEO Neerav Tomar says innovation has been the name of the game for athletes during the lockdown. When they were stuck at camps or their homes, IOS, which represents 20 top athletes including Vijender and Mary Kom, kickstarted its digital influencer marketing wing ‘Influrate’ during the first lockdown.
“We had to reinvent and move to revenues, which could only be digital in nature. The whole idea was to launch it during the first lockdown itself. Players could not do physical apperances or their regular endorsement deals. We were working towards creating a new division in January. We have certain influencers who have a large following in the field of sports and the Covid-19 situation made us launch it,” Tomar says.
The strategy involves projecting not just one athlete but rather the combined reach of 50 million followers of India’s top Olympians and offering different ‘bouquets’ to brands.
“We have joined our pool of celebrities, most of whom we work with exclusively, and we propose a package or a bouquet to the client. Like if somebody wants a very intensive monthly plan then we would say ‘these are the 20 people and they will tweet, Facebook it and Instagram it’. If there is business profiling, then LinkedIn comes in too. It could even be a single deal, like a Mary Kom doing just one post or a Vijender doing one tweet. Or if they want across all mediums,” Tomar says.
Looking forward to have a wonderful live interaction session @ImRaina bhaiya. 👍👍👍 I am also ready with some interesting questions for you…
— Hima MON JAI (@HimaDas8)
Customisation is done as per the budget, he adds, “If somebody is ready to invest say Rs 10, then we will give them say three athletes, if they are willing to invest just Rs 5 then perhaps we will give them only one. It can be completely tailormade and can be time-frame-bound and intensity-bound.”
Tracking the impact of an online campaign – number of views, age-group and number of likes – is an obvious advantage for a client, Tomar adds.
Curefit, Tata Tea, TikTok, National Payments Corporation of India, rummybaazi.com and Unacademy came on board during the lockdown and were promoted by IOS athletes. Adidas and Bridgestone, which had deals prior to the pandemic, have also taken the digital route with brand ambassadors.
Tuhin Mishra, managing director of Baseline Ventures, gives the example of Unified Payments Interface using 16 athletes for an influencer marketing campaign to spread the message of staying safe by making digital payments from home during the lockdown.
“Why you are observing influencer marketing even more now is because there is not much new content out there. So, any athlete or any celeb probably is getting more eyeballs. Also in terms of time spent, probably the engagement is a little bit more because options are limited and you don’t mind watching the ad (advertisement) itself. And there is a newness to it. This is the only form celebrities are using now. That is why you are noticing it a bit more,” Mishra says.
Some of the sport stars have overnight eased into the role of hosts and their sponsored shows are getting lakhs of views.
India woman cricketers Smriti Mandhana and Jemimah Rodrigues have garnered 2.5 million views interviewing celebrities, including world badminton champion PV Sindhu, opening batsman Rohit Sharma and tennis player Sania Mirza. They have broached lesser-discussed topics like menstruation while playing sport on these shows backed by sponsors. More are lining up to spend money, as another series is in the works.
“The lockdown made us think what we can do in the digital space, and that is why we started the show called ‘Double Trouble’, hosted by Smriti and Jemimah. It has done amazingly well and has got more than two-and-a-half million views across Youtube and Facebook. We have got a sponsor for the show. As a matter of fact, we are planning a new series as well and are talking to potential sponsors. We started in it mid-April, even before Instagram Live chats were started by everyone. We thought let us bring a novelty to the whole thing,” Mishra says.
Next week, Commonwealth Games gold medallist paddler Manika Batra, an IOS athlete, will log in to speak to actor Sonu Sood, who is in the news for arranging transport for thousands of migrants to reach their homes. A chat about sports, Bollywood and the pandemic guarantees views.