Commercialisation of sports means using the sale, display, staging of the sport, the sport itself or some aspect of a sport to earn money. Although some degree of commercialisation of sports has existed since many decades, the huge surge in recent times has been not just phenomenal, but debatable. In the past, of course, sports organisers and team owners often benefited from the willingness of sports fans to pay to watch their favorite sports and to purchase the commodities endorsed by sports personalities. But now there are mega-bucks involved. With millions of dollars and rupees being spent on players, team management and related aspects (such as managers, coaches, officials, media persons, lawyers, agents and so), sponsorships, auctions, sports are now big business.
With millions of dollars and rupees being spent on players, team management and related aspects (such as managers, coaches, officials, media persons, lawyers, agents and so), sponsorships and auctions, sports are now big business.
India’s biggest success in this concept is the IPL, after which, as a critic wryly commented, “cricket doesn’t seem a sport any more. New deals are being struck in every match, some with players, some with businessmen, some with film stars. Profit making is the sole purpose in every game with no or very little nationalist or regional fervour involved.” In fact, with the enormous success of the T20 format and the IPL, the governing bodies have ensured that no efforts are spared to gain maximum financial mileage; and while this may work in the short run, it will result in killing the golden goose, argue many. Some critics also argue that commercialisation via television especially has turned sport yet another form of passive entertainment. And that entertainment too is now raising questions, like too many cluttered sponsorships, excessive commercial breaks, and a distinct lack of regard towards audiences and players, which led in decreased TRPs and smaller audiences, in the IPL’s third edition. The same decline of interest can be seen in international matches where even the once very popular ODI series have been played to half-empty stands. However, those in favour of commercialisation of sports agree that while cricket has been over-commercialised and its ratings have dropped recently, it still continues to be the favourite sport for millions of people who want to stay connected to cricket channels and are willing to pay money to watch the game.
Critics also argue that commercialisation has brought benefits to other sports as well like hockey, football, golf, wrestling, badminton, tennis. How? By bringing in more viewers, sponsors, advertisers and revenue, thereby boosting the popularity of these sports and their commercial attraction even further. The Hockey India League (HIL), for example, is now cash rich. Indeed, despite all the criticism, commercialisation of sports is now a reality that is here to stay. So much so that commercialisation has become a basic requirement for growth in the popularity of most sports. There is no doubt at all that commercialisation of sports has transformed the lives of sportspersons. Players now enjoy a financially secure life, which was not the case a few decades ago. Players had to hold a part time job earn to a livelihood along with devoting themselves to their sports career. Today, players receive huge sums of money to play or pursue a particular sport. Forbes magazine has ranked M.S. Dhoni, India’s cricket captain as the highest-paid cricketer, as well as the highest-paid athlete in India for the period from June 2011 to June 2012. Dhoni tops not only team-mate Sachin Tendulkar, but also global stars like Olympic 100m champion Usain Bolt, Novak Djokovic, the tennis World No.1, and England and Manchester United striker, Wayne Rooney.
According to the magazine, Dhoni made a total of US$ 26.5 million (Rs. 143 Crores), of which $23 million (Rs. 124 Crores) was earned from endorsements and $3.5 million (Rs. 18.9 Crores) from salary and prize money. That puts him 31st on the list while Tendulkar was 78th, with total earnings of $18.6 million (Rs. 100 Crores), of which $16.5 million (Rs. 89 Crores) were from endorsements. Star footballer David Beckham earned millions by endorsing products ranging from Pepsi to hair gel.
Yet discerning critics and sports lovers alike point out that it is very important, indeed critical, to maintain the integrity of a sport during the commercialisation process so that investor and consumer interest stays constant. According to Varun Paliwal, founder and CEO, Winning Matters Consulting, “the format of the sport should be tweaked only as the last resort, and in small digestible steps that take into account the feedback from investors and consumers. Sports like tennis and football have not made any drastic changes in the format of the games, and have enjoyed a strong following which has grown over the decades by virtue of improving the experience of the investors and consumers. On the other hand, sports like cricket have made many radical changes at short intervals that have left many consumers and investors a little shaky about their allegiance to the sport.” The other very important point that is often missed is that its largely because of large scale commercialisation of sports that illegal “match-fixing” and other corrupt practices which could destroy sports started.
It is worth noting that modern day Olympic Games still stand in stark contrast to the commercialism of sports. Of course, ticket sales, TV rights and so on do bring in big bucks. Besides, unlike earlier decades when most competitors at the Olympic Games were amateurs, today’s Olympic athletes are often far from amateurs. Recognising the inevitable invasion of commercialism and professionalism, the International Olympic Committee instead of requiring participants to be amateurs now ask that participants have an “amateur spirit.” But the integrity of the sports and the dedication of the participants has largely retained the Olympic spirit and ideals.
Saina Signs Rs. 40 Crore Deal
India’s badminton star Saina Nehwal has become the country’s highest paid sportsperson outside cricket. She has signed a Rs. 40-crore deal with Rhiti Sports Management, which will now manage her endorsements and brand associations, corporate profile, patents and digital rights, images and all other commercial rights exclusively for three years.