Nike's sports strategy to become No 1 in India

For the first time, Nike's logo is appearing in connection with an "Indian" sport - cricket. A few months ago, Nike wrested the rights to become the official kit sponsor for the Indian cricket team for the next five years, beating arch-rivals Reebok and Adidas. This is the only market where Reebok is No. 1 (40 per cent marketshare), followed by Adidas (20 per cent). Nike's 15 per cent share is a distant third (source: Technopak Advisors). "The Indian market is growing in terms of retail, customer spends and awareness. It only made sense for us to cash in on these opportunities as early as possible," Sanjay Gangopadhyay, marketing director, Nike India told Meghana Biwalkar of the Business Standard.

"You can't be present in India without being associated with cricket," commented Subhinder Singh Prem, managing director, Reebok India. "But to build a successful association, you can't see cricket as a seasonal activity," he warned. Witness the five-year ricket contract. "We wanted to first show our loyalty to Team India, to prove our commitment towards the market and win the confidence of cricket fans," said Gangopadhyay.

When Nike talks of young customers, it means young. Across the world, its core audience is between 12 and17 years, and it sees no reason why India should be any different. "We want to inspire youth to become serious about sports that interest them," said Gangopadhyay. There's some doubt, though, on whether cricket is the best sport to communicate the brand's values to a young, discerning audience.

"Brands like Nike are clearly focused on the upper segment of consumers. I'm not sure whether cricket is any longer such a popular sport with that group. Young consumers in the upper strata are more likely to be tuned into events like the NBA or Premier League football," said Harminder Sahni, chief operating officer, Technopak Advisors. For its part, Nike is also paying attention to other popular sports in the country, such as tennis and football.

After announcing its partnership with the All India Football Federation in March 2006, Nike gave an opportunity to the Indian leg of under-15 players to participate in the Manchester United Premier Cup, an annual international Nike tournament. The winners of this India round were then flown to Bangkok to participate in the South East Asia leg. Further, to inspire its audience the company has signed on India's leading football star Bhaichung Bhutia to endorse its products.