Unconfirmed reports via a prominent Indian sports business website claim that Airtel has signed up as the ‘title sponsor’ of the Indian Grand Prix. The news was unconfirmed by the organizers of the GP as well as the Indian telecom major, Airtel.
Airtel’s entry into Formula1 is not unexpected, after all leading Indian brands are already present in the international sport as sponsors via team or driver sponsorship. The Force India F1 team has attracted sponsorship from various UB Group brands that include Royal Challenge, Kingfisher Airlines, Vladivar, etc. Reebok and Wrigley too are partners with the Indian F1 team.
Narain Karthikeyan brings Indian auto major, TATA to the table and Karun Chandhok’s ambassadorship with the Jaypee Group has the infrastructure group present in Formula1. The Jaypee Group are also the host organizers of the Indian Grand Prix and are building the Buddh International Circuit.
Sponsorship of the Indian Grand Prix is not Airtel’s first entry into international sponsorship. They are partners with the famous Manchester United club and own mobile rights that they broadcast to their million plus subscribers in India and abroad.
Airtel had previously sponsored the Airtel One India Challenge, which was an all-India TSD rally. The rally was held almost a decade ago and was one of Airtel’s biggest sponsorship in sport in India. The rally saw active participation from motoring enthusiasts, but organizational issues meant that the rally didn’t repeat the next year. Due to reasons not publicly known, Airtel decided to step away from motor-sport sponsorship in the country.
With the arrival of the Indian Grand Prix, there are three sponsorship options (largely) available to Indian brands wishing to join the sponsorship bandwagon. First, sponsor the Indian F1 team, the Force India Formula One team. Second, sponsor an Indian F1 driver, Narain Karthikeyan or Karun Chandhok and third (and most obvious) is to sponsor the Indian F1 Grand Prix.
Each option has its own merits and costs attached. Airtel’s sponsorship for the Indian Grand Prix title rights have been rumoured to be in the region of $13-14 million per year for 5 years. The title rights would mean that the Indian Grand Prix will now be called as the ‘Airtel Indian Grand Prix’ across all media and communication. Additionally, they will have a larger percentage of on-track advertising and access to hospitality areas and passes for their key guests. Unlike the Manchester United association, this one will not grant any mobile rights to the telecom major, an alternative source of revenue. However, I won’t be surprised if Airtel come up with an app to purchase tickets to the Indian GP via their mobile medium.
Airtel is not new to F1 sponsorship. Airtel is an investor in Singtel, the title sponsor of the Singapore GP, which is why their signing up for the title rights of the Indian GP shouldn’t surprise many. They probably know the benefits of such an association and know how to exploit them. The association with the Indian GP will enhance Airtel’s global brand presence and put the Indian telecom major on the world map. Airtel’s direct competitor in India, Vodafone, is the title-sponsor of the Mclaren Mercedes team. It will be interesting to see how the two companies fight in their space to occupy the mindsets of the Indian F1 fan. Keep a look out for the promotions!