MUMBAI: Disney characters are famous for executing all manner of unbelievable stunts, but so far they have never been seen around a cricket pitch. That will change soon.
Mumbai Indians, the IPL team owned by billionaire Mukesh Ambani, has signed a brand alliance with Walt Disney India, marking the first occasion that Mickey Mouse, one of the world's most recognisable brands, will be associated with cricket.
The runners-up in last year's IPL will be looking to exploit the connect which the world's most famous mouse - created in 1928 - has with children under 14 by putting its image on merchandise ranging from school bags to cricket bats.
"Last year there was a lot of cynicism as well as criticism around MI, including the name, and then we won the Champions League Twenty20. Today, we count over 2.8 million Facebook fans on our website, the largest amongst the franchisees. This brand alliance with a global, iconic family brand like Disney says it all with the trust and faith they have imposed in MI," said Nita Ambani, Mukesh's wife, who runs the company that owns the cricket team.
Mukesh bought MI for $111.9 million in 2008, making it the most expensive franchise. Breaking even is still far away. "We are trying even this year, but as I said, I have always believed we need to be a sustainable brand in ourselves, not funded by RIL," said Nita Ambani.
Big Deal for Disney India Head
Nita Ambani met with this reporter at her office on the 12th floor of Maker Chambers, the Nariman Point building that has for decades been the headquarters of Reliance Industries, India's largest private sector company by revenues and market capitalisation. For Ronnie Screwvala, managing director, Walt Disney India, the alliance is the first big transaction since he switched roles from being the entrepreneur-CEO of media and entertainment company UTV to heading the Indian unit of Disney.
"Disney has always been brand conscious and the business of licensing is only possible if you have a brand that can be a viable commercial venture which MI is because of Nita's vision of making it a 360-degree brand that explores multiple avenues on and off the field. Given Disney's licensing background, we can actually take this joint brand to another level. Right now the market size in licensing in the 4-14 age bracket is Rs 1,400 crore but with a huge potential for growth," Screwvala said.
The reason Disney, which owns sports channel ESPN, had not got into cricket, India's favourite sport so far, is there was no "brand play" till now, explains Screwvala. A team such as MI, which has icons like Sachin Tendulkar, is much more than a local team so the brand characters of Disney are also a good fit, said the Disney India head.
Screwvala said the maiden association with a non-American sport is on a revenue-share basis. "So there is no investment as such, and as for the merchandise, it's small numbers," he said.
The Walt Disney Company, a worldwide entertainment group famous for operating Disneyland theme parks and for producing animation movies such as The Lion King, bought UTV last year for an enterprise value of $1.4 billion, including a debt of $300 million, in one of the largest foreign investments in the Indian media sector. Disney, which already owned half the company, paid $550 million for the 50% stake it did not own.
From April 4, Nita Ambani will accompany her IPL team to different parts of the country as the fifth edition of IPL gets underway. She plans to be present at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on March 26 when the team begins practice. The first match is on April 4, when MI play Chennai Super Kings, the winners of last year's IPL. Nita Ambani is excited about the prospect though not about Chennai's weather.
For MI, retail revenues - though small in numbers - stood at around 5-6 crore last year and Nita Ambani said she is looking to at least double the figure if not more. While a large part of the 2.8-million Facebook fan base is in the 13-35 age group, kids are a growing segment and impulse sales, especially at stadiums, is largely driven by the younger generation. For MI, this opens up a new touch point for millions of fans in the under-14 age category.
The merchandise, which will be sold across Reliance's 5,000 outlets as well as online, will be marketed to teenagers particularly for apparel products. For Mickey & Friends, this is their first participation in a team - they are associated with major League Baseball, but not with a particular team. As for getting Mickey down for a visit to cheer Sachin and his team, that is for the future. For now, Nita Ambani is busy with the detailing of her dinner later this month in honour of the MI captain and his ton of tons. click here
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