India has taken a significant step towards loosening its lockdown, reopening places of worship, restaurants and shopping malls, despite coronavirus cases continuing to soar and experts warning the country was far from hitting its peak. While sports businesses both small and medium have been taking the toll with almost every sport and outdoor workout activities remaining shelved. They now have been forced to change their operations amid this period. We, at The Bridge, try to feature the stories of such sports businesses in India, who have been working in to adapt to the situation and making plans to ensure the smooth running of the business. The Chennai-based Sportwalk is a sports media, merchandising and management company that independently creates sports fan experiences across multiple streams and also facilitate businesses to build successful sports brands. Sportwalk aims to enhance the fan experience across multiple streams such as merchandising, digital media, print media and events. With a digital audience base of over two million and having connected with thousands more through their clients and partners, Sportwalk is making a difference to how sports is experienced.
In a conversation with The Bridge, Sportwalk's Digital Media lead Abhranil Roy lead us through the journey of the organisation and how it streamlined its operations into various segments in the sports industry. "We initially started off as a sports blog, but then over the course of time, we realised there was a gaping hole in several sectors of the sports industry in India that we could address with our expertise. That is why we segmented into different dimensions: merchandise, marketing, content and media. As we grow, we combine all of these segments to our clients to help them engage, build and market their products or services in a better manner.
Didier Drogba launching That Night In Munich 2018
"To that end, we have produced our own merchandise( co-branded with fan clubs or for our e-commerce platforms), worked with teams from the Tamil Nadu Premier League, developed India’s first sports-based graphic novels, organised our own sports’ fan meetups( called Huddle) and sports’ fan fest(called Highlights) helped an array of sports brands and fantasy gaming platforms reach out and engage with our audience on our 2.5 million strong digital audiences as well as worked as media partners with franchises like Chennai Spartans( from the Pro Volleyball League) and are currently associated as the official creative and marketing agency for The Bharat Army, Team India’s official supporters’ club. From Didier Drogba launching our comic strip on Chelsea’s unforgettable Champions League win to shipping over 7,500 merchandise kits from Chennai to London ahead of the 2019 Cricket World Cup, it has been quite the journey. Currently, we are also in talks with Star Sports and several clubs from the Indian Super League to associate with them as a part of various digital engagement opportunities."
With the pandemic breaking out, the organisation has been hit by various set of challenges and one of them being the expansion plan. However, it lent them the time to analyse and move ahead with a different set of plans. "The challenges that come with running a pandemic are huge and unforeseeable but they have also come as a blessing. We recently moved into a new office in Chennai, and of course there were expansion plans in place, mostly based around the IPL, ISL and the T20 World Cup. However, we have had to adapt the same and the scaling-up has had to be postponed for obvious reasons. We are currently focused on growing our 20+ media platforms, which have seen an almost 5-6x rise in engagement during the lockdown and developing new content styles and strategies to cater to our ever-growing audience base," said Roy.
Sportwalk with Brett Lee at TNPL 2016
Sportwalk has been working closely with all their clients, including the Bharat Army to currently cover the #CWC19Rewind campaign: a detailed campaign highlighting the wonderful experiences Bharat Army members got to share during their time at England last year for the 2019 Cricket World Cup. They also recently concluded a video campaign with Twelfth Man, India’s premier football fantasy app that gained over 50,000 views and almost 2,000,000 impressions on 9 different digital accounts.
Sports on the field might have taken a backseat, but the ecosystem has been running like a well-oiled machine where every day, own set of targets are being met efficiently. Roy quips, "As an organisation, we have existed since 2017 and only recently, we completed 3 years of our existence. Based out of Chennai, this year we have also opened another office in Kolkata. It goes without saying that everyone is working from home and will be doing the same for the foreseeable future. We have a calendar that we follow and everyone is plugged in and has delegated tasks as per their regular working hours."
A small team at this moment, Sportwalk is run on a day to day basis by Divakar KS, the CEO and Abhranil, the Digital Media Lead. Apart from both of them, Sai Prasanth and Vigneshwaran work as social media executives, Giridharan ad video editor. The design team consists of Adithyan, Bhagathraj and Chandru and they have hired some more freelancers recently to help manage their wide range of portfolios.
Sportwalk Huddle 2019
The coronavirus pandemic has lead to many companies opting for laying off their human resources, however, Sportwalk has maintained a zero-layoff policy. Roy elaborates, "We have kept our entire team intact and despite our finances have taken a hit, I am proud to say our team has not been compromised at all. We plan to scale up operations as and when things open up and we are committed to carrying forward our vision of establishing ourselves as India’s premier creative, marketing and media agency for sports brands and franchises."
Sportwalk has branched off into sports merchandising as well it is not being promoted owing to courier services restrictions in Tamil Nadu. Going forward, they are waiting for the opportunity to launch their own store. "Currently, our merchandise section is NOT being promoted because the Tamil Nadu government has not opened up courier and delivery services yet. The health and well-being of our employees and our customer base are of prime importance to use, so we will be resume accepting orders only once we receive the go-ahead from the Government. However, just before the lockdown, we had extremely successful campaigns for the New Year and Valentine’s Day period, including a first-of-its-kind Cricket Calendar that was cobranded with the Bharat Army. However, we did just complete our #SportwalkSuperSix campaign across our handles and we will be giving free goodies, merchandise and coupons to all our winners, to celebrate our 3rd birthday. Going ahead, we plan to introduce several interesting products to our store that will be just as innovative and appealing to sports fans across the country and beyond, so make sure you follow us on Twitter and Instagram to stay updated," says Roy.
Lastly, when asked about their plan to normalise the working pattern and targets they have in the pipeline, Roy concludes "We will take it step by step as per Government guidelines. Both Chennai and Kolkata have seen a spike in the number of cases of late and it could be a while before normalcy resumes. Having said that, we do expect sports in the country to hopefully resume before the end is up, so we will plan accordingly. The immediate target would be to resume full-scale services to our clients, launch a couple of our in-house projects and prepare and execute campaigns for the upcoming season."