Buying the Tiger’s Stripes

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To a tee Tiger Woods takes a swing at the Delhi Golf Club as other golfers look on
To a tee Tiger Woods takes a swing at the Delhi Golf Club as other golfers look on. Photo: AFP

Years ago Pawan Munjal, CEO and Managing Director, Hero MotoCorp, was invited to an inter-club golf event in Orlando, Florida. This event, the Tavistock Cup, was no run-of-the-mill club event. The club teams included the likes of Tiger Woods and Ernie Els. It was also an event where Woods’ best buddy, Arjun Atwal, figured on the same side, playing for Isleworth Golf Club against Lake Nona, for whom Els is the leading player.

That’s where Munjal first met Tiger. Those close to Munjal say from then on, “Getting Tiger to India” has been on his to-do list. The box was finally checked this week.

That it probably cost Hero MotoCorp and Munjal an unconfirmed $2.2 million is another matter. For a company used to hiring brand ambassadors from Bollywood and the cricketing world, this was, in golfing jargon, “par for the course”.

More than a few eyebrows have been raised over the reported sums that were spent for Tiger. But that should not surprise anyone. Just as Tiger’s appearance fee is no secret, Hero’s ability and penchant for spending big money on sport and advertising is no secret either. Their advertising spends are among the biggest in India.

Hero’s sponsorship of cricket used to be many times more, running into hundreds of crores; their Bollywood brand ambassadors cost upwards of Rs 10-15 crore (almost $2-3 million) and their sponsorships of high-profile TV programmes cost even more.

More than $2 million for a one-day event? No media interaction, either? Officially, the media was not even allowed into the course and there was no press conference or a press release of pictures sent out.

So, was the spend justified?

A resounding yes, is what marketers say. Tiger’s visit is global news and international news agencies ran big stories. “Unofficial” pictures have been splashed across the world. Footage taken on smartphones appeared all over the World Wide Web and on TV screens across India and elsewhere. Regardless of the fact that they had not been invited, the media loved it.

Insiders say it was all a plan!

Even as Prannoy Roy, the founder and co-chairperson of one of India’s most respected TV channels, was walking the fairways with Tiger for a couple of holes — at the invitation of Munjal — his reporters were not even allowed to enter the Delhi Golf Course (DGC) with their cameras. Their reporters ran live stories from the gates of the DGC.

It is also no coincidence that the Auto Expo, a much-awaited biennial event, where auto manufacturers unveil their latest launches began a day after Tiger’s visit. Hero, in recent days, has launched more than a dozen new bikes, ranging from 100 cc to 600 cc, including a diesel concept bike, for the first time in India.

Tiger is not endorsing any of the bikes, but it would be hard to miss out the connection between Tiger, Hero and the bikes.

Golf is not a game for penny pinchers. Even more so for those who sponsor it. Decent-sized tournaments carry purses way above $1 million and in the US, most tournaments have on offer $5 million and more as prize purses. Sponsoring a tournament means adding an equivalent amount as running costs. So a $2 million event costs actually $4 million or more!

For four years beginning 2010, Gautam Thapar’s Avantha Group sponsored a tournament with a purse of €1.8 million (about $2.4 million), which meant he was spending almost $4.8 million (about Rs 28-30 crore) in all.

Thapar discontinued the tournament this year. The reasons for that are unclear, but finance would surely have figured among them. A media buying agency head pointed out that a tournament like Avantha Masters never made big news outside India. Even in India, it was often muted. But Tiger playing a one-day event was global news. Hero and Munjal figured prominently in each story.

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When the willow met the club

The evening Tiger Woods arrived in India, he went to Pawan Munjal’s house for dinner. The select gathering included Sachin Tendulkar. The cricketing icon, always keen to interact with other sportsmen — Michael Schumacher and Roger Federer being among them — was keen to visit the DGC the next morning to see Tiger in action, but could not make it. He had to go to the Rashtrapati Bhavan to receive the Bharat Ratna from President Pranab Mukherjee.

So what did Tendulkar and Tiger talk about when they met? An international businessman, who knows both players well, was also present. “It was cool and unreal,” he says. “Here were two legends — one with a 100 hundreds and another with more than 100 international golf titles, including 14 Majors. And they were discussing their injuries… knees, shoulders and the like.”

Of course, no one else was talking; they were too busy gawking at them.

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Why would Hero be so keen on global visibility? Simply, because ever since it broke away from Honda, their erstwhile partners, they have been keen to forge relations directly with international companies and export their products. From here on, Hero will for quite sometime be identified as the company that brought Tiger to India.

The Munjals are among the biggest supporters of sport. That Pawan Munjal is an unabashed golf fan is well documented; he has been sponsoring the sport for close to 20 years and Augusta Masters figures prominently on his travel plans. He also plays high-profile Pro- Ams around the world. This week, Munjal may also have sparked a new trend among the rich and famous in India.

The rich may no longer want Shah Rukh Khans, Katrina Kaifs and Priyanka Chopras dancing at their party. That is now old hat. Soon, inviting Bill Clinton, Imran Khan or an ageing Robert DeNiro for seminars might go the same way. It’s been done to death. Even owning foreign football clubs or money-guzzling IPL teams may go out of fashion. Who wants to be stuck with the same thing ‘forever’ — or well almost?

Especially, when one can get Tiger Woods for a round of golf; or Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer for a few sets of tennis; or Garry Kasparov for a few games of chess and maybe even Lionel Messi or David Beckham for mini soccer exhibition or a Kobe Bryant and Lebron James one-on-one basketball show. Hey, it only costs $2.2 million, or maybe a little more. No confirmation on that, though.

In retrospect, it might seem a bit of a surprise that it took so long for someone like Munjal to see value in such a high-profile, even if costly, visit from a top-liner like Tiger, who for his part, is said to have picked up $2-$2.5 million for an appearance in Dubai besides another $2-$2.2 million in India. That’s almost $4.5-$5 million in less than 10 days!

The Munjals, unlike many business houses of their size, are releatively low-profile. Few, if any, stories have ever emerged from their household. And, gossip is almost non-existent. Yet with Tiger at his side, Pawan Munjal was buoyant. At the end of the round of golf, he stood in the balcony overlooking the 18th green at the DGC and asked the crowd, “Did you have a good time? Would you like me to do this again?”

But, isn’t that what pop stars do? On this day, Pawan Munjal was the pop star. “The way Tiger was playing, I think he should come back to play the Indian Open,” he added. “I am honoured to be able to get him to India on his first visit. Let me say this, it won’t be his last visit to India.” Incidentally, Hero has been sponsoring the Indian Open since 2005.

So, is he actually going to get Tiger to India once again and for a tournament? Well, that seems unreal. But then, till the other afternoon, seeing Tiger swing a club in India, too, was as unreal.

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