South Asian market now one to watch
In sports over the past 20 years we have been witness to the emergence of data as a strategic tool, whether applied to player personnel decisions or business practices. We have also learned that not every number or statistic is equally important. When it comes to marketing in sports, for example, population size matters but it is not everything. Rate of growth, geographic concentration of population, and income/spending power can all come into play. These factors are important when it comes to analyzing the relatively small but lucrative demographic of South Asians in the United States.
Almost 4.5 million South Asians live in the U.S., with a majority of those living in major metropolitan markets, and they have a median income exceeding $80K, the highest among any ethnic group. And it is a growing group. Comparing the 2000 Census and 2013 American Community Survey data, the South Asian community grew 97 percent, being the fastest-growing major ethnic group in the U.S.
Before going any further, it would help to specify who we are talking about. The South Asian community in the U.S. includes individuals who trace their ancestry to Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. Indians comprise the largest segment, making up over 80 percent of the total population, followed by Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Nepali, Sri Lankans and Bhutanese. They speak many languages, with Hindi and Urdu being the most widely spoken.
South Asians are among the most highly educated immigrant groups, and when combined with other Asian Americans, their purchasing power is expected to reach $1.1 trillion by 2020. (It is safe to assume some of them will be buying the latest pair of Air Jordans or Curry 5s.)
Growth in the population is not uniformly distributed, so many cities with sports teams may not have reason, yet, to build out a comprehensive South Asian strategy. However, the metropolitan areas with the largest South Asian populations are sports meccas, including New York City, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and San Francisco-Oakland. Across the five major sports leagues, these cities are the home to 41 franchises, or more than 25 percent of all teams. (Both of those numbers increase when you take into account Canada’s largest city, Toronto, which has a large South Asian population.)
With these statistics, we hope we have gotten your attention. Now may be the time to start targeting this group with a well-defined strategy, not a cookie-cutter ethnic group effort. The challenge? There is a relative lack of data for this demographic when it comes to sports consumption behaviors. Who can help with this? Well, how about South Asians themselves? We are seeing more South Asians enter the industry and excelling, In fact, three were among SBJ’s latest Forty Under 40: Megha Parekh, Jacksonville Jaguars; Deepen Parikh, Courtside Ventures; Miheer Walavalkar, LiveLike. Others in sports business include Vivek Ranadivé, co-owner, Sacramento Kings; Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, president, StubHub; Sunil Gulati, former president, USSF; Kevin Negandhi, sports anchor, ESPN; Devi Mahadevia, sports partnerships, Facebook; Akash Jain, VP of International Development, NFL; and Ram Padmanabhan, general counsel, Chicago Bulls. And of course, there are those South Asians running multinationals that have a hand in sports, i.e. Indra Nooyi, who recently stepped down from her position as PepsiCo CEO, and Ajaypal Singh Banga, president and chief executive officer of Mastercard.
There are several marketing, content and participation success stories happening already in the U.S. and Canada. A number of teams have held “South Asian Night,” “India Day” and “Sikh Heritage Night” events. The Sacramento Kings held their first “Kaurs Singhs and Kings” night in 2014 and have teamed with the local Sikh community for pregame and halftime performances of Punjabi folk dances and music. In 2017, the NBA recognized the Orlando Magic’s India Day Celebration as the Best Heritage Night in the NBA.
Canada has the first national sports programming in a South Asian language, “Hockey Night in Punjabi.” This, coupled with the success of Jujhar Khaira, Robin Bawa and Manny Malhotra, the first players of Indian descent to play in the NHL, is showing positive ripple effects in ice rinks across Canada.
Previously in the pages of SBJ, we have highlighted the inroads being made into the world’s second-most-populous country, India, by sports entities from the U.S. and around the world. However, the second half of the puzzle is success in our domestic market with an affluent and growing ethnic group. According to Inderjit Singh Kallirai, founder of K3 International, an organizer of some of the aforementioned cultural nights, early efforts are sure to prove bountiful as the marketplace becomes more educated and savvier about marketing to South Asian Americans. “I think we are just at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to opportunities for sports entities and the South Asian community. This is an exciting time.”
Neha Uberoi Khangoora is co-founder of business and networking group South Asians in Sports (SAiSports) and Sarbjit “Sab” Singh is a professor and chairperson of Sports Management at Farmingdale State College (NY).