The IPL, and India in general, was identified very early on as a huge growth market for the Mongoose bat. We’d begun sniffing out players right from launch date, who could spearhead the brand launch into the India market. Raina, Smith, Dilshan, Gayle were all names thrown around the office. But it was indeed Matthew Hayden, who was signed to endorse and lead the charge into India.
Hayden was first exposed to the Mongoose during the 2009 Ashes series. He was over in the UK on commentating duties, and was persuaded to try the bat during a specially organised net session at Middlesex’s academy in Finchley, North London. Hayden had been dropped by Gray Nicolls a couple of years prior, and despite leading the IPL 2009 run-scorers he was still without a bat sponsor.
Hayden was also eyeing potential opportunities for himself post-cricket. Already in Australia was he a TV personality, running a cooking programme and making regular ‘talking head’ appearances — but through his company and management they were keen to look into sports investment opportunities. We saw a great potential opportunity, to link-up long term with Hayden and his team and begun thrashing out an initial sponsorship contract.
Like most of our contracts at Mongoose, we always would aim to pay attractive retainers with some obscene bonuses. A perfect storm of an innings by Hayden, could potentially have cost in excess of $200,000 USD with bonuses for 3, 5 or 6 sixes in an over along with landmark bonuses for reaching hundreds and fifties. These bonuses were all reliant on the use of the radical MMi3 bat, designed to encourage the players to use this model rather than the more conservative CoR3.
In early February, the Hayden deal was all tied up and we begun work on the overall launch plan into India. Hayden made his order for equipment, which included an order of 20 pairs of gloves. A traced hand, was sent through along with leg measurements to ensure the protective equipment fitted perfectly. Bats were ordered from 2 of our suppliers, both Hunts County here in the UK and Sareen Sports, who had previously made bats for Hayden during IPL 2009. In total, we had shipped around 40 bats across to Chennai for Hayden to select from and to use over the period of the tournament. Hayden wasn’t particularly picky about his bats, requesting bats weighing ‘around 2lb 10oz’ ideally with some red heartwood in the blade.
We also managed to sign a second contract for the IPL with Deccan Chargers player, Andrew Symonds. Symonds had no intention to use the MMi3, and was more picky about his cricket bats sending over bats to be replicated by our batmakers in the UK and India. He too used around a 2lb 10oz bat, albeit with an incredibly thin shoulder, low middle and rounded back — without the concaving which was all so fashionable at the time.
On the 11th March 2010, just 1 day before the IPL kicked off — we announced Hayden to the Indian cricketing fraternity. Initially we’d debated around creating a teaser campaign, sending Hayden out with blank bat with a huge question mark on it with the intention of creating interest. But after the success of the UK launch, and with the IPL schedule — we opted for the traditional launch with a refresh and update to the branding we were using in the UK. The main launch took place at a hotel in Delhi with MCF, Mongoose’s CEO, and Hayden doing a Q&A. We even hastily put together a net outside of the hotel, so the press could get some early action photos of the bat in action.
The following day, all major Indian papers ran a story, much like this:
India had gone Mongoose crazy
Whilst we’d got the launch nailed. What we hadn’t sorted was distribution, or even a partner to sell the bats in India. Ideally we’d have been like Apple, able to roll 100's of bats into stores the next day for the baying public to pick up. We didn’t have any bats in India, nor did we have any suppliers, salesman or retailers who had agreed to stock the bats. A supply/distribution agreement was quickly drawn up with Sareen Sports, our Indian manufacturer of bats, but this was only for 100 signed limited edition bats which would retail in excess of £300 (20,000 INR). SS were also a competitor in the marketplace, as well as a partner, they were keen to maintain their position as the no.2 bat manufacturer in India — and a bold UK brand with what seemed like boatloads of financial power, must have been a concern for them. Of the 100 bats we distributed on sale and return (the retailer would only pay us on sale of the bat), we saw only a small portion sold and invoiced. The business, with only 3 full-time employees at the time, was struggling enough in the UK — selling, distributing and producing bats for a market so fragmented and big as India was a bridge too far.
Despite the production, distribution and sales woes. On the pitch, and on the TV, the Mongoose was a revelation. It excited the public, and players, with a number of Chennai’s cricketers wanting to use the bat despite being sponsored by other companies.
Its first public, televised, outing was on 19th March 2010, for against the Delhi Daredevils. Marcus, our CEO, was at the ground in the Chennai box. Dave, our Sales Manager, and I were sat in the UK Mongoose offices, next to those of the PCA (Professional Cricketers Association). Hayden opened the innings with a traditional bat, and on the 2nd ball of the 4th over Hayden called for the 12th Man.
This was our cue in the UK to hit the pub, and hopefully see history made. It was the first time we’d seen the MMi3 live on TV, and I was shaking like a leaf. I can imagine bringing your first born into the world is a similar feeling. Hayden’s first balls faced with the MMi3 were a dot ball, then a single. The commentators were laughing, and began to think it wasn’t possible to time anything with this ‘half bat’. Then, against Rajat Bhati, all hell broke loose. The next 4 deliveries were 3 fours, then a six. The medium pace was no match for the power and timing from Hayden. Next up was Dilshan, looking to take some pace off the ball — he was soon tonked for 21 off his first over. An over containing 3 sixes, an over which alone would have cost Mongoose over $18,000 USD in bonuses. The brash bullying continued until he was caught for 93, off only 43 balls.
For us, we thought this would be a real watershed moment at Mongoose Cricket. From here we’d power on to become the force we aspired to be, both in India and the UK. The Mongoose bat trended worldwide on Twitter, we were again on the front pages of every Indian newspaper. Even ITV had put specifically together a montage which was wheeled out everytime Chennai would go on to play.
However, in the history of Mongoose we’d go on to sell less than 50 bats in India. For a company that had seen India as the big opportunity and untapped marketplace, and had thrown in excess of $500,000 on launch costs and sponsorship it was a catastrophic failure.
So what went wrong? The answer is quite simple.
We had a lack of partnership, or distribution deal before launching.
The decision to launch in India, was one taken quite late, giving us less than 3 months to plan and execute a full launch strategy whilst maintaining the growth of the UK brand which was entering peak season. The launch was to include new product lines (in way of bat branding), manufacturing, player sponsorships, press conferences and of course full distribution in India. With the benefit of hindsight, we can all see that this timeline was way too optimistic, and although we managed to nail the launch, and even had 1500 bats sitting at the factory ready — the distribution was something we didn’t fix. India is a very fragmented market, where retailers need face to face visits and personal phone calls. This was unlike the UK, where a brand can maintain growth with occasional phone calls and an ordering system which a retailer can access. Originally we were offered a licensing deal with a manufacturer, and in hindsight perhaps that would have been a better option.
The lack of availability in retail led to counterfeiting and a drop-off in interest from customers. The bats which were available were very few and far between, and were pitched at a cost in excess of 20,000INR which was right at the top end of the market.
Hayden also went on to struggle for the rest of the tournament. For the remainder of the tournament, he was yet to exceed a score of 30 runs in an innings. Leading many to lose belief in the Mongoose, or treat it as a fad. Andrew Symonds, our second player, would only use the more traditional CoR3 which didn’t grab the headlines of Hayden.
By June 2010, only 2 months after launch, our visibility in India was next to none existent. Any future movement into India, would almost be a totally new launch. The efforts to crack the Indian market had been futile, but what a ride it was.