The brat is back

Written by Harish Bijoor | Updated: Mar 31 2013, 06:00am hrs
What started as an experiment literally, the Indian Premier League is today a format that gets in the mega bucks, as it gets in the mega eye-balls into the category

With the IPL season 6 poised to rear its noisy head once again in weeks, if not days, its time to take stock of cricket. Time to sit up and smell the cricket. And there is plenty going to be around to smell, sniff and get high for sure.

IPL is now a snotty young brat of nearly six. In terms of sporting formats, and most certainly in terms of formats, the game of cricket has gone through, these are clearly still early days. EPL soccer has been in its current avatar for 17 gangly years, and Americas favourite Super Bowl format is a late teenager as well in its current format, with its lineage of the AFL and NFL sport that started in 1960.

IPL has gone through many a tumult over these years. What started as an experiment literally is today a format that gets in the mega bucks, as it gets in the mega eye-balls into the category. The movement of IPL is, however, still young. Team franchise owners have done a lot, but a lot is left to be done as well. Time to sit up and take stock then. There are teams and teams. Nine of them in this IPL version 6.0. Shut your eye then and think of an IPL team. Which one comes to your mind first

Without getting prescriptive or generic, the one team that comes to your mind first, is possibly the best marketed team over the past six years of this passion movement called IPL. To some it is the Kolkata Knight Riders. Never mind that they have never ever won a season except the last, Shahrukh Khan does it for you! And never mind that he is not a cricketer. This is not cricket anyway. Its cricketainment. A cusp movement where Bollywood meets cricket and where Bollywood and cricket together meet Indian business.

To yet others it is Mumbai Indians in blue. Sachin is the darling cricketer of the nation, and he does it for you. And to more, it is Chennai Super Kings. Dhoni is Captain India, and Captain India is captain of CSK. Two wins in five years make it all the more irresistible a team, Dhoni and all.

But guess what, these are still early days. The cookie is still crumbling and the dice is still rolling. As season 6 kicks off, the one who markets his team the best is the one that wins the stakes at the end of it all. Remember, this is business. In this business, it is really not about how much you bled in terms of bottom-lines over the past five years, it is all about how you will go laughing all the way to the bank at the end of it all as a franchisee. The one team that gets the biggest set of eye-balls is the one that has won at the end of it all. Whats worse and bitingly real is the fact that the team that wins the season is not necessarily the one that gets the biggest eye-balls at all. Ouch.

Creating a team that is totally rich in its passion content as far as cricket lovers and consumers are concerned, and nurturing a brand that is rich is a challenge in itself. This challenge needs two very clear points of recognition. And these two points of recognition need to be imbibed totally into the DNA of teams that are serious in creating brand properties that will attract the right valuation number when you are ready to sell and exit. If at all.

Point one is a simple one.

The marketing reality of IPL is dictated by consumers. The biggest reality is the fact that IPL teams are not owned by franchisees, but are owned by viewers and passionate fans of the game. The Kings XI Punjab is really not owned by Ness Wadia and Co. The team is really owned by a whole bunch of passionate Punjabis clutching onto their lassis and their whiskeys alike and enjoying the game and living vicariously through their team players on and off the field. Mostly off.

Recognise team ownership clearly and gear your every marketing activity with this in mind. And point two is even simpler.

IPL is a seasonal game. This is a game that wakes up in summer and slumbers even before summer has slept. The event aspires to harvest the passion of 800-million plus cricket lovers in India and possibly a diaspora audience of every nation-affiliation of another 200-million. The event is a two-billion eye-balls event. Remember, most of us have two of this each.

IPL is a format that is alive for eight weeks and dead for most of the remaining 44 weeks in a year. This seasonality factor must not be taken as a game holiday period by teams. Teams that do this lose out. Brands that take breaks, break for sure.

Recognise the continuity of your brand and keep your marketing activity alive right through the year. Your plan needs to be one that understands clearly that there is a game on the field, and then there is a game on television, and then most importantly, there is a game on in the lives of people, who are forever alive, sadly unlike your attention to the brand.

If I look around the nine teams in the game that have attempted to do this right, I pick far and a few names. The one top-of-mind name that comes close though is the Chennai Super Kings team. This is one team that seems to have imbibed the ethos and has attempted to keep the spirit of the team alive. Not perfect, but getting there in a meandering manner for sure. What do I find right with CSK Let me list them out as I see it. Two things and more for sure. Ideas all other teams can run with. Ideas that will help populate the game that is IPL in a more meaningful and intrusive manner than now.

n Team ownership is clear. The brand idea is simple. Fans own the team. Fans dont run the team as yet, but there is a semblance of offering fans this chance. Look at the way they have asked fans to upload videos on the team. There is a semblance of interactive marketing at play. Every visual mnemonic they have chosen and a whole host of pre-event publicity campaigns on television have chosen to incorporate the language, the lingo and the rustic aura that is typically Chennai for a start and Tamilian till the end. The ability of the team to weave into its DNA its very sets of viewers and fans is a step totally in the right direction. One that will pay rich dividends.The team need to do a lot more though. Team ownership needs to be precipitated and pushed deeper for a start. CSK need to look at forming school-level clubs across Tamil Nadu for a start. Cricket clubs that meet regularly not only to play the game, but to discuss, disseminate and do a lot more with cricket than has been attempted thus far. The team need to also drop its Chennai focus and delve deeper for a start into Tamil Nadu as a whole, and possibly in later years even deeper into the Tamil diaspora that populates India and the world at large. The game to an extent has just begun for CSK. But well begun for sure guys!

n Seasonality of the format is being tackled. The initial attempt of taking the CSK team off the 20:20 field, and off the television has been handled well. The Junior Super Kings school tournament in Chennai is an example of good intent. This needs to be driven into the hinterland of Tamil Nadu and the Tamil diaspora for sure. Lets remember, the more passion you build into the format, the more it delivers. Events such as the JSK allow brands to get off the pedestal of the not-so-intelligent box and walk into peoples lives intrusively. Teams that want to be in the reckoning of consumer lives right through the year, and not for just ten weeks flat, need to do this. More of this. Quizzes, essay contests, fashion-shows and what not for sure.

As IPL teams mature, we will see a lot more of what CSK is doing being done by every other team. As teams vie to vest their teams with 100-million dollar valuations for a start, team managements need to remember that valuation does not necessarily accrue by a teams performance in the season at all. A lot can happen outside an Eden Gardens a Mohali or a Dharmshala. In fact, a lot does happen outside. The real action for IPL teams is outside. Outside and inside the homes of millions of fans, who actually own your team. These fans can take you places, and these very fans can take you to the cleaners as well, if you the franchisee does not do it right.

IPL has a format that has two quotients. One is what one waits to watch for eight weeks. This is packed with the passion for the team, the passion for the player, the passion for the mega spectacle of cricket and the then to see live the Big A (and Nita Ambani, of course), a Preity Zinta, Shahrukh Khan, Vijay Mallya and more.

The second quotient is one that happens after the season is done with and wrapped up. This begins just the week after. This begins, thrives and lives in the lives of the fans of the teams in question. This will translate into a lot more as we go through the years ahead. While most teams have got quotient one right, quotient two is something teams need to think about and invest in.

Even as I close this piece, I hear that the CSK team are ready to launch their comic book avatar dubbed the Lion of Chepauk. What do we wait for next then The Loins of Punjab in a comic book avatar from Mohali Touche!

The author is a brand-expert & CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc