Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The biggest Indian brand of the year…

In the year 2007, when the BCCI announced the launch of the Indian Premier League (IPL) – a premium T20 tournament, everyone thought that it was just out of competition from ICL (remember the T20 step brother from Zee Networks / Essel Group stable). Everyone took the announcement of IPL as a reply to the ICL and nothing else. But who knew that 2 years into the tournament it would become the 6th biggest brand in sports ever. None believed and I believe, not even the BCCI or its office bearers and our very own Mr. Lalit Modi, Commissioner, IPL knew that it would attract moolah the way it actually did and would become a benchmark for others to follow.

The best thing that IPL really has done apart from taking India to the world, which I think is not a big task because there are so many of us already doing that job for our country. The silver lining lied in the opportunities that a tournament of this nature brought to the local Indian cricket talent who could never climb the ladder to reach the destination called Indian National Cricket Team. Till IPL 1 in 2008, did anyone know Yusuf Pathan, except for that he is the elder brother of Irfan Pathan who himself was living in oblivion after successful 2 years with the National team. But now everyone is enthused by his pyrotechnics on the field and even the opposition knows that he can smother any attack out of the ground on his day. Even the news of he getting marriage proposals from across the country made into newspapers and news channels. Didn’t the board and the selection committee unearth talents like Ravindra Jadeja who is gradually becoming a regular with the National team? Or didn’t IPL give a fitting opportunity to people like Irfan Pathan whom people of the nation were fast forgetting, alike the national selectors? IPL gave us other stars like Manpreet Gony, Swapnil Asnodkar, Kamran Khan, to name a few. In my view this is the biggest gain for these small town players who could have otherwise struggled to fulfil their dreams. Isn’t it helping the board in preparing the bench for the future? Another positive out of IPL was the experience of locking horns and sharing dressing rooms with greats like Sachin Tendulkar, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and playing in a competition of this magnitude. The feeling and gains from playing alongside world class players from every cricket playing nation could be enormous and would have taken the local Indian talent to a new height in the sport they love so passionately. There were other gains as well like the money they would get from the contracts with their franchise and the advertisement money that would be splurged on the players and the name and fame that these players make out of it. But I think they were all secondary or I will call them allied – as this comes along with a tournament of such stature.

A lot has been said about the success of IPL or so to say the marketing success of the IPL. No wonder some great minds have worked behind the scenes and on scenes too to make it a $2bn brand. People applaud the BCCI and hail its man behind the concept – Mr. Lalit Modi was creating a global brand out of the most famous pastime of a crazy nation. I guess that’s what he played his bets on and came out trumps.

Conceptualising and making it happen on the grand scale with which the IPL is happening for the past years would have taken its toll on everyone involved. The idea took almost a year to materialise and what magnificent way it flowered. The concept of private franchise and club like atmosphere was well taken from European football, but believing in it and believing it is possible in cricket too was the start of it. Then building it brick by brick and creating a huge edifice which is being values so high in just 2 years from start is no mean achievement.

The financial clout of the BCCI is notoriously famous in cricketing circles that must have given them a heads on in this assignment. But they had to make it happen the way it finally did. They sold the concept pretty well. Actually, the saleability of cricket in our country where we can see empty streets and shops closed for cricket matches is commonly known and hence the idea was easy doing with in the corporate circle for the organisers. They easily knew that they would eventually make money, if not for 1-2 years in the start but after that it should be easy going. Most of the franchises involved were big businessmen (with lots of business interest that cut across various functions and sectors with a lot of gestation periods) with deep pockets.

The $1bn television deal and the player auctions has generated a level of hype and razzmatazz never seen before in the world of cricket. For the companies and business houses bidding for teams and getting hold of prime players under its fold, it meant better brand image for their company. With India becoming World T20 champions, the game started generating a lot of eyeballs and it could eventually become a show of strength for these corporate houses, just like what happens in English soccer and American basketball. It made business sense for these conglomerates as well, when the teams can be bought and sold for profit if they perform well. Comment by India Cements vice-chairman and MD, Mr. N Srinivasan, summarises the game here – IPL will help us build brand image at no cost.

The rising popularity of T20 format of the game and the ever crazy cricket fan in the country had made IPL what it is today. If we look at the reach delivered by the league, we are made to believe that this is not the future of the game, it is the present. Whether or not it is recognised by the ICC is irrelevant to the audiences, who are attracted to watch the best of the world at one forum. It is big-ticket cricket. The brand positioning of the game with the common man is it is “Fast and Quick Entertainment”. I believe that is what is making it sell like hot cake.

IPL expanded the marketing budgets of companies, instead of creating a flight of funds. According to estimates, the league has added almost Rs. 300 crores to the total advertising pie. The rates for ad slots have also risen stupendously. The presenting sponsor fetched more than 25 crores to Sony (TV rights holder for IPL). At the start, it was only Rs 2.5-3 lakh for a 10 second spot. But all this changed while the event became a huge success and started garnering major TRP and ratings.

The continuing list of sponsors for the event, sponsors for the venues, merchandise, and online media has made everyone go tizzy. The list of sponsors for the individual teams doesn’t end too, from Reebok to Nokia to Tag Heur to Master Cards of this world; everyone is making a beeline for their share of the pie.

Undoubtedly, IPL, the microcosm of cricket – 8 teams, 20 overs and 3 hours a match, over 1 billion people watching and we have a $2bn brand. Who would have thought that? The best part of IPL is nobody wins or looses. Everybody just makes money. Isn't it what we Indians like the most about it. If it is the National team which looses a tournament, hearts will be broken and we would starting shouting and cribbing. Not the case with the IPL. There is no emotional attachment so far, yet there is a lot of interest. Best of all – it is a money spinner. RBI might be well placed to order a new war chest to accumulate the foreign reserves IPL is ringing in J

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