WHEN CRICKET AND BRANDS GO HAND IN GLOVE


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IPL is not just about the game. It’s a grand experiment of throwing sports, entertainment and public relations into a mix which advertisers are not willing to miss out on…By Supriya Batra
In the shift from Test matches to One-Day and then to Twenty-20 formats, the latest of which the Indian Premier League (IPL) has come to symbolise, there has been a profound reworking of the internal biology of cricket. From being a sport to be played in leisure, cricket has transformed into not just a profession and an industry but also into an enterprise that acts as a platform for advertisers, celebrities, businesses and even consumers. With the coming of age of the IPL, cricket’s transformation into the politics of velocity is now complete. The game now races beyond the boundaries of sport and becomes integral to the shaping of “brand India”.

Vaishali Sharma, VP-Marketing of Sony MAX, the broadcaster of IPL, in a recent interview, said: “IPL draws people across age groups, gender and language. This year’s campaign ‘Come On, Bulaava Aaya Hai’ stems from the insight into how the passion for IPL overtakes every aspect of people’s lives.” To attract new viewers to the league, the broadcaster is rolling out the campaign through TV, print, radio, digital, outdoor and on-ground activities with emphasis on smaller towns and cities. The advertising and marketing managers plan creative ways so as to attract maximum viewership for their brands and products. V. Shyamal Kumar, Manager at Videocon D2H (which is the shirt sponsor of the Mumbai Indians team) says, “The increased viewership of the tournament every year shows that we made the right choice by investing in IPL.”

Indian Premier League has set new dimensions when it comes to the commercialisation of sports in India and Asia. It isn’t surprising to see that IPL is seen as a boon for the advertising and marketing industry.

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Advertisement rates for a 10-second spot on the channels are going for between 4,50,000 and 4,75,000 Indian Rupees ($7,500 to $8,000) this year. The IPL cricketer on the field looks more like a walking advertising board instead of a player. With around six sponsor logos on an average on the jerseys of the players like that of Aircel, Videocon D2H, Orbit, Usha, Quickr, etc., such a comparison should not appear too far-fetched. The game acts as a link between the player’s talent and a brand’s image. Even established brands are using this platform to increase their market share. The brand becomes a part of “the action” and imbibes the characteristics of the team. A hard-core sports fan is like a religious fanatic. Most brands hope that some of these fanatics cross over and move from supporting just the team to supporting its team of sponsors.

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Even the commentary in the sport, the main aim of which is to inform the viewers about the minute-to-minute update of the match, sounds like advertising. For example, each six is a ‘DLF maximum’; a brilliant catch is a ‘Karbonn Kamaal Catch’; each critical point in the game becomes a ‘Citi moment of success’. It becomes a matter of joke for the core fans of the sport who now hear commentators taking bathroom fittings brand names while announcing strategic time-outs. The misery of the people watching matches on the television sets is heightened when the screen suddenly splits into two, losing a horizontal quarter to ads, sometimes a vertical and sometimes both.

The glitzy and glamorous IPL, importing the idea of privately owned franchises from a combination of soccer’s EPL (English Premier League) and the American NFL (National Football League), became a super hit when it was launched in 2008. The first season got the highest television rating points (TRP) ever for any cricketing event in India. Ever since, media buying agencies have pronounced IPL as the biggest advertising revenue spinner every year. It created a television-centric, cash-rich, celebrity-driven, non-national, cricketbased product that was intended to sell to the world. The trend of another successful IPL season is continuing this year as well and social media has also jumped into the business.

A clutch of e-commerce companies such as Flipkart, Amazon, Go Daddy and others are also seen investing heavily in the current edition of the Indian Premier League for buying on-air advertising space. Media planners believe that there is

no other property on television that can promise the kind of mileage that the IPL delivers. The tournament has built so many brands over the last six years, especially mobile handset brands like Micromax and Karbonn, that IPL can be considered a free hit for the advertisers.

The idea of an association between personalities from the entertainment industry and business leaders, taken from European football leagues, has worked wonders and has helped in enhancing the brand image of IPL. It is neither just cricket nor it’s just entertainment; it nowadays is Cricketainment.ipl-5

When Bollywood and cricket met, the result was beneficial for all. The addition of entertainment-inspired glamour extended to creating theatre and spectacle at matches. Undoubtedly, it is very entertaining to see one’s favourite cricketer as well as a Bollywood star on the same platform. Superstars like Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta, Shilpa Shetty, Akshay Kumar and Deepika Padukone were seen endorsing and promoting various players and teams, which provided a lot of glamour and added value to IPL. Even the celebrities and businessmen are important factors in the entire image and brand building process. In Season 1, the total number of brands advertising in IPL was 40. In Season 2, it grew to 69 and this time, it has already crossed a total of about 90!

ipl-page-26IPL is definitely not a purely cricketoriented concept. It can rather be seen as a coming together of varied professions: a package that includes the traditional building blocks of players looking for quick money, administrators, specialised coaches, politicians, businessmen, nutritionists, statisticians, videographers, public relations managers, physiotherapists, engineers who design analytical software, film stars who seek publicity, businesses looking for a better advertising platform and television channels trying to improve their ratings. It is the stitching together of the best practices in the world when it comes to combining sports with entertainment.

IPL has brought more razzmatazz and speed to the sport than had ever hitherto been imagined. But, at the same time all these advertising and marketing efforts raise the need to strike the right balance between entertainment and sport, and between drawing in crowds and maintaining the credibility and quality of the sport on offer. Indians’ love for cricket is a given. The sport is considered no less than a religion in India and despite the innumerable controversies, the numbers of which grow year after year, nothing has deterred brands from putting their money in IPL. IPL and brands are hand in glove as the game of cricket becomes a money-spinner business!

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