Thursday, June 12, 2008

IPL’s drama and excitement leave people thirsty for more!

Shane Warne is a fantastic cricketer.” I looked up in surprise. Not that the statement was surprising. It was the person who was making the statement about one of the game’s greatest characters that caused me to look up and stare. It was being made by a prosperous 50-year-old lady in the huge queue at the new, glittering and yet completely characterless Bengaluru International Airport.
Would this lady have known that Shane Warne is the greatest leg spinner of all time, if not the most disciplined? Would she know that Shane Warne has over 700 test wickets? Would she know about Warne’s ball of the century to Mike Gatting? Would she have known about his ability to text messages at a furious pace even as he spun the ball with a gentle drift? What she certainly knew about was Warne’s tremendous contribution to the Rajasthan Royals team leading the underdogs to actually end up winning the IPL trophy in an amazing final at the brand new stadium at Vashi.
Yes, the single greatest achievement of the IPL has been its ability to woo housewives and socialites like the lady mentioned above from their traditional soaps to cricketainment as the advertising mentions. I need hardly mention that it had diehard cricket fans like me glued to the television set every evening with a steadfastness that has frustrated spouses and delighted Sony Entertainment whose television ratings for Max have gladdened marketers and advertisers no end. It has also left some of us with withdrawal symptoms as we have nothing to do every evening, not that our spouses want us back in any case! So, how have these 45 days been? Are there any learnings for franchisees, marketers and consumers?
Power of the team, not reputation of individuals
The franchisees that got their team composition right, without worrying unduly about the individual reputations of the players they bid for, were ahead. Rajasthan Royals paid a mere $10.3 million for its team as against $16.9 million paid for the team from Bangalore that was branded as the Royal Challengers. The Mumbai and Hyderabad teams were similarly high priced.
The learning is simple. Reputations or brands cost money but they have not delivered if this tournament is anything to go by. The most valuable player was Shaun Marsh, not Andrew Symonds! All the Indian iconic players delivered sporadically, if at all. The emerging (high price) champions such as Ishant Sharma and Robin Uthappa had very poor ROIs. It seems strange to talk about cricketers as though they were stocks, but many of the Indians flattered to deceive and some of the franchisees at least have regretted the non-performance of their stars quite vehemently and publicly to the embarrassment of the stocks in question!
No other team demonstrated the lack of balance than Hyderabad, which, despite the presence of charismatic players, finished at the bottom of the table, aided and abetted by the likes of Shahid Afridi. So, the big task for the teams next time around is to scout far and wide for talent from the world even as they develop their own young talent within their regions. Also, some of the teams might have to trade their players and hope that this will not add to their losses. Managing teams and managing companies is simple, provided you keep your costs low.
Where is the money?
The main source of revenue for the franchisee is the media rights and the teams in the last four got a bigger share of the media pie – which is a great relief. The phenomenal viewer interest within the country and in cases outside India are a testimony to the tremendous popularity of the T20 format and the closeness of many of the games including the final, which was undecided till the very last ball. The franchisees who are here for the long haul will benefit, although some of them might have been disheartened at the manner in which most of the companies which are publicly listed like Reliance Industries have been hammered in the stock market after they have won the bids.
Clearly, while Dalal Street watches cricket, it does not favour companies investing heavily in it. If you look westwards at similar clubs such as Arsenal, one of the most successful football clubs which has revenues of £177 million, and baseball teams such as the Los Angeles Dodgers, they have a cumulative annual growth rate of 21 per cent.
A significant portion of the gate revenues goes to the franchisees and the sight of full stadiums almost everywhere including Hyderabad, where the Deccan Chargers lost all their seven local games, some of them narrowly, was a feature. The entertainment in the grounds with world-class performers (if not the cheerleaders) must have helped. But one wonders if the same enthusiasm will continue if the cricket fails to deliver. I repeat myself when I say that IPL’s long-term success will have to depend on the quality of success and the closeness of the teams that are competing.
Who is supporting whom?
I started supporting the Royal Challengers and then quickly changed camps. I followed the Punjab Kings (not because of Preity Zinta) for some time and kept reminding myself that I was born in Madras, the home of the Chennai Super Kings, but found myself supporting the winners ultimately.
Speaking of local connect and the ability to garner the locals to back teams, I thought that the Kolkata Knight Riders had done a good job as had, perhaps, the Chennai Super Kings. Of course, these are not based on hard facts, though I did read somewhere that the Kolkata franchise had sold T-shirts to the value of Rs 5 crore.
I feel that while there has been a lot of interest, hype and media around the event, the franchisees, perhaps given the paucity of time, have done very little to promote following for their teams in their cities. People (and here both Kolkata and Chennai are perhaps exceptions) are following the game for their individual favourites, like the lady of the piece following Shane Warne. This will be the big challenge if our cricket teams have to have the following of Manchester United and Chelsea – a lot of ground level activities must happen, not only on our TV screens.
The next big challenge for the franchisees has to be connecting with the local city population. That has to be a continuous, ongoing activity, hopefully resulting in unearthing of local talent making its debut in IPL and eventually hitting the international scene. I know that for all the franchisees, this is a commercial venture. India Cements has already broken even in the first year, but in the long haul, the profitability of this whole venture will have to depend on it being a mass movement that people will feel passionately about, not just a mere mix of cricket and entertainment. Our getting there will depend entirely on the long-term commitment, vision and passion of the franchisees, even if some of them are already frothing at the mouth over the non-performance of their teams and the consequent losses that they have suffered.
Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!
If you had to pick one player who has dominated the media and attention of the nation including the lady in the queue, it has been Shane Warne. One admiring English cricketer who has been tormented enough by him once asked him, “Who writes your scripts?” In the 2005 Ashes series, it was Shane Warne who single-handedly kept England at bay and almost helped Australia retain the Ashes. England loved, admired and yet dreaded Warne and headlines like ‘It ain’t over till the fat laddie spins’ were common and the IPL was over only after the fat laddie won the trophy! Not only him, but a host of players such as Shaun Marsh, Shane Watson, Mathew Hayden and a host of coaches such as John Buchanan and Tom Moody have all left their mark on the tournament. The IPL calendar for the next few years at least must accommodate the full Australian contingent to ensure even greater interest.
So, here is a quick summary of what I am saying. The IPL has been an unqualified success for viewers, spectators and advertisers if not for Vijay Mallya. Prudence in team acquisition and balance in its composition are key. I read somewhere that Kevin Pietersen is being contemplated for a huge fee. My quick response is: Perish the thought; it will be one more costly failure.
Get the players to do grassroots promotions, not TV appearances, as that will help the locals to bond with the teams. Shane Warne has a lot of following in Hampshire as I am sure in Rajasthan. While it is a business, it is still a game for most of us. Let not the sordid things that happen in board rooms be aired on our screens. Manage quietly if you cannot manage efficiently. While Mukesh Ambani has been very much in evidence in the Mumbai stadium, he has, to me at least, been the most admirable owner.
The greatest thing for our cricket has been the emergence of so many fine youngsters such as Manpreet Goni, Yusuf Pathan and Swapnil Asnodkar who have taken to this format as a duck would take to water. May their tribe increase! There has been no innovation in the game itself and the game suffers from its old ailments such as very poor umpiring despite the availability of technology. The umpiring was pathetic. What was even worse was the commentary. We had some of the worst commentators on air while some of the best cricket was on view.
Let me end with a tongue-in-cheek comment even as I accept that some of my initial predictions about IPL have not been bang on. Teams must have both a long-term and a short-term strategy. The short-term strategy would be to get some ageing Australians in, such as Justin Langer, Andy Bichel and Brad Hogg, for a song. The long-term strategy is to use some of the greatest players in the world to influence, motivate and develop local talent that will eventually build a team of world beaters.
Ramanujam Sridhar is CEO of brand-comm and the author of “One land, one billion minds”

No comments: