Thursday, June 4, 2009

Winners, losers and also-rans

Branding and marketing, rather than sport and team spirit, triumphed in this IPL..

It’s been a week since the spectacular IPL final and the not so spectacular closing ceremony. You don’t need to be very smart to know that Deccan Chargers won a taut final after facing the ignominy of being the winners of the wooden spoon last year.

The runner-up was Royal Challengers, a team that was perhaps rightly branded last year as a test team and had finished seventh. They were not much different this year as the highly valued Kevin Pietersen, who was supposed to give momentum to the side as captain and key batsman, nearly derailed the challenge till Anil Kumble, the former test captain, stepped in to show the way with a little help from Ross Taylor to end up a close second.

After 59 matches, several thousand seconds of commercial time, hours of buffoonery behind the mike and countless bumps and grinds by Jacques Kallis’ sister and her clan, let’s examine who are the real winners and losers after this event. Are there any learnings at all from this exercise?

Losing matches but winning the brand war

A recent report by an independent brand valuation firm suggests that the Kolkata Knight Riders are the most valuable of the eight teams that are currently part of the IPL. While critics of brand valuation may carp at the subjective nature of the process and while cricket fans may deride the team’s performance, there is no denying the fact that the team owner has got his marketing act right, even if he could not organise the team’s performance.

They were the first to unveil their uniform, create a winning anthem if not a rocking team, get sponsorship of leading brands such as Sprite with visible advertising and extensive sale of merchandise. I am no fan of John Buchanan or Shah Rukh Khan but even I ended up buying the black and gold T-shirt on a JetLite flight to Delhi. (Bored air travellers have been known to do strange things.)

The other teams have a lot to learn from the Knight Riders in marketing and branding while the Knight Riders team can learn lots of things from other teams such as the Chargers and the Royals on the value of team spirit and the importance of a single captain. John Buchanan demonstrated the value of the statement that a “coach is something that the players use to travel to the stadium from the hotel.” Clearly the emotional SRK would be well advised to change both coach and captain next year, but who are we to comment on his team, after all it’s his money!

Price losses and value gains

Clearly the losers in the IPL were those who failed to attend the session on “cost benefit” analysis in management school. Some of the most expensive players were easily the duds of the tournament. The English players Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff must have been flattered by the prices they commanded by owners who went by reputation, but they merely flattered to deceive.

Other Englishmen such as Collingwood and Owais Shah travelled halfway through the world to warm the dugout benches on really cold South African nights. The costliest exchange has been that of the vastly overrated Robin Uthappa for India’s premier fast bowler Zaheer Khan, which, incidentally, was announced with major fanfare and someone would have thought that we were watching history in the making.

Of course, Uthappa created his own unique record by spending more time with Mandira Bedi, giving more media interviews than he did at the middle batting. His dropped catches also provided enormous entertainment to his opponents. In retrospect the relatively underpaid Australians such as Hayden, Gilchrist and Warne demonstrated the value of experience particularly in the context of the tournament’s sudden and unexpected move to South Africa. Maybe the talent scouts would be better off by getting the likes of Justin Langer, who is still making a huge number of runs in England, to play here in future series of the IPL. Value buys are the winners while the high-profile buys will be consigned to history.

The loss of a professional reputation

They do say that a reputation is slowly built over years and can be lost in a jiffy. Well, most of the commentators lost their reputation in this three-week period as they outdid themselves in trying to pander to Lalit Modi and the sponsors in a manner that was almost pitiable. The likes of Mark Nicholas, Danny Morrison, Robin Jackman, Rameez Raja and a host of others should not be allowed anywhere near a stadium where a serious cricket match is being played here after.
I urge these illustrious gentlemen and a host of others who were part of the circus to watch their own performances again in replay and perhaps they will understand the agony that some of us went through as we watched them over after over.

Broadcasting has been the loser and I am not referring only to the quality of telecasting, which left a lot to be desired despite the helicopters crisscrossing, and the host of cameras which were focusing only on the celebrities.

Winning captains, losing captains

If last year Shane Warne was the captain of the tournament, this year it was another leggie, our own Anil Kumble, who, surprisingly was an afterthought. There was a host of other captains who not only stepped up first for the presentation ceremony but were also last in terms of innovation and ability to handle pressure.

I will not run the risk of talking about Sachin Tendulkar’s captaincy as I do not want to be lynched alive, but a few prospective Indian captains were on display in addition to the incumbent M. S. Dhoni who was his normal, unflappable self for most of the tournament except when his bowlers let him down.

Yuvraj had a permanent scowl on his face, Sehwag was smiling despite committing the cardinal sin of not giving Glenn McGrath a single game despite his team having a huge lead. Of course, Kevin Pietersen and Yuvraj had one thing in common – they had no clue as to the team composition as they went out to toss! Gilchrist turned around his team and kept smiling equally when his team snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and when Rohit Sharma did the impossible in the final over.

BCCI wins the earnings battle but loses the ethics war

BCCI and Lalit Modi have been behind this amazing marketing success story that has got the world sitting up and taking notice but it has not covered itself with glory on one important aspect and that is in resolving the conflict of interest issue.

Whilst all sorts of rumours float around about the ownership of various teams, let me stay with something that I saw on television that bothered me enormously.

Mandira, poor thing in her sad new look, was asking Kris Srikkanth who his favourite was before an important game and the Chairman of the selection committee broke forth into the Chennai Super Kings jingle. Is his sponsorship with the team more critical to him than the prestigious job as Chairman of the selection committee?

India wins, Lalit Modi loses

The second edition of IPL has been a major achievement for India and its organising capabilities. It speaks of skill, logistics, execution, all brought to bear in a short time in a foreign country when the chips were down. The world sat up and took notice.

And yet Lalit Modi’s basking in the glory and cornering the camera and the limelight demonstrates the trouble with BCCI and its in-your-face approach. India is the most powerful cricketing nation in the world and it has shown more than eyeballs this time around.

It has shown tremendous marketing acumen and organising ability. But Lalit Modi needs to remember the simple branding principle: “You become a brand when others talk about you.”
People will certainly talk about the IPL and not Lalit Modi in the years to come, one hopes.

Bye bye Johannesburg, hello London

Now the caravan moves to England where teams will play as nations. Zaheer will clash with J. P. Duminy and David Hussey with Ishant Sharma.Former team mates will rediscover the hatchet and forget the recent friendships in South Africa.People such as Andrew Symonds will continue to sledge with renewed vigour and people like me who are suffering from withdrawal symptoms after the IPL will go back to predicting winners and losers.We will also remember that the biggest winner is the game of T20 cricket with its furious ups and frenetic downs.

(Ramanujam Sridhar is CEO, brand-comm, and the author of Googly - Branding on Indian Turf.)


sundaram said...

This is again a beautifully written article. You covered all angles and aspects of 20 overs criket as happened in South Africa. For some of the cricket participants, may be majority of them, and the cricket viewing public all over the globe, this was a unique experience that an Indian based and sponsored tournament was so successfully conducted and performed outside of the sub continent. Indeed, certain portion of the credit in large measure could go to the host nation and their lovely people.

Because you are the author of the article, I understand that you have to agree/approve of these thoughts in principle and I hope you would.

I like the way you respectfully addressed the "Sachin T" observation. Indeed, you are safe.



Ramanujam Sridhar said...

Yes it is a great achievement for Indian sport and more importantly Indian organising ability.
Yes something happens to India and Indians when Sachin is being discussed and I have been there done that.