Thursday, January 27, 2011

Heroes, zeroes and wannabes!

The IPL auction, hits and misses may be a media event but the quality of the game is what will determine its success..

Serious advertisers and those who have an interest in the game should go by the shorter version of the game and by that I mean T20.

The quality of the game,and not the players' prices, will ultimately have an impact on the success of IPL. As for the World Cup, that's another piece of entertainment better approached (or not) with great deliberation. Seen here are Mumbai Indians team owner Nita Ambani at this month's IPL auction (right) and the glittering trophy for the upcoming Cricket World Cup.

As I was sitting in front of the TV on the day of the much publicised IPL auction with my imagination boggling and my calculator working furiously, my mind wandered to my school days. Mixed with the pleasant memories of French cricket and wonderful friends were some other not-so-pleasant ones. While there is no denying the fact that I owe everything to the school (I can almost hear you saying, why blame the school) I must also concede that I may have had the dubious record of being the only student caned by the school and easily the person who got the maximum impositions with the piece de resistance being asked to copy the first 26 pages of the Geography text book! (Mind you, my parents, unlike those of today, did not rush to the media with complaints about student harassment.) But on a happier note, the school had the brilliant practice of always, I repeat, always, being closed on Saturdays.

Saturday was my favourite day as the shadow of homework to be done would hit me only on Sunday night. So no sooner than I had hurriedly gobbled my breakfast I would rush out, bat in hand, seeking other like-minded individuals. Sadly the parents of my friends were more alert than my own and I would hastily see windows being shut, loud whispers of “just see what happens to you now if you go out to play with that useless fellow”… You get the picture?

My parents too, who were as benign as parents of a mediocre student might have been, somehow saw red when they saw me with the cricket bat. And yet when I saw the IPL auction unfold before me and witnessed the unreal number of dollars being offered to often unheard-of players, I seriously wondered if I should have spent more time with my cricket bat than with my trusted Pilot fountain pen from whose nib more ink came on to my fingers and shirt than answers on to my examination papers!

The aftermath of Lalit Modi

The IPL is arguably the only Indian brand that has made a global impact in a phenomenally short period thanks to media, mind boggling numbers and the celebrities involved. And yet, with the manner in which Lalit Modi got shunted, the manner in which dirty linen was being washed in public, it was hardly surprising that the brand's image took a serious beating and the critics were out with their knives and the Western media which had initially goofed on its assessment of the possible impact was preening for not having backed the wrong horse. But make no mistake. The IPL had been conceptualised brilliantly for an entertainment-starved country which was suddenly discovering its new found importance and affluence. The inclusion of franchisees created its own share of muck in the auction; the viewer and media interest and the phenomenal amounts of money forked out to some completely bemused players are all a tribute to the strength of the concept. Clearly it will not be allowed to fail, which is a good thing.

Heroes to zeroes

The auction of the fourth edition of IPL came close on the heels of the English Ashes triumph. England had humiliated Australia in front of thousands of disbelieving Australians. The English team, which is having a dream run and is perhaps a serious contender for India's no 1 status, won in Australia after 24 years with desperate ease — no less than three innings defeats! Nor should we forget that England are the current T20 champions of the world.

But clearly, in Bangalore where the auctions were happening, no one seemed to care. Many of the top performers in the Ashes – Bell, Anderson, Swann, Prior, Tremlett, Bresnan … all studiously ignored! I think it is easy to write off the franchisees as clueless moneybags manipulated by Aussie coaches, but I believe they have everyone's statistics in Excel sheets if not at the tips of their ring-laden fingers. Throw in the ECB's snootiness to the IPL and the English media's superior attitude to it and you realise the English players have missed the IPL gravy train.

The Australians may be at the bottom of the international pile but that was not reflected in the interest or the pricing, aided and abetted by one Australian coach after the other. Of course, closer home more headlines were being made by the cold shoulder being given to our own ‘ Dada'. “How can the Knight Riders even think of leaving him out?” asked the indignant Bengali, and the franchisees made sympathetic noises without really saying anything! Public relations is an art, isn't it!

Having said all that, I think some (not all) of the pricing bids have been a bit difficult to explain. Instead of getting into the individual bids, I would like to go by the learnings from the earlier IPLs and the fact that the really smart franchisees were the ones who discovered the low-priced Shaun Marshs and Shane Watsons ... who will these players be for the fourth edition of IPL? Only God, and if one may add, Shane Warne, might know.

The franchisees too know that while most of the work is done (and money spent) it will be the uncapped players who will have to complete the team. But as a cricket lover I believe that this time around with 10 teams and some of them with a good mix of Indian and international players (no less than 38 Australian players) will provide some interesting fare even as the boundary ropes get drawn in to make the cheerleaders dance!

But what about the advertiser who makes the system go around? What does the IPL hold? Will it sustain interest? Does it make sense to put their bets on it? I believe the IPL's success as always will depend on the quality of the cricket, not so much the entertainment, with the BCCI being questioned on the need for cheerleaders and parties after the game. I am sure of the quality of the fare that will be on display and given the quality of the players involved and the stakes, the matches will be interesting. So serious advertisers and those who have an interest in the game should go by the shorter version of the game and by that I mean T20 which leads me to the longer version and the World Cup which is going to be held after a gap of 23 years in our own country.

Who will win the 2011 World Cup?

Every moment of the day the ESPN Star group of channels has been devoted to the World Cups from 1975 onwards with the Australians hogging most of the attention, much as they did in the IPL auctions. Yet, it is worthwhile to remember two things. Indians want India to win the World Cup. Our two unsuccessful attempts at home in 1987 and 1996 make me wonder if our billion and more people will put needless pressure on our players, aided and abetted by an over-the-top media which alternates between complete arrogance and absolute diffidence. Speaking of 1987, I used to work with Mudra which was handling the promotion of the Reliance World Cup. Rumour has it that Vimal, the flagship brand of the Reliance group then signed on three cricketers, Vivian Richards, Ravi Shastri and Alan Border, for the princely sum of Rs 50,000 each for the campaign ‘The looks of a winner'. Well there was an unlikely winner in Alan Border! Leading me to wonder who the next winner will be.

Yet, in my humble opinion, the marginal brands would do well to give this World Cup a miss. Watch it on TV but don't go near it unless you are an Airtel, Vodafone, Coke or Pepsi. Nearly 80 per cent of the games will be non-India matches and sadly the whole cricketing world has become completely partisan. Every country wants to watch its own players. In 1987 when England played Australia at Kolkata's Eden Gardens in the final of the same Reliance Cup that I was mentioning to you, 90,0000 people were crammed into the stadium with every available seat taken. But I worry for the TV viewership in case India does not make it to the finals. With too many imponderables, it perhaps makes sense to stay with the IPL where some Indian player or the other will be playing. Of course, smart companies will be waiting in the wings to cherry-pick.

Spare a thought for the viewer

Channels have become greedier over the years and the person who is usually shortchanged is the viewer. The first and last ball of an over will be cheerfully substituted for commercials. The same commercial will be repeated ad infinitum in the day. While spectator conditions may improve this time around, what happens to die-hard viewers such as me? Treat me well and I will be loyal to you. Don't continue to take me for granted.

PS: I have been traveling to different parts of the world — England, West Indies, South Africa, not to forget numerous grounds in India — to watch the World Cup over the years and India has not won the World Cup when I have watched live. This time, I will watch on TV and I am sure India will win!

Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO, brand – comm.
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Vinoth Ur friend said...

Thanks a lot to your trusted pilot pen, because of that only I have this opportunity of learning a lot on brands and branding.
And also only through your pilot pen, guys like me are still fans for you and your blogs sir.
Since in cricket the heroes may become zeroes for some time, at that time all the diehard viewers and lovers of cricket will not be like us sir.
Some of our cricket loving friends will throw stones and attack those zeroes houses (even though they are their heroes once).
So let’s hope that this time all we won’t create any pressure to the players. I am also sure India is going to win this time..

shrini said...

A really nice article sir. One thing that I wanted to bring into picture here is the fact that the english players were not picked in high numbers was due to the fact that they, having their international duty, will not be available during that time. That was the major reason for clubs to avoid pickin players whom they think wil miss the major part of the tournament.
Also, this time around, advertisemets is not only restricted to the playing captains, but also to those wolrd cup winning captains as Network 18 is planning to have a series of episodes with each one of them.
Lets have our hopes high and wish the team!!!