It’s the most in-your-face sports commercialization and branding exercise to date, where every team—down to individual players—has the ability to be branded and utilized as an endorsement vehicle to sell products from FMCG (fast moving consumer goods), and apparel and electronics, to telecom and banking services. Moreover, corporations like Reliance Industries and United Breweries Ltd. that have bought IPL teams, will use the league and the players to promote their brands. By capitalizing on the vast numbers of fans and their high level of enthusiasm for the game, the new campaign is comparable in size and scope to the National Football League (NFL) in North America and the English Premier League for football (soccer, for US readers).
The IPL aims to mark the arrival of India as a sports nation, and has organized all of the ingredients necessary for a successful branding narrative: US$ 723.6 million worth of investments by leading Indian companies for team ownership rights, a solid franchisee model, US$ 3 million prize money for league champions, business-smart team owners, and branding leases for teams, players, clothing lines, stadiums, and incredible star power. For example, Shah Rukh Khan, the biggest Indian movie star—along with fellow investors Juhi Chawla and Jay Mehta—purchased the Kolkata team for US$ 75.09 million. Mukesh Ambani, one of the richest men in the world (Forbes ranked him No. 5), bought the Mumbai franchise for US$ 111.9 million. Other leading media and corporate barons in India are following their lead.
Modern-Day Cricket Meets Contemporary India
The rise of Twenty20 Cricket in India is especially compelling because the sport, on many levels, symbolizes the nation's past, present, and future. And if the popularity of a sport determines how effectively it can be commercialized, then there could not be a better branding scenario than cricket in India today. According to industry reports, such as the one from TAM Media, cricket attracts advertising revenue of around US$ 125 million per year with the potential for 20 to 25 percent revenue growth if the IPL model proves a success.
According to Girish Shah, branding head of Reliance ADAG, “Cricket to my mind has huge implications for marketers. It began as a sport but over a period of time has morphed into a form of entertainment. At the time when it started, the Indian male had a reasonable amount of time at his disposal but very limited entertainment options. So it ruled media programming where advertisers could easily aim for 70 percent of the viewership ratings. But the new India is different. There is a huge premium on time. So the new formats will be shorter and racier and more commercialized. From a corporate branding perspective, it is a brand engagement exercise as well as a business extension. We will see the positioning and building of smaller cricket team brands and individual players as brands. It will spawn off entire PR machineries which will be responsible for these exercises.”
On a national level, Twenty20 Cricket understands its place in the historical context of India's culture. India's Twenty20 national team was characterized as the “dark horse” when they beat the One Day International cricket world champs, the Aussies (Australians), in the semi finals and their subcontinent arch rivals, the Pakistanis, in the final match of the game to become world champs. This match had huge socio-cultural implications in the post-independence era because Twenty20 Cricket fans in India perceive the sport as a metaphor for broader achievements and as an example of Indian transcendence, self-assertion, and victory.
In general, cricket in India has always been at the center of the paradox between its pre-independence history and modern nationalistic rhetoric. So, Twenty20 Cricket is uniquely positioned to tap into the complex identity of Indian people and their love for their country. For example, the matches with Pakistan are fraught with uncomfortable political connotations, and those with Australia come with their share of racial tensions.
Though sponsors and corporations sometimes take the high road by promoting images of harmony that transcend political and racial boundaries—this ad, for example—at times they also choose not to circumvent these issues, and capitalize on the fervor that exists between India and its rivals. For instance, this Pepsi ad is a tongue-in-cheek take on the idea of harmony between India and Pakistan in the context of cricket. India's complicated history and the IPL's current branding will continue to evolve as the sport grows in the tangled garden of India's economic, political, and social narratives.