Chennai Super Kings (CSK), one of the teams playing in the sixth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL), crowd-sourced its commercial this year. Fans love to upload videos showing their love for the team and its members. Taking a cue from this, the marketing executives at CSK decided to merge all these videos into a single TV commercial, which plays every time a CSK match is on.
"The idea was to make the fan the centre of our activities," says Rakesh Singh, joint-president, marketing, India Cements, and vice-president, marketing, CSK. "By merging these videos into a TVC, the response has been phenomenal," he says.
Continuing with its fan-drive, CSK decided to induct two loyal followers into its online team to manage the franchise's official Facebook page. "This is the first time we are letting fans take control of a key media property such as the team's Facebook page," says Singh.
Much like CSK, most of the other franchisees are also encouraging a loyal fan-base on a war-footing. They are training the spotlight firmly on the teams' avid followers in team-level activities.
Consider what Delhi Daredevils and Rajasthan Royals have been doing this year. They have a tie-up with a website called myheroes.in which attempts to give fans a personalised image and message of their favourite cricketer on any item they choose to have them on.
Hemant Dua, head (marketing & commercial operations), Delhi Daredevils, says such unique associations can break the monotony that comes with a maturing league. Abroad, for instance, it is not uncommon for participating teams in the English Premier League to use partners and associates to whip up fan frenzy. Raghu Iyer, CEO of Rajasthan Royals, says, "The key attribute here is about personal engagement, which associations such as the one with myheroes allow us to do."
What unique associations also do is build stickiness - important if a franchisee has to have a sustainable business model centred on the fan. IPL franchisees get a sizeable portion of revenues from the central pool, that is, the sponsorships and allied deals inked by the Board of Control for Cricket (BCCI), which controls the IPL. After ten years, this source of revenue will stop under the current agreement between the BCCI and franchisees. Says M Unni Krishnan, global strategy director, Brand Finance Plc, "Without question, franchisees today face an acid test of commercial sustenance. Their destiny lies deeply intertwined with IPL's as a whole."
With the brand value of the IPL, according to a Brand Finance study, having gone up marginally from $2.9 billion last year to $3.03 billion this year, experts say there is hope that franchisees will be able to crack the code. "The relative stability in IPL's overall brand value can be largely attributed to efforts being put in by the BCCI as well as the franchisees to bring consistency in the cricketing product, enhance fan engagement and loyalty through wide-spread marketing efforts," Krishnan of Brand Finance adds.
Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), for instance, recently began a club called the Knight Club where fans will be entitled to special privileges and benefits including tickets to matches, merchandise autographed by team members etc. for being loyal to the team.
Most franchisees have been working hard to build an identity of their own to encourage city-level patronage. For instance, Mumbai Indians' marketing campaigns in the last few years have focused on the attributes of the street vagabond in Mumbai, commonly called tapori. This year, for instance, the Mumbai Indian stars - Sachin Tendulkar, Harbhajan Singh and Ricky Ponting - can be seen wiping hankerchiefs against the nape of their necks in huge hoardings across the city - reminiscent of how the street thugs do it.
War cries are another effort to forge a unique identity. From KKR's Korbo, Lorbo, Jitbo, Rajasthan Royals' Halla Bol to Mumbai Indians' Duniya Hilla Ke Rakh Dekhenge, teams in the last few years have used war cries effectively to stand out of the clutter.
Some others have taken this online too - onto their Twitter handles to be precise. Kings XI Punjab has a Twitter handle that goes lionsdenkxip. Mumbai Indians' twitter handle is called mipaltan (paltan means a group of people in Hindi), while Royal Challengers Bangalore simply says rcbtweets; CSK and Delhi Daredevils have hashtags that go - whistlepodu and apnemunde respectively.