New Delhi: With the promise of keeping viewers glued to their TV sets, cricket's biggest fiesta Indian Premier League (IPL) has unfolded with mega stars on the field - and off it too - and marketing teams pitching in with multimillion-rupee budgets to cash in on the action.
From getting viewers to blog with Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, who owns the Kolkata Knight Riders team, hiring international cheerleaders to organising talent shows and pushing as many ads as possible during the matches shown on prime time in the evenings, companies have left no stone unturned to market the IPL brand.
The multimillion-dollar tournament with 20 overs a side for a snappier, peppier version of the game is approved by the International Cricket Council (ICC). IPL features about 100 international cricket icons in eight teams - Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore, Jaipur, Chennai, Chandigarh and Hyderabad - which endorse both international and national brands, all with a scorching price tag.
IPL's debut season, which kicked off Friday, may last just 45 days but advertisers have planned for the entire year as cricket and cinema combine to present an enviable business opportunity.
United Spirits Ltd., which owns Bangalore's Royal Challengers, has earmarked $106 million to build the team. The company, which has also hired the international cheerleading team Washington Redskins, for added allure has committed investment for up to 10 years.
"It's a strategic investment to build the brand and our association with the game will give a lot of boost," said Amrit Thomas, executive vice-president, United Spirits Ltd.
"The potential is immense and it all depends on how stakeholders combine effectively to make it a winning proposition," Thomas added.
United Spirits is not the only one. Religare, the company sponsoring the Delhi Daredevils Team, has adopted a similar strategy.
"Like all other sponsors, we have poured in investments of about Rs.20-40 million (approx $5-10 million) yearly in branding and marketing," Subhrangshu Neogi, vice president of branding at Religare, told IANS.
Religare has lined up several campaigns, selling various merchandise such as the players' jerseys.
"This would expose us to a huge and wide constituency. It would give complete meaning to the rationale behind sponsoring a team, which is to market the company beyond being just a financial services company," Neogi added.
The world's richest cricket league, in line with the football leagues in Europe, has seen unprecedented money pouring in.
Ogilvy and Mather Advertising took on the task of building up momentum for the tournament with a series of ads, like the "Cricket ka Karmayudh", or cricket's ultimate battle zone, commercial that had animated figures flashing in and out of a stadium.
"This is a completely new category and territory in India; the agency took inspiration from the way international sports clubs such as Manchester United are positioned," said Anup Chitnis, executive creative director (South Asia), Ogilvy and Mather Advertising.
"We then deduced that a loyal fan base is the most important factor for IPL, and therefore created the 'Cricket ka Karmayudh' platform, to foster a competitive spirit by heating up the fight," Chitnis told IANS.
Nokia that is sponsoring the Kolkata Knight Riders along with Reebok, Tag Heuer, HDIL, Belmonte and The Telegraph has also launched an advertising blitzkrieg.
"To create a compelling engagement for the contest, we have undertaken a 360 degree approach to communication with a judicious mix of electronic, print and digital media," said Devinder Kishore, director (marketing), Nokia India.
"This includes a 15 second TVC (TV commercial), an eight-city print campaign, road shows in Kolkata over weekends during the IPL series. We will also be present online prominently through internet advertising as well as a viral campaign," he added.
The Finnish telecom giant is also organising several promotional events such as 'Blog with Shah Rukh!' to catch the audience, young and old.
As the hoopla grows, some sceptics are making themselves heard.
"They have created a lot of hype around it but it remains to be seen how IPL lives up to it. The slots that they have taken are tough as far as grabbing the attention of the prime-time audience is concerned," said JWT India CEO Colvyn Harris.
Agreed Swapan Seth, CEO of Equus Red Cell: "They have not really been able to whip up the euphoria. The team branding has also not been done properly."