IPL 5: Its coming of age

The IPL started under a cloud of uncertainty. Indian team had a disastrous tour to first England and then to Australia. It won nothing in England, and won almost nothing in Australia, save for one freak game in Hobart against Sri Lanka. Just when everyone thought that the Indian subcontinent is where Indian cricket will bounce back to previous glory, the fans were in for more disappointment. India won against Pakistan and SL, but lost to Bangladesh and couldn’t defend its title of Asia Cup!

It seemed that Indian cup of woes was overflowing.
Meanwhile Indian sport was mounting a strong challenge to Cricket. Hockey was played to a packed stadium, boxing was drawing crowds in the World Boxing Series. And a host of sporting events were attracting eyeballs.

It seemed that the dice was loaded against IPL
The opening ceremony did nothing to perk up the interest, and the first week of cricketing action left television audience cold. Ratings dipped, inventory piled up, and generally it looked like IPL 5 will fare worse than IPL 4. Add to it the controversies of fixing and rape, the league should have folded and gone belly up. Admittedly it’s easy to criticize IPL. The auction process, the international players, the cheerleaders, the focus on entertainment, the money power, the franchise system, the actors and businessmen are more than enough cannon fodder.  I have no intention of either criticizing or adulating the league.

Let’s evaluate the league purely as a media property. Has it worked or not?
If TV audience is the only measurement, then may be it hasn’t been very successful. But looking at IPL merely as a TV spectacle will be foolhardy. There are three indicators that will tell that IPL is headed in a slightly different direction.

First the online viewership has seen a phenomenal jump. The official IPL site has seen page views explode. Indiatimes, the official internet partner saw a 56% jump in viewership in first two weeks of the league. Since then, it would have only gone up. Clearly the action shift from the analogue world to the digital world has been stark. Additionally the online following of all the teams combined has doubled since the time the league started. That is impressive performance.

Second, the matches have been played to packed houses. 146 matches have already been played, and there are just two left to play. An estimated 44 Lakh people have watched the match live. That’s a staggering number, and it will go up to 45 Lakh at the end of the league.  No live event has ever created this kind of reach in India. The viewer enthusiasm has been unmatched with matches being sold out weeks in advance. Live events in India are usually chaotic, not IPL this year, it’s been impeccably organized

Thirdly, the quality of the product has improved, and that is the most important indicator. The improvement in quality of cricket did lead to increase in TV viewership too. It may not have produced new stars this year, but it did produce moments that captivated the country and the world. The traffic on social media sites is a testimony to that.

IPL seems to have filled a long existing gap in the Indian entertainment scenario, which was the lack of a good sustainable, scalable live entertainment property. While cricket has always attracted crowd in India, specially the ODI variety, the matches themselves have been very few in numbers. The live audience was so miniscule that it didn’t matter in overall count.

What it means is that IPL this year probably has transformed from a TV only property to India’s premier live entertainment event. Yes the viewers want to see scintillating cricket, but they also want to
experience the big arena feel. The energy, the feel and the joy of enjoying a live event made the viewer’s go again and again to ‘see’ the match.

IPL 6 will be a true marketing challenge. The audience appetite for IPL action will mean brands can have a two pronged strategy to engage with IPL. There is the conventional TV/internet as a property to leverage; and there is also the live audience as an opportunity to engage.

If there are 5 Million viewers who are watching the league, these five million are people who have sought out the league, they watch, they tweet, they have a conversation on Facebook, their multiplier effect is actually immeasurable. The 5million may actually impact another 50, driving either the TV audience or online viewership. For once the audience becomes the medium. Imagine the opportunity the brands can have to engage the in stadia audience through gigs and acts in the break, without stemming the flow of the game. And the impact of such acts will be far greater than any amount of passive TVC that brands can buy on TV. For once the gigs will not be dependent on the TV audience, but will be fuelled by the camera totting all sharing audience.

This is not to say that IPL doesn’t need to fix a few issues. It does, and I am sure the board’s working towards fixing them. Cricketing reasons drove the audience acceptance this year, and if the quality of cricket remains this good, fans will flock to watch it

Most brands have heavy consumers and light consumers. Media choices do not allow smarter targeting but both consume similar communication. IPL too has heavy and light consumers, and that means brands can target the two with different strategies

IPL is transforming the entertainment landscape; it could do the same with communication landscape too.


original got published here


Is IPL 5 floundering?

Is IPL 5 floundering?

The ratings are out and officially it looks like India’s love affair with instant cricket is hitting rocky patches. Official figures indicate a more than 1TVR fall for first six matches of IPL over last IPL, and last IPL was not a very successful one.

There is something interesting at play here though, all 12 matches of IPL till now have been played to packed houses. A quick check from web sites that do ticketing indicate that future matches too may have packed houses, especially the ones involving Mumbai and Chennai teams. Yet the TV audience seems to be dwindling. For four years Bollywood postponed releases during IPL fearing a loss of audience, which does not seem to be the case this year. Houseful 2 was a big release and seems to have withstood the IPL pressure.

IPL 5 this year was flagged off in light of a really terrible year Indian cricket has had. So bad has this year been, that viewership for Indian matches has never been on the same level as what cricket historically has had. Also the advertisers have backed out of IPL this year, hedging their bets and seeing which way the league goes. Though the telecom companies have kept up with the tradition of launching new campaigns during IPL; Vodafone, Airtel, Idea and Aircel all have new campaigns on air.

Social media often can be a good way of accessing what is happening to any big event. Last year for IPL4, I dug into just Twitter data to understand issues with IPL. This is a quick analysis of what has happened for first dozen matches and how the viewers are reacting to IPL5. Today for instance, when RCB is playing against CSK, and Gayle has been plundering runs, the Twitter chatter is about everything but cricket.

First the packaging of the event is coming off the seam. The opening ceremony was tacky, boring and lacked fizz. For most people it looked like a poor film award show that had been put up. It lacked the context of cricket, and became too much poorly conceived dance show. Even the supposed showstopper in Katy Perry turned out to a show buster. Twitter was abuzz with comments, with Omar Abdullah’s tweet taking on Rajeev Shukla’s opening speech in no uncertain words. The opening salvo clearly didn’t fire. Issues with packaging have also pervaded the playing arena. The cheerleaders who added extra spice to on field action have been dressed poorly and dance absurdly. Both have evoked more derision than liking. Possibly the TV coverage and the channel advertising of IPL has better packaging and greater dose of glamour then the event itself.

Second, the teams are not able to build a solid fan base.  “Whole of Calcutta has stopped supporting KKR, they now support Pune Warriors as Dada plays for Pune” said a comment on social media. This highlights the fact that teams are still struggling to build a following, and players are still dominant in drawing the fans. The entire IPL model is built on city vs. city rivalry. The initial editions of IPL did try to build on the rivalry aspect, but now with shifting of players, it seems to be fading away. Twitter following for all teams seem to be stuck at same numbers as they were during IPL 4.  For instance MI has just 2577 followers, up by a few hundred from last year. Pune and Delhi were at forefront of building a community and they have remained the leaders, but the growth has been slow. Are the teams missing an opportunity of connecting with fans and building a fandom?

Third, IPL may be losing its expanded audience base. IPL was the silver bullet for cricket; it helped in expanding the ambit of viewers. IPL the event and Set Max the official broadcaster were able to rope in a fresh bunch of audience who otherwise did not watch or follow cricket. The quick pace and shorter format made it akin to watching a movie. It seems some of the new audience has drifted away from cricket after having sampled the action. As it may happen with any sales promotion, host of new audience walks away once the promotional scheme is over. May be this is the true level of viewership of IPL, may be this is where it will start to stabilize. It may be early days though.

Fourth, quality of cricket is an issue. For IPL as a brand to survive, ultimately it has to be the quality of cricket that it dishes out, and this year there has just been one match that can be called as a thrilling IPL style match. There has not been a major impact innings from an Indian player as yet (except one) and that too is adding to the jadedness of IPL and cricket both. The Aussies or South Africans or West Indians may do very well at IPL, but it’s the Indian players who pull in the eye balls.

Eventually the fate of IPL 5 will be in the hands of major Indian players. Till then it will remain as one more programme that comes at 9PM every day.

April 12, 2012. Published in Impact Magazine and http://www.pitchonnet.com

Will IPL5 save Indian Cricket?

Life has come full circle for the brand IPL. It was created on the back of India’ unexpected win of the inaugural T20 championship. The win generated enormous excitement about the newest format of cricket and the viewer friendly length of game added to the whole appeal. There was ICL in those days, and if you treat ICL as the test marketing case, the indications were that the league will be a success.

IPL created a new lingo of cricket. It brought showmanship, glamour and fun to an otherwise intense game. It seemed to work fine till last year when IPL 4 faced diminishing viewer interest. Ratings dipped, stadium seats were unsold and generally lacked the buzz that IPL had generated for three full years.

Admittedly it came on back of India’s famous T 50 world cup victory. May be people were emotionally so high that IPL didn’t matter. A deeper analysis pointed towards issues with the quality of game itself. Somehow the cricket did not seem to be appealing enough, fans did not connect with teams and the tournament itself was long and often the matches did not have tight nerve wrecking finishes.

The slide has continued for Indian team since then. The English tour was a tour to hell. India lost every match. The English came here and India won, but the viewer remained lukewarm. The West Indians came and went without generating much heat. Though they almost managed an upset and came close to beating India many times. The subsequent tour to Australia and the imaginative branding of the tour by broadcasters came to haunt India. Viewers switched off in large numbers. India went to Bangladesh, beat Pakistan but came back empty handed without managing to reach the finals.

Cricket in India is facing a crisis and surprise surprise is looking at IPL to revive the interest.

In five years the sporting arena has changed dramatically in India. Once upon a time, the only game that generated any eyeballs was cricket. This is no longer true. The Olympic Hockey Qualifiers and the just concluded WSH has seen near packed stadiums. This is when India does not have one star Hockey player who can generate viewer interest. India now has its own F1 racing track, the inaugural race was viewed by a packed house paying more money than they normally pay for watching cricket. Add Badminton, Squash, Boxing, and Tennis to this mix and cricket has serious competition to grab viewers’ attention. To top it, this is the year of Olympics, with India sending its strongest ever contingent.

In five years the viewer fatigue with T20 also has increased tremendously. T20 was cricket’s silver bullet to attract new viewers, expand its appeal and fill up the coffers of the Board. It did this for a short while, extremely efficiently. Movie halls turned into IPL screens, Youtube beamed the matches live, and there were multitudes of fantasy cricket games that rode the wave.

The tables have turned completely. For brand IPL to reconnect, the focus has to be on performance. Over the next 45 days it is the quality of cricket that will have a major say in how well the brand performs. More than ever, it’s now that how Indian players perform will have an impact on the future of the brand.

IPL is at the cross roads and so is Indian cricket. Indian cricket will survive, but for IPL the quality of cricket will matter the most this time round

Future of IPL

When I did my last article about IPL, it looked like everyone wanted to be a part of the IPL gravy train. Then the controversy broke over the Kochi bid and a string of bad news about the administration that ran the event, and even more damaging reports of financial improprietary. To top it, there are even rumors that the matches were fixed and nothing seemed right about IPL. Expectedly media went to town debating the future of IPL. If media owned IPL, it would have been shut down, and the entire cricketing fraternity made to disown the game.
The real inkling of what the future of IPL may hold was answered on the evening when the final was being played. The stadium was packed to the gills, the noise was deafening, the players had the intensity and cricket being played was top class.
So in midst of the entire circus that seemed to say that IPL is over, and there may not be IPL4, the average cricket viewers have given a very clear indicator that IPL is here to stay.
Are there lessons for us to draw from the mess? What is it that is keeping the event alive? What is it that will keep the brand IPL going from strength to strength? This mess of IPL may give us clear answers in managing a brand in crisis
Continue to build credibility: the real reason why IPL is able to draw the crowd into stadiums is the belief that cricket on display is fair and is played with the right passion. It is clear in this moment of crisis that the game is not owned by the administrators or team owners or even the board, the game is owned by the players. It is the credibility of superstars of cricket that is keeping the game alive. So when the game’s biggest icon says, the game will recover the whole cricket loving public agrees
Be authentic: Any brand to create a long term following needs to be honest and open about self. The consumers constantly search for experiences that are real and authentic. The real reason why the brand IPL took off was because it promised an authentic experience. There is no doubt that the current spate of bad news will affect the following of the game in the long run. It definitely will survive this crisis, but recovery from another round of bad news may not be swift and painless
Create high standards around the brand: while credibility and authenticity are the tactics to build a successful brand strategy, there is no going away from offering extremely high standard quality and service. The more the consumers feel that the brand takes itself seriously, the more they would trust and follow a brand. High standard of service and quality is the best way to generate a buzz. It’s not the fan pages on Facebook, or the blog on website that creates the buzz, the brand generates it by offering high quality
Involve the followers: IPL is a unique brand where the users interact with the brand for just 45 days in a year. For the rest of the year, it is a dormant brand. This is a very challenging situation for the brand, especially when it is bogged down by scandals of all kinds. This becomes critical for the brand to constantly ‘hear’ from its followers and make a virtue of it. There is no better way to fight bad news than to generate good news of your own.
Well may be the league will have to put its plan to get 300 brands in its fold for a hold. May be just for a while.
Published at http://www.mediaworldbuzz.com

Maths Of IPL

Currently there are 88 players playing in IPL, and guess how many brands are involved with them?  There are 125 brands involved with these 88 players. These are brands who are team sponsors, beverage sponsors, insurance sponsors, jersey sponsors, smile sponsors and even a university sponsor! Now that’s not where the count ends, add to it the title sponsor, the five television telecast sponsors, the strategic time out sponsor, the catch sponsor, and brands whose ads are telecast inside the stadium on giant screen, and brands that have taken the perimeter boards on the boundary, and the branding on the blimp above the stadium and the online video streaming partner, and the sixer sponsor and the four sponsor. We are looking at over 150 brands that are chasing 88 players

Is that fair?

Why is it that all brands are chasing the IPL bandwagon? The basic rule of brand communication is to do your best to avoid clutter. Brand managers work hard to ensure that they are in an environment where there is less clutter for their brand to stand out and connect better. IPL, though is different. Afterall there are 88 players and almost everyone across the world is only watching IPL, if not on TV than on you tube, and if not on you tube than in theatres. The brands have no choice but to be on IPL. How can you miss out on the good thing?

I must add here that empirical evidence is really against me at this stage. While IPL is generating good numbers, the numbers are not overwhelmingly huge. And while GEC are showing decline, the decline is not alarming.

How can than the brands miss on India’s biggest sports carnival? Here are some ideas and innovations that will go a long way in ensuring that 150 brands become 300, and the audience cheers for each brand.

There are sponsors who sponsor fours and sixes. The tourney should now have brands that sponsor singles, twos, and threes as well. And while we are at it lets get a sponsor for every dot ball and for every maiden over. In fact the most expensive sponsorship should be for the maiden over, as you are not going to get many of them. Imagine how well will the brand stand in clutter and what kind of recall it will generate.

Now let’s look at the player jersey’s. There is a lot of scope here. While the upper half of uniform is fairly branded, the lower half is fairly devoid of any branding. That is really a precious waste of advertising space. Especially when the fast bowler comes charging down to bowl and the camera pans him, there are large gaps that you can see.

The umpires too are feeling left out, as the players get to don a lot of brands, but the umpires have only one brand. This will create an imbalance that will hurt the umpires in the long run. They need to be enriched and empowered. They are waiting for brands to be associated with them. With just two umpires on field who have to constantly run across the pitch they are very valuable moving advertising mediums.

But the real waste of space is the ground itself. How unfair is to have just five logos on the ground? Imagine how much value can be unlocked by just opening the ground for brands to occupy? Imagine the revenue that can be generated if 100 square feet of area s given to each brand on ground, we can easily fit in 50 more brands.

And we love watching ads. We cannot do without our daily dose of ads. Before the start of ecvery match, we must screen at least 15 minutes of ads on the giant screen, and the cheerleaders should cheer every ad in their unique style.

You see, it’s not difficult to increase the number of brands involved with IPL, after all why should any brand miss out?

We at Dentsu recently did a very large study on IPL just before it commenced, and came up with some startling findings. After two years of high octane action, the recall of principle sponsor of IPL does not cross half way mark. For most teams the fans don’t know the principle sponsor, or worst their full names. People are watching the games, following the stars, but are they connecting with brands?

May be its time for the brand managers to evaluate the issue of being associated with IPL with new perspective. Either you own it in a big way, or don’t venture near it.

Not 300, may be just 30

Published at http://www.mediaworldbuzz.com in April 2010