New Delhi: Between the first and the third season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament, the sponsorship revenue for Chennai Super Kings has more than doubled from seven to 18 brands on board, says Rakesh Singh, marketing head of the franchise owned by India Cements Ltd. He attributes the strong interest not just to the success of the IPL format, but also to the regional advantage the team provides for advertisers targeting audiences in the south. In an interview, Singh shares his strategy. Edited excerpts:
How is this season critical, given that IPL is returning to India, and we will have more teams from the next season?
This season is critical in more ways than one. Foremost is to carry on the huge excitement this tournament generated year before last. The sheer popularity of the first edition was a complete eye-opener. The immense potential of the tournament probably hit everyone in the middle and towards the end of season 1. Season 2 was expected to be bigger, but then it was held abroad. So this season is critical in checking if the excitement levels are the same, if the popularity of the tournament surpasses the first edition, amongst others. Having more teams means newer markets for each franchisee and, therefore, is very advantageous to us in more ways than one. For the fans, it gives them another opportunity to view more cricket stars in action in what is fast becoming the “coolest” form of cricket.
Sports entertainment: Chennai Super Kings’ Singh says the coming season will test the popularity level of the cricket tournament. Sharp Image
What would it mean for the existing teams to have two new ones from next season?
It would mean entry into new cities and, thereby, extending our brand in those regions. It would mean possible opportunities to build on our fan base and more sponsors coming on board. On another level, extra teams mean extra matches and, therefore, the time we get with players for brand-building, sponsorship activity within the IPL window becomes more.
With IPL moving venues, how easy is it to build brand loyalties among fans?
From the Chennai Super Kings perspective, there has been no changing of match venues. Amongst most teams, we have always maintained that we are “fearless entertainers who play to win” and this maxim has reflected in our performances over two seasons, which in turn has resulted in more fan following for us. Tamil Nadu has always been cricket-passionate and our promotions in year one, where we touched base with the common people, have cemented a very strong and endearing relationship with our fan base. IPL successfully drew entire households away from the 8pm and 9pm serials and brought them to the stadium. A new form of entertainment, never before seen or experienced was presented to them at the grounds. There has been no turning back since.
With nearly 100 matches from season 4 over 45 days, will it lead to spectator fatigue?
In India, where there is cricket, there is never any fatigue. In fact, people just keep asking for more.
With more players possibly coming up for auction from the next season, what are the strategies to keep the formation consistent for subsequent seasons or will teams have to completely rebuild?
Each franchisee has spent a huge sum on their team and then on various brand-building initiatives and, therefore, it stands to reason that the brand-building initiatives undertaken cannot be broken off midway. Therefore, the IPL board has rightly said that each team will be able to keep four Indian players and two foreign players.
The nucleus of each team is a blend of some international stars and a sizeable local contingent. Similarly for us, the nucleus will remain the same and the core team will not see too much of chopping and changing.
How much does India’s success as the No. 1 Test team mean for IPL’s popularity?
I am not too sure it plays any role, primarily, since it’s a mix of international players. The first season’s popularity had no bearing on our status in any form of the game. IPL is country- and form-neutral.
The first season created a new audience. Will this be sustained?
They definitely will sustain simply because our package remains the same. They came to be entertained and they were. The reason why it will sustain is because each franchisee is now adding to that entertainment factor along with serious preparations on the team front. Once hooked, there is no looking back.
Are there any new routes being explored for sponsorships?
Yes, it’s an ongoing process. We are currently thinking of opening sports cafes themed around the team but nothing is finalized yet.
This is the fifth in a series of interviews of IPL team owners and executives. On Wednesday: Royal Challengers, Bangalore.