Mumbai: Want the best seats in the house for Indian Premier League (IPL) matches featuring Rajasthan Royals this season? Even a word from Bollywood diva Shilpa Shetty, co-owner of the team, may not be enough to get you in.
Playing to a new field: Members of the Rajasthan Royals team, winners of IPL’s season 1, at a Reliance Fresh outlet in Jaipur. The players were promoting the team’s fan club and encouraging locals to sign up.
You may have a chance, though, if you are a Rajasthan Royals fan and between 12 and 16 years old. The Jaipur franchise is offering its young fans a chance to be boundary boys for the team in the second edition of IPL starting in April.
Deccan Chargers, the Hyderabad franchise, is looking to establish a consumer connect with cricket fans on mobile phones and online. The platforms will offer fans interactive features to ensure that their message reaches the team, plus exclusive chats with players, merchandise offers and ticket deals. Fans could sign up for free, or for a nominal Rs150, depending on the level of interaction they seek.
“The idea is to convert a cricket fan into a Deccan Chargers fan and by that I mean not just someone who just likes the Chargers, but a fan who starts spending time and money on the team,” says Darshan M., vice-president (commercial operations) at Deccan Chargers Sporting Ventures Ltd. “A fan becomes valuable when he starts spending money on the team. When he buys merchandise, enrols in a Chargers’ academy, goes on Chargers’ adventure vacations, buys a Chargers’ insurance or credit card.”
Not just the Rajasthan Royals and the Chargers. IPL teams such as Chennai Super Kings, Delhi Daredevils and Kolkata Knight Riders have also launched or are in the process of launching their official fan clubs.
The idea, essentially, is to build the teams’ core asset—a fan base that could serve as a marketing platform for their own brand, and other advertisers’ brands at a later date. In due course, these fan clubs could emerge as powerful new revenue streams from merchandising to licensing deals.
Fans can enjoy goodies that range from hefty discounts on tickets to autographed memorabilia, access to premium tickets and parking space, mobile downloads, exclusive content and, in some cases, even a chance to attend the official team party.
Rajasthan Royals, which won IPL’s inaugural edition last year, is offering fans a chance to enlist in five categories of clubs. The priciest and the most exclusive is the Maharaja Club, which comes with an yearly fee of Rs1.5 lakh and is open to only 200 people. Membership to the Young Royals club could cost a more modest Rs2,500.
Rajasthan Royals is looking to widen its target audience by reaching out to different groups. While the entire team will be used to drive fan traffic, it will use customized campaigns to reach out to different groups. For example, the team is running the Royal Divas contest that is aimed at young women who are fans of cricket or of hunky players, and in some cases both.
“The winner will be the captain of the cheerleaders squad—she doesn’t necessarily have to be a cheerleader, but a fan who will lead the women’s fan club and may even feature in the new music video (planned by the team),” says Utkarsh Singh, business development executive for the Rajasthan Royals.
Chennai Super Kings will reach out to its target audience online as well as through select Café Coffee Day and Reebok outlets. The team is also counting on television reality shows—the CSK Juniors aimed at cricketing talent and CSK Cheerleaders that will focus on recruiting young people who will lead the cheerleaders during matches. The show will also be used as a platform to promote the players, says Rakesh Singh, head (marketing) at Indian Cements Ltd, owner of Chennai Super Kings.
“Especially some of the players from Tamil Nadu, who may not be well known, but could drive the local fan base, is where we want to start,” Singh adds. For example, players such as L. Balaji could be used to help build hype before the IPL season and drive up ticket sales and brand value. Membership to the King’s Club will come at Rs500 for school children and Rs1,000 per year for everyone else.
Eventually, the Chennai franchise would like to create a team of fanatic Super Kings supporters who travel with the team, much like the Barmy Army that accompanies the England team on all its tours.
Some teams, such as Mumbai Indians, are taking it one step at a time. “We’re not here for the short term, and we’re not playing the valuation game,” says a spokesperson for the Mumbai Indians team. “You can’t build a fan following in a year. A lot has to sink into (the consumers’ psyche), before a fan club can work. Merchandising is the first step, we want people to feel more a part of the team and then gradually increase the involvement.”
Some are sceptical about the commercial potential of fan clubs. “Fan clubs as a source of revenue (from membership and retainer fees) for IPL teams… I see zero scope for that happening right now, as there is no value being provided to consumers,” says Anirban Das Blah, chief executive of Globosport India Pvt. Ltd.
The strategy should be to launch not a paid-for service, but to mobilize a consumer base for advertisers and sponsors, he says, explaining that internationally, fan clubs offered their fans huge value in terms of discounts, access to premium tickets, training sessions, memorabilia, and, in certain cases, voting rights in club elections, among other things.
“Even clubs such as Manchester United have been around for 150 years, and it’s taken them that time to build it to what it is,” says Mahesh Ranka, general manager of Relay India, a specialist division of the Starcom MediaVest Group. “Today, a lion’s share of the revenue for the team comes not from television, radio or Internet rights or sponsorships, but through merchandise. Will it take us (IPL teams) that long? No. But it will definitely not happen overnight.”