When Vijay Mallya, the flamboyant chairman of United Breweries Group, bought one of the eight Indian Premier League (IPL) teams, everyone expected him to do something that would set his side apart. So, no eyebrows were raised when he announced he would bring Washington Redskins cheerleaders to support his team, the Bangalore Royal Challengers.
The short-skirted, bikini-top Washington Redskins with their go-go boots were expected to jell with the image IPL was seeking to build, pitching itself to today’s Orkuting Gen Y as a shorter, faster cricket event that was as much about fun as the sport itself.
Perceptible change: Season 1 saw the birth of local team loyalties, something the Ranji Trophy or Duleep Trophy haven’t been able to do. Photograph: PTI
Unlike most Indian adaptations of western concepts, this one didn’t seem incongruous. And seeing the crowds cheer these women, it seemed it might work. Some people did raise objections about the skimpy outfits, and cheerleaders’ relevance to the game, but the organizers shrugged aside the complaints. Their argument was: Fans are loving the cheerleaders. “Can’t you see this on the ground? All eyes are set on them,” said a senior manager of Royal Challengers.
But perceptions are often deceptive, or so would it seem if one looks at the findings of a study conducted by MindShare Insights, the research arm of leading media buying agency MindShare, on consumer learnings from IPL.
The study, which analysed responses from 3,602 viewers in the age group of 15-45 across 11 cities, found that the cheerleaders failed to cheer Indian viewers. The study, conducted between 20 June and 2 July, found that only 2% of those surveyed liked the cheerleaders, while an overwhelming 25% dismissed the concept of cheerleading by skimpily-clad women. “We were equally surprised to find that cheerleaders didn’t work for Indian consumers,” says Sanchayeeta Verma, national director, insights and communication planning, MindShare.
Photograph: Rajnish Katyal / HT
“I think it offended Indian sensibilities because people are not used to the whole concept of cheerleading,” she says. “If a Rakhi Sawant (Bollywood starlet) or Bollywood dancers or even the same cheerleaders had staged a single performance in the form of entertainment, instead of being a part of the game, it would probably have been less controversial.”
Mallya probably only wanted to expose India to how sport is packaged as entertainment. But the experiment seems to have failed. “The concept of cheerleaders stems from American football, where there is no such thing as minor league, and the professional footballers are all ex-college footballers. In college, these footballers are considered very glamorous and their girlfriends, or the most glamorous women in college, are the cheerleaders,” says sociologist Dipankar Gupta. “It began in this fashion and has continued for years before the sport of basketball adopted cheerleading in the West. To suddenly place cheerleaders in cricket in India without this background does jar with the whole culture and tradition of the game, which is why people have not accepted it readily.”
Like cheerleading, the survey, conducted in association with market research firm Synovate India Pvt. Ltd, sought to understand various undercurrents of consumer behaviour by analysing the most spectacular marketing events in recent times. The survey was conducted in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Mohali and Chandigarh, Jaipur, Kanpur and Ahmedabad (the last two among the list of cities hopeful of hosting matches next season).
Photograph: Shailendra Bhojak / PTI
Another revelation was that IPL managed to break the concept of national teams and succeeded in doing what prestigious events such as the Ranji Trophy or Duleep Trophy have failed to achieve—ignite local pride. Season 1 saw the birth of local team loyalties, something which IPL officials had thought would take a few years to build. The survey found that 88% of Jaipur residents followed the fortunes of Rajasthan Royals; 87% of Kolkata residents backed their team (Kolkata Knight Riders); in Mumbai, 68% of the residents tuned in for Mumbai Indians’ matches.
“Unlike Ranji Trophy matches, IPL was packaged with all the right ingredients. It was an exciting new format, it had a lot of entertainment, good quality cricket with the best of players from around the world and at the same time, it had state or city-based teams that prompted local team following and a sense of belonging,” says Verma.
IPL also broke the concept of national teams, welcoming foreign cricketers, who were otherwise seen as arch rivals, as members of the eight league teams. And fans of the game responded. It was evident when Pakistani pacer Shoaib Akhtar was welcomed into the Kolkata Knight Riders team with the same fervour as Indian cricketers were. Even the Australian cricketers appeared to be in complete harmony with their Indian counterparts, a change from the tension that was palpable during the cricket series played between the two countries a few months before IPL began.
Photograph: R. Senthil Kumar / PTI
Gupta says the inclusion of international players takes nationalism out of the game, so that people can enjoy the sport and the players. “Premier leagues across the world have made for the best matches because they are not guided by one’s birth and blood—it’s the pure quality of the game people follow it for,” says Gupta. He gives the example of the football World Cup. “It takes place every four years but the rest of the time it’s the leagues that are competing and it works just fine. In cricket, we depend solely on 15 men in our cricket team to pull us through the game. In club cricket, there are many more whose talent is explored and many more who get the chance to play and prove their skills.” In fact, 11% of viewers surveyed said it was the unique mix of players that attracted them most—and 22% were in favour of more international players coming on board next season.
“Although loyalties lie with Indian cricketers, people do have favourites among international teams as well and we have done studies in the past that prove that,” says Verma. “For IPL, having international players on board actually enhanced viewership because it made the game more global in nature rather than a domestic event. In addition, these cricketers raised the quality of the game—take Shane Warne’s example; his skills and understanding of the game led the (Rajasthan Royals) team to the victory stand.”
Apart from the regional/national affiliations of the cricketers, the IPL package—which combined India’s two biggest passions, Bollywood and cricket—shaped viewership trends across age groups, socio-economic backgrounds and an unusually high percentage of women viewers who accounted for 48% of the 102.6 million who tuned in to the SET Max channel to watch the matches, according to the study.
The wide acceptance of IPL caused even diehard fans of Ekta Kapoor’s family dramas— prime time staple on television for the last few years—to pause at the cricket pitch. Says Gayatri Mehta, a 52-year-old housewife from Kolkata, “I watch Hindi serials every evening, but while IPL was on I joined in with the rest of the family to watch the games, even though we have two TV sets, as that was where the excitement was.”
Mehta’s attitude was typical of 50% of the survey respondents, who claimed to have compromised their usual TV-watching schedules for the IPL tournament. And although viewership across genres suffered due to IPL, the Hindi general entertainment channels that showcase soaps and serials were hit the hardest, with 42% of viewers in this category switching to IPL, the survey notes. Television measurement agency TAM Media Research has averaged the television ratings delivered by IPL at 4.8, outstripping all other genres of viewership for the duration of the tournament, on from 18 April to 1 June. And brand managers were quick to tap this opportunity.
“IPL had a lot more than just cricket associated with it—it had glamour, an international league format and it aired on prime time television every day for 3 hours. This extended viewership to all ages and men and women from various backgrounds, so it was a good opportunity for us, and we are glad we were the first to sign on,” says Arvind Saxena, senior vice-president, marketing and sales, Hyundai Motor India Ltd.
A social event
The 3-hour format also prompted social events and gatherings scheduled around the matches. Viewers planned events and get-togethers around the games. Says Akhilesh Bahuguna, 26, an event manager, “IPL was a good excuse to catch up with friends every evening and since every match was just 3 hours long, it didn’t disrupt daily routines either.”
According to the study, 68% of viewers, like Bahuguna, planned their day around the matches and 57% of these viewers would even leave work early for these.
Also, 60% of viewers didn’t go to malls and restaurants between 8pm and 11.30pm, when the matches were being aired on weekdays. This was reminiscent of the late 1980s, when streets would be deserted during the telecast of the mythological serial Mahabharat. “IPL blended easily into the daily routines of people because it aired during prime TV viewing times and also because the quick 3-hour format was convenient to follow. While it was curiosity at first that drew viewers to the set, the interesting form, the hype and success around IPL made the programme a reason for get-togethers with family and friends,” explains Verma.
This staying indoors, in turn, saw a spike in home delivery orders from major fast-food chains such as McDonald’s, Domino’s Pizza, Yum Brands Inc.’s Pizza Hut and KFC. These fast-food chains are said to have reported a 10-15% hike in home delivery sales during the tournament. “There was a significant spurt in our home delivery sales during the time IPL was on.
On weekends and on the days big matches were being played, we recorded a 10% hike in delivery sales above our normal sales,” says Dev Amritesh, senior vice-president, marketing, Domino’s Pizza India Ltd. (The promoters of HT Media Ltd, which publishes Mint, and promoters of Domino’s Pizza India Ltd are closely related. The companies have no promoter cross-holdings.) The social factor attached to IPL is exactly what Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) executives had envisioned. “We are positioning IPL as entertainment, like a 3-hour movie,” Dhiraj Malhotra, IPL marketing manager and International Cricket Council and IPL tournament manager, had told Mint before the tournament began. The officials have got their positioning and more—a new generation of 20-over cricket lovers.
“IPL was 3 hours of guaranteed entertainment which now makes Test cricket boring in comparison,” says Riwtik Palchoudhuri, a 27-year-old marketing manager at a leading retail outlet. “I just check scores and highlights of the ongoing Test cricket series.” It was indeed the short 3-hour format, followed by the hard-hitting sixes and fours, that attracted audiences to IPL the most, the survey found.
But there were some lows, too. IPL’s merchandising efforts failed to make an impact with viewers. Only 17% of respondents in the study said they had bought some form of merchandise while 37% of respondents claimed they were not interested because they felt it was something too new to invest in. Cost and availability were other reasons given for the lack of interest. However, while merchandising didn’t quite grab the attention of consumers, the overall IPL package has them wanting more. In the study, all the respondents said they would watch the IPL matches next year—the maximum support comes from Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Jaipur and Chennai. This is what marketers and IPL officials were waiting to hear.