New Delhi: Expect to see more of cheerleaders during this year’s edition of the Indian Premier League.
After the costumes sported by some cheerleaders attracted attention of an unanticipated kind from some politicians and activists, no one would have blamed the teams for playing safe—especially at a time when the economy is in trouble and money saved by forgoing expensive cheerleading troupes is money earned.
Yet, at least six of the eight teams that are part of the IPL are going ahead with their cheerleading plans—and, smartly, three of them are looking for cheerleaders through talent shows on television, a move that will likely fetch them some serious advertising revenue.
Spectator sport: Cheerleaders of Punjab Kings XI during last year’s IPL match against Kolkata Knight Riders at Eden Gardens in Kolkata. Swapan Mahapatra / PTI
The second edition of IPL gets under way on 10 April.
Enlisting cheerleaders is a marketing tactic aimed at striking a connect between the teams and spectators and an additional attraction to draw crowds to the games at a time when slowing growth and slumping markets have enveloped the economy in gloom, franchisees say.
“We look at it as a good marketing initiative. It will help us build buzz around the team as well as generate additional revenues,” said Rakesh Singh, chief marketing officer of Chennai Super Kings, the losing finalists last year.
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Super Kings has launched a talent hunt show on Star Vijay, a Tamil general entertainment television channel, to select the girls who would cheer for the team on the cricket grounds. The additional revenue Singh referred to includes advertising the channel will attract for the show.
In a consumer survey conducted by Mindshare, a media buying firm, and market research agency Synovate India Pvt. Ltd last year after IPL’s conclusion, Chennai topped the list of cities that had slammed the concept of cheerleading.
The survey, conducted among 3,602 individuals in the age group of 15-45 across 10 cities in the country, found that while 25% of viewers across the country “disliked the cheerleaders aspect of IPL”, 39% of people in Chennai, the highest for any city, found the gyrating dancers in skimpy uniforms offended their sensibilities.
According to the survey, the second largest percentage of viewers who found fault with the cheerleaders came from Bangalore, where around 34% gave them the thumbs down. Flamboyant liquor tycoon Vijay Mallya, owner of the Bangalore Royal Challengers, last year flew in the Washington Redskins cheerleaders to perform for the team at a cost of Rs12,000 per hour.
Some conservative politicians and activists last year found the presence of cheerleaders dressed in short skirts and low tops to be offensive.
The Royal Challengers is now forming its own extravagant local version of the Redskins.
“We are not getting the Redskins this time, but we are getting some professional international cheerleaders to train Indian girls to cheerlead our team,” said Vijay Rekhi, president, United Spirits Ltd, part of Mallya’s UB Group.
Even Hyderabad’s Deccan Chargers, which imported professional Australian cheerleaders last year, is creating a big marketing blitz this season. “We are doing something really different around the whole cheerleading activity this year,” said Darshan M., vice-president of commercial operations, Deccan Chargers.
He didn’t share details about what the team was up to because of concern that the idea may be copied by rivals. “All I can say is that it will include professional cheerleaders and not just some local dance troupes. It is going to include a lot of excitement and we will build hype around it,” Darshan said.
Like Chennai Super Kings, Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan’s Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) has also tied up with a general entertainment channel —NDTV Imagine—to launch a dance contest to select its squad of cheerleaders. “The show called Knights and Angels is one of our initiatives in creating a marketing buzz around season two,” said Joy Bhattacharya, director, Kolkata Knight Riders.
Last year’s IPL winner, Rajasthan Royals, has launched a contest called Royal Diva. Targeted at women in the 18-22 age group, it involves a nationwide hunt for a cheerleading squad for the champions. The winners will also be part of a music video the Jaipur franchisee is putting together as part of its marketing exercise.
Bollywood actor Shilpa Shetty, who recently bought a stake in Rajasthan Royals, will also be actively involved in the hunt for the “best cheerleaders” for the team.
Mumbai Indians, the franchisee from Mumbai, meanwhile is in talks with a national dance troupe to cheer for the team, according to the team’s spokesperson.
While all viewers may not have liked the cheerleaders on the ground last year, the franchisees say there has been a tremendous response to their initiatives from the target groups.
“The response to our cheerleading contest has been better than what we expected. The auditions start next week and we have a lot of college-goers enlisted,” said Super Kings’ Singh.
Marketing experts argue that cheerleaders add a certain glamour to the tournament and help prevent monotony from setting in.
“Last year, although there was controversy surrounding cheerleaders, they created sufficient buzz around the games,” said Anand Halve, co-founder of brand consultancy Chlorophyll Brand and Communications Consultancy Pvt. Ltd.
“This year, when the times are tough, such reality shows and talent hunts will not only help the teams earn revenues through sponsorships and advertisements, but also build a team of fans straightaway.”
Agrees Bangalore Royal Challenger’s Rekhi, “We don’t think they (cheerleaders) are a distraction, and nor are they vulgar. They add the entertainment and fun element to the game, and that’s what IPL is about anyway.”