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CSK player Faf du Plessis (right) during the first cricket match of IPL 2020 against Mumbai Indians at Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi, UAE. (PTI)
CSK player Faf du Plessis (right) during the first cricket match of IPL 2020 against Mumbai Indians at Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi, UAE. (PTI)

Virtual screens, WhatsApp bots and online games keep IPL 2020 fans engaged

  • Experts say from getting fans inside a virtual commentary box to engaging with them through online games, IPL stakeholders seem to be doing all the right things to stay connected with fans.

New Delhi: Many firsts happened during the first Indian Premier League match played between Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings in Abu Dhabi on 19 September. As pandemic forced fans to stay away from watching the league live, they made their way to the commentary box albeit virtually. The official broadcaster Star India partnered with online-ticketing site BookMyShow to provide fans "Virtual Match Ticket" through which selected fans could be a part of live streaming of the match.

The network has put up digital fan walls in the stadium, including one in the commentary box, for every game. Around 96 chosen fans, from around the world, will get to be a part of the match on four large virtual fan walls. For television audience, pre-recorded fan-cheer background score is being used in the live telecast of matches. The pre-recorded videos of cheerleaders are also flashed across stadiums on big digital walls.

"This pivot to digital has been quite encouraging. From getting fans inside a commentary box to engaging with them through online games, IPL stakeholders seem to be doing all the right things to stay connected with fans," said Shrenik Gandhi, chief executive and co-founder at digital agency White Rivers Media.

“Seeing M.S. Dhoni on ground was almost surreal after months," said 19-year-old Mumbai-based college student Shikhar Dave “Our friends decided to watch the first IPL match together on Disney + Hotstar, it was fun sharing emojis and silly selfies each time a sixer or boundary is scored," he added.

Dave and his friends were among the 8.1 million paid subscribers of Disney + Hotstar who watched the MI vs CSK match.

To keep the engagement high, the video-streaming platform is allowing fans to join a virtual community where they can watch matches together while using interactive emoji stream. They can also express themselves using "Hotshots" selfies or a new video feature "Duets" that lets fans create customized videos showcasing their rendition of famous shots and reactions of their favourite cricketers.

Meanwhile, team franchises are also leveraging virtual meet and greet with players, WhatsApp bots and video conferencing to give fans an engaging sports experience.

Mumbai Indians, for instance, has launched "MI Live" where fans can attend team’s live studio show from their home which is being live streamed simultaneously on MI’s official YouTube channel, Facebook page, Twitter account and on a dedicated channel on Jio TV. Paltan Play in association with Samsung, is a second-screen experience game on team’s website, which allows fans to analyze an ongoing MI match and predict the number of runs to be scored and wickets to taken per over.

On the Mumbai Indians mobile app, the game has its own unique points system and a special chip. There is also a live leadership board which indicates the ranks of participants on a match-by-match basis.

Through an activity called Virtual Wankhede, fans can cheer their favourite players via video conference while they watch MI matches from home. MI Buddy is an interactive AI powered WhatsApp bot which delivers Mumbai Indians-related information, videos, games, GIFs on demand for fans on their mobile devices. Moreover, there are engagement-based activities for fans to participate such as MI Quiz, MI word puzzle, activity to create one's own digital MI jersey and host of other activities.

"We take pride of our fan army, and this year we have taken our engagements a notch higher with four key innovative digital concepts – ‘MI Live’, ‘Paltan Play’, ‘Virtual Wankhede’ and ‘MI Buddy’. These initiatives aim to connect our fans virtually, bring them even closer to each other and help them to win exciting prizes," said Mumbai Indians spokesperson.

Meanwhile, Rajasthan Royals has also started a community-based programme called “Super Royals" under which 22 fans from across the world have been trained to engage with fans by devising activities across social media. These fans will be on Star Sports interacting with players through video calls and even get to do match analysis with team’s radio partner BIG FM

The franchise has also launched an app through which fans can access behind- the-scenes content, use augmented reality (AR)-backed games, win prizes and interact with fellow cricket fans.

“With the IPL occurring away from India this year, digital engagement is even more crucial to us as a franchise, and the launch of this app enables us to entertain and engage the millions of fans watching at home on TV, through their second screen," said Jake Lush McCrum, chief operating officer, Rajasthan Royals.

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