Life has come full circle for the brand IPL. It was created on the back of India’ unexpected win of the inaugural T20 championship. The win generated enormous excitement about the newest format of cricket and the viewer friendly length of game added to the whole appeal. There was ICL in those days, and if you treat ICL as the test marketing case, the indications were that the league will be a success.
IPL created a new lingo of cricket. It brought showmanship, glamour and fun to an otherwise intense game. It seemed to work fine till last year when IPL 4 faced diminishing viewer interest. Ratings dipped, stadium seats were unsold and generally lacked the buzz that IPL had generated for three full years.
Admittedly it came on back of India’s famous T 50 world cup victory. May be people were emotionally so high that IPL didn’t matter. A deeper analysis pointed towards issues with the quality of game itself. Somehow the cricket did not seem to be appealing enough, fans did not connect with teams and the tournament itself was long and often the matches did not have tight nerve wrecking finishes.
The slide has continued for Indian team since then. The English tour was a tour to hell. India lost every match. The English came here and India won, but the viewer remained lukewarm. The West Indians came and went without generating much heat. Though they almost managed an upset and came close to beating India many times. The subsequent tour to Australia and the imaginative branding of the tour by broadcasters came to haunt India. Viewers switched off in large numbers. India went to Bangladesh, beat Pakistan but came back empty handed without managing to reach the finals.
Cricket in India is facing a crisis and surprise surprise is looking at IPL to revive the interest.
In five years the sporting arena has changed dramatically in India. Once upon a time, the only game that generated any eyeballs was cricket. This is no longer true. The Olympic Hockey Qualifiers and the just concluded WSH has seen near packed stadiums. This is when India does not have one star Hockey player who can generate viewer interest. India now has its own F1 racing track, the inaugural race was viewed by a packed house paying more money than they normally pay for watching cricket. Add Badminton, Squash, Boxing, and Tennis to this mix and cricket has serious competition to grab viewers’ attention. To top it, this is the year of Olympics, with India sending its strongest ever contingent.
In five years the viewer fatigue with T20 also has increased tremendously. T20 was cricket’s silver bullet to attract new viewers, expand its appeal and fill up the coffers of the Board. It did this for a short while, extremely efficiently. Movie halls turned into IPL screens, Youtube beamed the matches live, and there were multitudes of fantasy cricket games that rode the wave.
The tables have turned completely. For brand IPL to reconnect, the focus has to be on performance. Over the next 45 days it is the quality of cricket that will have a major say in how well the brand performs. More than ever, it’s now that how Indian players perform will have an impact on the future of the brand.
IPL is at the cross roads and so is Indian cricket. Indian cricket will survive, but for IPL the quality of cricket will matter the most this time round