Can BCCI risk being tagged anti-people?
Can Cricket risk being tagged anti-society?
What should be the BCCI response in the Bombay High Court in the ongoing hearing over watering pitches for the IPL matches in Maharashtra when the state is facing the worst ever drought in 100 years?
Because, even if cricket is still a game with mass following in India, it is no more a sports that used to arouse nationalist sentiments in masses in India. It happened to be an Indian’s passion across the class divide. That is not the case anymore. Cricket is in imminent danger of being labelled a game played by insensitive people and manned by ignorant bosses!
There are allegations that cricketers prefer to play in club class tournaments like IPL than for the national team because of commercial considerations. The cricket administration in India needs some deep cleansing and the country’s Supreme Court is trying to ensure that even if BCCI is hell-bent on opposing them.
IPL was launched as the next big thing in cricket and initially proved to be a highly successful cricketing brand aimed at revolutionizing the way the gentleman’s game was played. It had all the elements to include a prevailing youth identity – high decibel music, colourful outfits, glamorous cheerleaders, female show hosts, and parties at the end of each day and so on.
But now in its ninth year, the IPL brand has lost much of its sheen. In fact, the IPL brand value of around 3.2 to 3.5 billion US$ may see a hit of 15%, and these estimates came before the Maharashtra drought controversy began.
To ingest a youthful character, additions like cheerleaders and after-match night parties were added to the format. There is no data on how cheerleaders have helped the brand and the game, but they have been a continuous source of controversy for the tournament. And controversies and criticism pushed the organizers to stop the practice of after-match night parties. But what caused the real damage was this revelation that the IPL matches were being fixed and could easily be fixed – and not just players were involved – but also the team owners and managers.
Award winning brand consultant Simon Mainwaring says, “The keys to brand success are self-definition, transparency, authenticity and accountability.”
Bur even after nine successful years, IPL has failed to define its character. It draws its sanctity from cricket’s mass following in India but has compromised on cricket’s ‘a gentleman’s game’ image in the blind race to commercialization – failing to ensure transparency, authenticity and accountability with its baggage of growing controversies.
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos says, “A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well.”
India started slowly in the world cricket and stepped up its stature gradually. It was decades of hard-work, propelled with patriotic sentiments to see India’s team winning that made it a game with mass following. Until IPL happened cricket was revered by masses. Though the dent had started in the last years of the last decade with match-fixing controversies, IPL finally started eroding that trust base. No one questioned BCCI to this extent that is happening these days as long as cricket earned its reputation by sheer hard-work and determination to play for the nation.
Starbucks’ Howard Schultz sums up this sentiment, “In this ever-changing society, the most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart. They are real and sustainable. Their foundations are stronger because they are built with the strength of the human spirit, not an ad campaign. The companies that are lasting are those that are authentic.”
Anything but human spirit, that is what we can say about IPL now, an interest that is certainly not in human spirit, an interest that is on display here by BCCI, after its persistence on holding the 20 IPL matches in Maharashtra that would take some 7 million litres of water to maintain the grounds when Maharashtra is facing the one of the worst droughts in the Indian history.
Certainly the heart is not here, with a the human spirit, otherwise BCCI would have realized its social obligations and would have taken the lead helping the drought-hit farmers and would have shifted the IPL matches out of Maharashtra on its own. After all, BCCI is the world’s richest cricket body with around Rs. 2000 crore in annual revenue and many Indian cricketers are millionaires. In fact, taking an initiative on their own would have helped BCCI to do some good damage control exercise for the brand IPL that has been hit badly by a series of controversies.
Howard Schultz says, “Mass advertising can help build brands, but authenticity is what makes them last. If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand.”
BCCI’s insistence on holding the IPL matches in Maharashtra and coming with silly counter-logics in the Bombay High Court that has already said some pretty tough words putting BCCI in the dock, something that has caused much public infamy and embarrassment, has made BCCI’s intense promotional campaign for this version of IPL, ‘Ek India Happywala’ (An India That Is Happy) look phoney, a sort of ‘rubbing salt in the wound’. It was a blunder when BCCI said it would take treated sewage water from a different entity and would transport it to Pune for the matches being held there.
The father of advertising, David Ogilvy says, “Never write an advertisement which you wouldn’t want your family to read. You wouldn’t tell lies to your own wife. Don’t tell them to mine.”
Yes, Indians did not want to hear the lame logic BCCI came up with in the court. Instead, if it could arrange, it should have offered that treated water to drought affected people who are not getting water even for bathing and other daily usage. BCCI should have realized the damage done so far with its stand in the issue and it could have been a good point for reconciliation for the deteriorating brand value of IPL.
Ogilvy says, “You have to decide what ‘image’ you want for your brand. Image means personality. Products, like people, have personalities, and they can make or break them in the market place.
Yes, it was a chance for BCCI to hold the ship together for the brand IPL, to give it a character, a personality. It was an opportunity for BCCI for an image makeover of IPL. BCCI’s arrogance started the row but a timely realization and thus a social intervention could have put BCCI on the way to commence on necessary rectifications for the brand IPL.
But BCCI chose to take the other way – fuelled by its arrogance – and commercial concerns – even if it means a harsh reproach by the Bombay High Court and angry responses by activists, farmer leaders, drought-affected people and people across the country.
And now, if the court passes an order that compels BCCI to shift the games out of Maharashtra, it will be a triple whammy, something that could well be the final undoing for the brand IPL.
Already, the Supreme Court is hearing the case on BCCI reforms and is sure to pass some strict measures to curb corruption and nepotism in the organization (the measures which BCCI is opposing). An adverse order by the Bombay High Court would force BCCI to discipline itself to take Maharashtra IPL matches out that would certainly send a bad message. And it would cause further damage to the already jeopardized brand IPL. BCCI would certainly lose its face to face people of the country after this IPL fiasco unless some fundamental reforms that can convince people take places in the organization.
In an age of absolute tele-density and thus information availability and social media access, it is hard to fool people for long – be it people from the country’s drought-affected areas – or people in general – people whom BCCI sees as its consumers – who consume the television broadcasts of matches – or those who buy tickets for a stadium experience. Ogilvy reminds, “The consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife.”