Sport once was about personal achievement, pride and national glory. In this context, Jawaharlal Nehru said participation was more important than winning. Such sentiment, though noble, is history. The world has moved on and Indian sport has gone down a different road.
Today, winning matters, sometimes at any cost, and the team that finishes second is considered not good enough. The market drives sport and the latest buzzword is the brand.
According to this grammar, the Indian Premier League (IPL) is not only a tournament but also a property with a certain market value determined through a complicated and puzzling formula. Market experts tracking the IPL have declared that despite the recent controversies the brand is in sound health.
Perhaps, the only other cricket brands in existence are the Ashes and Lord’s, and the contrast is marked. The IPL, as an entity, is commercial and contemporary, whereas the fundamental appeal of the Ashes and Lord’s rests on history, tradition and culture.
Does the India-Pakistan rivalry qualify as a brand? Unlikely, because these contests rest more on emotion than economics and while matches deliver impressive financial numbers, the magic is eroding. Moreover, nobody has created this product or spared a thought about leveraging this commercially.
When sports becomes a brand it is impacted by market forces and the value the property commands depends on the space it occupies in popular perception.
The IPL is a mass brand that appeals to everyone because of the exciting cocktail of cricket and entertainment it serves. The Ashes is different – it is classy, exclusive and decidedly upmarket.
No less interesting is the recent trend of appointing brand ambassadors to push teams and events. That celebrities bring value to IPL teams is understandable because film stars have massive following, which is a useful hook for attracting fans.
Whether the same holds for creating interest for events is somewhat less clear.
The advertising for next month’s Champion’s League in South Africa is focussed more on Amitabh Bachchan than MS Dhoni or Sachin Tendulkar. It is uncertain what the megastar is supposed to do. Is the purpose to increase viewership or is he trying to attract sponsors?
Depending on how this Champion’s League innovation works, we could see a new trend in the rapidly unfolding brand game.
Don’t be surprised if Kareena Kapoor promotes the next Test series and Tendulkar pitches in to support the next Aamir Khan release!