Fans should thank Hardik Pandya for making them seen, acknowledged | Crickit
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Fans should thank Hardik Pandya for making them seen, acknowledged

ByAmrit Mathur, New Delhi
Apr 24, 2024 09:21 PM IST

After the uproar over his appointment as MI skipper, IPL teams realise that fans are key stakeholders, not faceless.

Instead of booing him, fans ought to thank Hardik Pandya for making them important. Hardik’s GT-MI switch hit united fans and the collective outrage caught franchises on the wrong foot. As a result, teams have woken up to the reality that social media drives perception, and fans are key stakeholders.

Mumbai Indians' captain Hardik Pandya gestures during the Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 cricket match(AFP) PREMIUM
Mumbai Indians' captain Hardik Pandya gestures during the Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 cricket match(AFP)

For fans, this was a defining moment and their position will be seen in two phases: before and after the Hardik trade. But to fully appreciate this change, first some context. Till yesterday, fans were faceless and forgotten, ignored and exploited, viewed by IPL teams as customers who had to be ‘monetised’ to earn revenue.

Post the Pandya shift fans will be taken seriously because, once on the periphery they are closer to the centre now. This IPL, apart from insane power-hitting and team totals, the emergence of the empowered fan is a ground-breaking development.

Booing Hardik is unprecedented because Indian cricket stars are used to affection and adulation, not to a torrent of abuse. Except for the odd instance of sledging in the past (‘Shastri hai, hai’, for example), players are invariably placed on a pedestal.

Fans are angry because they think Rohit Sharma has been wronged, handed a terrible decision which he can’t review. The cricketing merits of the Hardik shift can be debated but one positive takeaway is that fans are now players in the IPL business.

Till now the growth of an IPL team’s fan base was more organic than by design. With some franchises, the presence of star players ensured fan support. Virat and Dhoni drive RCB and CSK; with both teams, it is difficult to separate the brand from the player. Other teams acquired fans for a variety of reasons, including the star power of celebrity owners.

Recently two distinct sets of fans emerged in IPL. One: The mobile holding, digitally empowered fan who closely tracked matches and player performances. Not the passive consumer who sat in front of the television to watch but the gaming enthusiast who challenged oneself by selecting players likely to do well.

Online gaming platforms are an important part of cricket’s expanding commercial structure. Evidence of their popularity is the staggering amounts offered for contests. When CSK played MI, the prize pool was a staggering 75 crore. When the fan pays small amounts to enter a contest, he or she literally has skin in the game.

Two: The other set of fans are emotionally invested in teams. They adore CSK and rejoice when Dhoni smashes Hardik for 20 from four balls and are frustrated that RCB’s ‘King’ Kohli is without a crown even after 17 seasons. Fans use social media platforms to express themselves and teams have learnt to listen. Just as DRS changed umpiring and the Impact Rule changed selection strategy, teams are mindful of the social media push back from unhappy fans.

Interestingly, teams have realised that fans are assets who can be collectively engaged digitally, not just for brand building but for pure profit. Already, IPL teams have social media professionals who travel with the players to generate off field content. This ‘behind the scene’ look becomes a good point to connect with fans and is an additional revenue stream for teams.

But more than money, for IPL teams the game is about being liked and loved and about goodwill. When RCB won the Women’s Premier League, Bengaluru erupted with joy and fans clogged MG Road. Strangely, public celebration on that scale is yet to happen with any IPL team.

But who knows, fate could throw up a googly and MI could win under Hardik. If that happens, perhaps he will be greeted by loud cheers and delirious fans will jam traffic on Marine Drive all night!

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