The karma of teams and the battle of brands

Top IPL teams have the X-factor that sets them apart. Their players walk into a match high on confidence, convinced they are ahead of others.
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Published on Oct 10, 2021 08:48 PM IST
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ByAmrit Mathur

IPL is a cocktail of cricket and commerce and the playoffs are its business end. As players battle in the middle, team owners focus on the balance sheet and brand because winning is much more than basking in the glow of firecrackers lighting the Dubai skyline.

In this high stakes game, is there a pattern where some teams (CSK, MI) consistently do well while others (Kings, Royals) are equally consistent, and keep failing? Why is it that some find a way of winning and others new ways of losing? Also, how come MI and CSK, IPL’s two most successful teams, are so different?

To find answers, let’s look at facts. MI, with five previous titles, are knocked out this time. CSK, the dad’s army, are still in contention but resemble a boxer fighting one bout too many. MI is method, massive investment and the franchise represents good corporate governance. For them, process is king.

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Focussing on process is also MSD’s favourite line, but CSK take a different route to the top. CSK field a team of senior citizens in a league that celebrates youth. It is a car that sticks to its popular best selling model and refuses to change. The CSK squad is settled and has little churn; there is an occasional change of portfolios among players but no major cabinet reshuffle.

Failure easier to explain

Sometimes, failure is easier to explain than success. DD paid a price for chopping the team and releasing ABD, Andre Russell, Maxwell, Warner, Gambhir, Sehwag and Shikhar Dhawan. Now they have a new name (DC) and new karma which has liberated them from the cycle of failure and disappointment.

RR punt on untested young talent and operate on the low cost airline model that keeps expense down for a positive balance sheet. Lately they changed track to splurge top dollar on players but these buys became non-performing assets. Strategy changed but not karma, and RR’s pathetic run continues. Same with Kings, who always appear like an unprepared student who flunks his exam.

Top teams have the X-factor that sets them apart. Their players walk into a match high on confidence, convinced they are ahead of others. Such aura is built over time and when King Kohli/MSD march into the middle their opponents are already down a few psychological points.

Of course, there are no simple answers to explain the rise/rise and fall/fall of teams. T20 cricket is uncertain and luck plays a critical role because one dropped catch or wide can change the result. Teams also have to contend with momentum, the nebulous intangible thing.

Ness Wadia (owner of Kings XI, now Punjab Kings) summed up IPL’s frustrating nature when he said business is straightforward; if right steps are taken the right results follow. But cricket doesn’t follow this linear path and teams can finish at the bottom despite taking the right steps.

There is no logical theory to explain success; the only truth is teams need good Indian talent to win. The IPL franchise teams are in the business of brands where they create distinct identities to connect with fans. Some dismiss the brand as goodwill and mere perception but in IPL’s commercial context it is an encashable asset. Players are temporary assets, the brand endures.

Patience is the key

Team owners were offered the league as a commercial Test match, not an annual balance sheet limited-overs game. They knew this was a slow-cooking delicacy, and while T20 demands explosive batting by a Kohli, the franchise business requires Pujara like patience. Initially, icon players helped the brand by attracting attention and getting the league rolling. Later, their role diminished and players became passengers on a long distance train who arrive and depart only to be replaced by others.

Sometimes the star value of players continues to work for the brand as seen with MSD/CSK and Virat/RCB. Their influence is such the distinction between team and brand is blurred—the two are inseparable. Contrast this with KKR who built their brand by creating a team culture of jeetbo, karbo, ladbo—totally independent of player power.

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Earning loyalty of fans is critical, and unlike politicians who reach out to voters at election time, brands engage with their ‘vote banks’ more regularly. At one level, it is the emotionally invested fan (with face painted in team colours) who makes the brand. At another level, the fan is a revenue opportunity. That’s why the battle of brands is fought fiercely on social media platforms and this game of numbers boils down to likes, impressions, tweets and followers.

For sporting brands to catch the attention of fans, team performance is a key factor. That success drives the brand forward and local connect and active engagement create a sense of bonding.

The IPL declares a new winner each season but the business of brands is a longer game that keeps rolling over without a strategic break.

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Saturday, December 04, 2021