The Indian Premier League (IPL), the world’s biggest T20 cricket tournament, has been surrounded by controversies for a while. The latest round started yesterday with a panel appointed by the Supreme Court indicting Gurunath Meiyappan for spot fixing. Meiyappan is the son-in-law of the BCCI president N Srinivasan. Srinivasan also owns the IPL Team, Chennai Super Kings (CSK). He is also scheduled to takeover as the first chairman of the International Cricket Council (ICC) from July 2014.
This is not the first time that controversy has hit the IPL. In the past, there have been issues about the shenanigans of Lalit Modi, and how he started and ran the tournament. There have been issues about the union minister Shashi Tharoor using his late wife Sunanda Pushkar to pick up “sweat equity” in the now defunct IPL team Kochi Tuskers Kerala. Then there have also been issues about spot fixing, leading to the arrest of S Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan, who played for the Rajasthan Royals cricket team.
But despite these controversies, the brand IPL has held strong and advertisers have thronged to it, year on year. Interestingly, the research firm American Appraisal, in a report titled Clearing the Fence with Brand Value: A Concise Report on Brand Values in the Indian Premier League found that “43 percent of the respondents thought that the controversies surrounding the tournament impacted their new or continued relation with the IPL as sponsors or advertisers.” But more interestingly, “almost half said that the controversies in no way influenced their decision to affiliate with the tournament.” American Appraisal reached out to over 300 companies and ad agencies that are involved with the IPL.
So what is it that makes brand IPL so strong despite all the controversies that have surrounded it? India is a cricket mad nation and for any company which has a consumer oriented focus, some money to spend and a lazy marketing strategy, it makes sense to be associated with the IPL brand. But that as they say is a no brainer.
The more important question to ask here is why have the companies continued to be associated with the IPL, despite all the controversies surrounding the tournament. Niraj Dawar possibly has an answer in his book Tilt- Shifting Your Strategy from Products to Customers. As he writes “Brands die hard…One consequence of the strong association of a brand with a criterion of purchase is that even when the brand falls behind technologically or fails to deliver on the product, it continues to benefit from the customers’ default assumptions for a long while…Customer associations provide the brand with the buffer that shields it from crises and quality issues.”
The IPL brand is well settled in the minds of the Indian consumer and the controversies that have hit the cricket tournament have been unable to dislodge it. Given this ‘strong’ association of the Indian consumer with the IPL, it is not surprising that companies and their brands want to continue to be associated with the T20 tournament.
This, despite the fact that the IPL may have failed to deliver on its main product, which is an honestly and competitively played twenty over cricket match. For all we know that may not be happening, given that the owners of IPL teams (like Gurunath Meiyappan of CSK and Raj Kundra of the Rajasthan Royals) may have been betting against their own teams.
A report in the Mumbai Mirror newspaper points out “In his exhaustive and extensive report on the spot-fixing scandal in last year’s Indian Premier League, Justice Mukul Mudgal has raised suspicion about one particular game between the Chennai Super Kings and the Rajasthan Royals. While the 170-page report largely remains inconclusive over whether matches were fixed in the league, it clearly states this particular match needs to be investigated. “The Committee feels that there is enough information available on record to indicate that a further investigation is required in respect of the match held at Jaipur, between Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings on May 5, 2013,” the report says.”
Despite this, the Indian cricket fan (who also happens to be a consumer) is not done with the IPL as yet. Once a brand is established consumers typically tend to give it a long rope. As Dawar writes “Microsoft was able to retain most of its customers even through the life of the ill-conceived Windows Vista operating system, a disastrous product that would have been the death knell for a start-up brand. Apple’s reputation was barely dented despite the antenna problems of iPhone 4, AT&T’s spotty coverage, and the embarrassment of prematurely launching Siri, an artificial intelligence bot that was not quite ready for prime time, and faulty Apple iMaps. The brand easily withered these slipups.”
If a start-up would have made any of these mistakes, the game would have been more or less over for it. But that is not the case with big and established brands. Interestingly, the controversies started to hit the IPL only after the first few seasons, and by that time it had already managed to establish itself in the mind of the Indian consumer. As Dawar puts it “Customers are slow to switch, so that even if decline sets in, it is gradual allowing the company time to fix the problem and respond to challenges.”
This time that consumers give a big brand to fix itself can also lead to complacency, as happened in case of BlackBerry. As Dawar puts it “It allows managers the room they need to remain in denial about challengers and challenges. When BlackBerry sales continues to rise, even into 2012 in some parts of the world, its newly appointed CEO felt free to declare early that year, “We have fantastic devices in a fantastic ecosystem. I don’t think there is some drastic change needed.”
We all know what happened to BlackBerry after that. Consumers do give long ropes to big brands, but these are not infinitely long ropes. One day their patience does run out. Maybe, there is a thing or two, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) which runs the IPL, can learn from this.
The article originally appeared on www.FirstBiz.com on February 12, 2014
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek)