The India Premiere League (IPL), which was surrounded by controversies of match fixing and money laundering last year, is expected to get underway in April 2014 for the seventh season. As is known, three players of the Rajasthan Royals team were found to be indulging in spot fixing with the bookies last year. The investigation also revealed that owner of the team, Raj Kundra, was also allegedly involved in betting. Apart from this Gurunath Meiyappan, son-in-law of BCCI Chief N Srinivasan and CEO of Chennai Super Kings was also allegedly involved in betting. Still the board reportedly made profits worth Rs 385 crore from IPL-6.
This year, BCCI has appointed ‘integrity officers’ to each team to prevent any unwanted events like spot fixing. Apart from this, the Board has also decided to educate players in local languages on how bookies operate to help them eliminate any fixing possibilities. Will the marketers associated with the sport respond positively and will the move transform into more marketers getting associated with the tournament on and off the screen?
‘Fixing free’ tournament
Almost all marketers have welcomed the efforts taken by the BCCI to make the game more transparent. Analysts feel that this will enhance trust among the sponsors. They also observe that the players playing in the tournament are from domestic level and they might not be aware of the bookie cluster. Therefore, creating awareness among them is a healthy initiative. In parallel, as far as the brand image is concerned, marketers feel that the fixing allegations are on individuals and some team owners and, therefore, it is unlikely the brand ‘IPL’ would take a hit as cricket is anyways followed in India. But marketers are keen that the event for the sake of viewership should be ‘fixing free’.
Indra Nooyi, Global Chief, PepsiCo had recently spoken at the WEF in Davos that the company wants to be associated with a sport without controversy. Pepsi is the presenting sponsor of the IPL till 2017, and has committed almost Rs 400 crore for the event. Reportedly, there was huge pressure from the corporate giant to make the event transparent and free of controversies.
Marketers we spoke to have shared mixed responses over the development and responses have varied from brand to brand. Most of them want to wait and watch before they finally display their choices of participation in the tournament.
“Consumer product is different from a management product. Cricket is a huge sport in India and IPL is a good platform to market. As far as controversies and our participation are concerned it would depend on the nature of the controversy. If subsequent affects are felt then we will take a decision accordingly. But for a brand like ours consumer attention matters a lot,” said Shireesh Joshi, COO, Strategic Marketing Group, Godrej.
Senior observers have said that although cynicism regarding the tournament will prevail but brands would continue to invest in case mass marketing is the objective.
Chandroo Kalroo, CMO, TTK Prestige mentioned, “Fatigue is creeping within the tournament. The viewership though rises towards the end of the tournament; the association of a brand primarily depends upon the relevance and context of advertising. I don’t think that allegations of spot fixing will dent marketing. Everything is not fixed and viewers know that. Spot fixing allegations will therefore not make them (sponsors) go away, unless viewers stop watching it. Marketers do not buy property, they buy eyeballs.”
On the other side there are also some marketers who feel that dignity of the tournament matters a lot. Brands getting associated with a team would go for extra scrutiny. In that case Rajasthan Royals might have to try a little harder. Recent reports of Lalit Modi winning RCA elections and in that case BCCI imposing a ban on the board has driven a new pulse of controversies. Marketers are vocal of the fact that fixing of matches affects the viewership to a great extent which in turn also affects sponsorships.
Sanjay Tripathi, Senior EVP-Marketing, HDFC Life Insurance said, “Nobody would like to be cheated. IPL is watched because the teams playing are of equal strengths and therefore result is unpredictable. If the match is fixed, forget a marketer even the viewer would not watch it. I will keep a policy of wait and watch over the initiatives taken by the BCCI. If viewership is robust and the matches transparent then we may go ahead with our participation.”
Sandipan Ghosh, CMO, Ruchi Soya industries said, “If there is no integrity people will not watch IPL anyways. Like in the case of WWE, TVRs started coming down once people came to know that it was staged. If there are no people, brands would anyways not sponsor it. Therefore, steps taken by BCCI to make the tournament transparent are welcome, but association of brands would depend upon the results which come out.”
For some brands IPL would not matter at all, citing high costs and irrelevant context. They would, therefore, not be associated with the brand citing their past experiences. For some brands, the association with IPL (or its broadcaster Set Max) has not been very fruitful and hence, they might not continue with the brand in the future. One amongst them is Nissan Motors.