Was brand IPL insensitive? – League needs perception correction right now

The brand is a thought! A thought that lives in people’s minds. Nothing more. Nothing less.

The Indian Premier League (IPL) today is a well-tested and tried brand in the minds of people. The brand lives and thrives after its 13-and-a-half seasons (well nigh nearly) in the minds of people — people who live in India, the Indian diaspora, and indeed in the minds of the IPL-nation diaspora of players itself. The brand is therefore a big one, reaching every nook and cranny of the world.

Brands mean different things to different people. To someone sitting in the confines of his house in Malabar Hill in Mumbai, Brand IPL is a complete entertainment package, combining sports and entertainment. It’s short enough to last 180 minutes, and its long enough to give you the dose of adrenaline that you expect from the Twenty20 format. You follow the league, its many teams, its players, their controversial lives, the lives of the corporate biggies involved in it, and indeed the tantrums of the many Bollywood personas who have tied their coattails to it. You follow it on your plasma screens, and now on your mobile device even. The IPL is comfort candy for the bored. And by the way, it’s cricket as well!

IPL 2021 – COVID-19 cases, cancellation: Where did it all go wrong?

To others, the IPL means competition and the spirit any competition brings with it. To some who make a buck out of it, it means a livelihood. This will include bars and pubs and restaurants who make a fanfare of it on the ground, and does equally include everyone in the immediate ecosystem of profit that spins around the league.

To the broadcasters who own the right to telecast and webcast, IPL is a property with a promise of big moneys. A property that brings in captive eyeballs season after season. To those who advertise on it, it is a media vehicle that packs both the physics and chemistry of communication need, want, desire and aspiration. Brand IPL therefore means different things to different people.

IPL 2021 started well in a bubble of its own making. The tested bubble format of season 13 was attempted to be replicated on Indian soil this time round. And the bubble burst. Players tested positive and IPL-14 stands suspended, possibly to be continued on foreign soil sometime soon.

What does this do to brand IPL?

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When I look at it dispassionately, I do believe the decision to go ahead with season 14 amidst the environmental chaos of the second wave of Covid-19 in our midst was a faulty one. Admittedly, the curve looked down when the decision was taken, but this was cricket greed. Season 13 had just about ended a few months ago, and the live cricket-starved cricket lover had got his, her and their dose of IPL in abundant measure, watching it though a series of captive lockdowns and curfews. IPL-13 had earned is moolah, and the cricket lover had got his fix. Why repeat it so soon really?

A bulk of the folk who look at the IPL in play amidst the suffering of their most near and dear are wondering why this. But then, they are really silent people. In their minds, the IPL will be seen as insensitive commerce. They will possibly never articulate it overtly, but they will think it. And that’s enough. By my definition, the brand is a thought. The IPL is now painted and tainted by a thought. It needs to address this to clear its image and get its reputation right with a whole set of sensitive people. Remember, the pandemic has sensitised us more than ever. Even irrationally so.

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The key question being asked is what is the IPL doing to assuage the needs of those impacted by the virus. How much is it spending? How much is it focusing on relief measures? How well is it using its arsenal of cricket and Bollywood stars to help aid the process of getting an ill India back on its feet? Must we play bat and ball when we need Remdesivir, hospital beds, oxygen and to take care of Covid orphans?

I do believe if IPL-14 had been called off or postponed even before its started by a proactive decision of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the IPL management, the brand image would have been that much more enhanced. But that was not to be. The fact that the season is suspended due to a bubble burst is a bit of a hit for brand IPL.

The brand needs to stand up and want to be counted in its efforts with Covid care and sustenance now. That is the only way to assuage a relatively small (but nevertheless important) set of people, who otherwise love and celebrate the spirit of IPL season after season.

Importantly, the brand is a perception. The IPL needs to gets its perception corrected. Right now.

Harish Bijoor is a brand guru and founder of Harish Bijoor Consults.

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