POV: Should brands associated with IPL be worried?

By Prachi Srivastava and Ashwini Gangal , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Marketing | March 31, 2014
Endless scandal has made the Indian Premier League a tainted property. Should the brands associated with it - Pepsi, the title sponsor, as well as the rest - be worried? afaqs! finds out.

With the good comes the bad. And with that, the ugly. Brands that have associated with the Indian Premier League have every reason to keep their internal damage control arsenal handy. The annual T20 cricketing tournament is in the news for all the wrong reasons just days shy of its seventh season. And most of these news stories are follow up reports of controversies that began months back.

The ongoing scandal reached a crescendo when N Srinivasan was asked, by the Supreme Court, to step down as president of the BCCI, recently. Sunil Gavaskar has taken interim control of Srinivasan's duties.

This was done so that officials are able to investigate Srinivasan's son-in-law, and Chennai Super Kings (CSK) team official, Gurunath Meiyappan, for allegedly being involved in betting and spot fixing - a scandal that CSK skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni's name has been dragged into.

And though the Supreme Court has allowed CSK and Rajasthan Royals to play despite both teams' owners facing these allegations, the ruling will do little to help the two franchises, and of course brand IPL, salvage their respective images.

In the wake of this whole 'sports tsunami' as some experts term it, we asked industry professionals across fields whether the advertisers associated with the Indian Premier League ought to be worried sick.

Edited Excerpts.

Lloyd Mathias

Anita Nayyar

Alok Bharadwaj

Darshan M

Arvind Sharma

Harish Bijoor

Lloyd Mathias, founder and director, GreenBean Ventures

Absolutely. When brands take on an association with either an individual or a property, they expect a rub off effect of what that property stands for. Therefore, anything overtly negative will have a negative rub off on the brands in question.

Years back, when the Azharuddin match fixing scandal broke, Pepsi exercised a clause in the contract and terminated the contract almost the same day the news about him surfaced. As far as brand ambassador associations go, these clauses still exist.

Brands need to be careful, when it comes to associating with celebrities or ambassadors who are tainted. Consider the examples of Lance Armstrong or Tiger Woods or more recently Oscar Pistorius.

When brands sign up with an ambassador or a property, they have a lot of liability clauses that say - 'Should something go wrong, I can mitigate my losses...' but these clauses are easier to invoke at the individual level. With properties like the IPL, I am sure it's difficult for Pepsi to ensure they are well protected. All the negativity around the property is bound to impact the presenting sponsor.

The moment consumers start doubting the credibility of a tournament, it is bound to impact the sponsors; the presenting sponsor will get hit in a big way. All the brands associated with the IPL need to be extremely concerned.

Anita Nayyar, CEO, India and South Asia, Havas Media Group

As long as the game doesn't get affected, the brands need not worry. Though IPL has been losing numbers year on year, it is still doing well.

The Supreme Court has given a clean chit to Rajasthan Royals and CSK. The tournament might have been affected if these teams were not playing. They have been winners in the previous editions of the IPL. Had they not been playing this time, the number of matches would have come down, the fans might not have watched the matches; but that's not the case. For good or bad reasons, there is hype and buzz around these two teams.

Alok Bharadwaj, executive vice president, Canon India

Yes, any brand has to be worried about the investment it makes just like any person who makes a personal investment worries about it. For a brand that has made an investment in the IPL, it is a very worrisome factor. Not only for this year but even in the future; people who have a longer term investment in this space have even more to worry about... about how this whole episode is going to pan out, about consumer perception around it, about whether respect for the brand will increase or decrease and about how this crisis will end. Yes, it is a worrisome factor for sure.

Does the IPL have a value proposition? Yes, nobody should question that. People like it, people have bought into it and people are hungry for it. But the proposition got diluted by things which are not sporting in nature. That is impacting the brand value of the IPL, and not just in the short term; this has the potential for long term damage.

So now it's a question of how the crisis managers handle it. Crisis managers of both kinds - those who help the IPL come out of this as a property and as an important event in India.

Darshan M, sports marketing consultant

Well, brands are already worried. They are looking at the property with rapt attention. But in 20 days' time, all that the public will be talking about is the massive six by Gayle or the amazing delivery from Steyn. When there are sensational scams, the public is glued to their television sets. And whenever the public tunes in, there is value for the brands to leverage. So despite worry, this platform is still the most exciting platform for brands to reach their target audience.

The truth of the matter is that the IPL is still the most effective platform to announce your brand to the world. There is no other platform in India that can come close to the IPL to deliver your brand message and salience in the quickest amount of time and in the most cost effective manner. So scam or no scam the intrinsic value of the Indian Premier League is unparalleled and cannot be disputed.

Arvind Sharma, former chairman and CEO, India subcontinent, Leo Burnett

For the brands that associate with the IPL, the problem is more qualitative than quantitative. They need to worry more from the perspective of the IPL being weak from a viewership point of view. They will not get the returns for which they have paid. There is a great chance that IPL 7's viewership and ratings will be lower than those of the previous seasons.

The constant negative news around the brand makes potential fans and potential viewers lose interest eventually. If it's a one off scandal in many years, one can still manage to deal with it but if the issue persists for too long, the brand or concerned franchise will become weak.

The unfortunate part is, when the scandal broke out, rather than moving aggressively to clear the air, most of those in power, like those in the BCCI, chose to deal with it like the UPA in politics. They are going out giving public statements, but they don't understand that this won't allow the business to work in its usual manner.

Harish Bijoor, brand expert and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.

Not at all. The consumer of most brands advertised on IPL matches is, today, an irreverent entity at large. Note that the consumer of these brands, who catches the IPL on TV, and snacks on all the advertising that comes along with it, watches IPL for its entertainment quotient. Controversy, to that extent, is part of the entertainment quotient as well. Scandals, back-room talk (remember 'Fake IPL Player'?) and all else has become a part and parcel of the IPL offering today. More the garnishing of controversy, the better it is. More the scandal, the bigger the appeal. Sad, but true.

IPL is therefore not cricket at all. It is a cusp point where cricket meets entertainment and entertainment gobbles cricket up. To that extent, brands need not worry at all. I do believe eyeballs will remain intact. Let the frenzy begin and we will see it cascade - Srinivasan or no Srinivasan, match-fixing or no match-fixing. Sad again, but true.

The ones who will be truly hurt by the scandal are the players themselves. If any of them are actually proven to be fixing matches, their career is done for. A case in point is Sreesanth, who is cooling his heels somewhere.

IPL 2014 is scheduled to start on April 16 in UAE.

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