Ubaid Zargar

Another IPL, another season of underwhelming team jerseys and fleeting brand placements

KKR took home the trophy. But, hand on heart, can you recall the brands featured on the team’s jersey?

When it comes to brands advertising on sports jerseys, the difference between IPL and international sports teams is like night and day. Look at football's glittering giants: Real Madrid and their long-term affair with Fly Emirates or Manchester United's vintage bond with Vodafone. These partnerships don’t just slap a logo on a shirt; they embed the brand into the very soul of the team. 

Fly Emirates has graced Real Madrid's pristine white kits since 2013, making it as much a part of the team as the players themselves. Manchester City and Etihad Airways have been inseparable since 2009, with the brand emblazoned on their jerseys and even lending its name to the stadium. 

It's not just football, either. The NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers and Bibigo, or the Golden State Warriors and Rakuten, show how stable brand relationships can turn a sponsor into a staple of the team's identity. The NFL’s Dallas Cowboys and AT&T? That's another power couple right there.

Real Madird's home kit for 2024
Manchester City's home kit for 2024
LA Lakers 2024 jersey
Golden State Warriors jersey for 2024

Now, let's talk IPL. Picture a jersey so cluttered with brand logos that it is similar to that of a NASCAR racer. This year’s IPL marked the 17th season of the yearly tournament, congratulations KKR. But out of 17 winners of the widely popular cricketing franchise so far, how many have left a lasting impression in terms of their jersey sponsors? Below is a chart of the jerseys from last five winners of the IPL (barring KKR). See if you could recall the jersey sponsors for each of these teams.

Every season, it's a new chaotic mishmash of sponsors. One year it's one brand, the next it's another. It's a branding free-for-all. And the result? A fragmented visual identity that can’t hold a candle to the sleek, enduring partnerships of global sporting leagues, that is according to design and strategy experts.

IPL winners and their jersey sponsors
IPL winners and their jersey sponsors

As per Shekhar Badve, who is the founder and director of Lokus Design, a design consultancy agency, says that there is a lot of work that needs to be done on the brand placements that happen on IPL jerseys.

Shekhar Badve
Shekhar Badve

He says, “The international sports teams are very calculated and particular about the way their jerseys appear, because, in the end, this is what the players step on the field wearing, and can potentially end up in a fan’s wardrobe. For IPL, the emphasis is on generating as much revenue as possible through these brand partnerships. But in the process, the entire visual appeal of a jersey is profoundly impacted.”

Badve also opines that a lot of the onus is on the brands in terms of what they are spending their money on. This is why they should also be thorough in how they appear on a team’s jersey, and not just do it for the sake of doing it.

“Unfortunately, the brands in IPL just want to be part of the teams. There is little care on how their logo appears on the jersey. The size, proportions, placements, colours, and other factors are given very little thought. But this is a very preliminary way of going about it.”

Harnish Shah, who is the founder and the CEO of 3 Minds Digital, a design agency based out of Mumbai, says that the yearly overhaul of brand placements on these jerseys creates a very inconsistent recall value among the consumers, which he believes is also true for overall sports marketing in the country. The agency has worked with Delhi Capitals in the past, having first-hand experience of managing brand integrations on team apparel.

Harnish Shah
Harnish Shah

He says, “The way these brands partner with teams in IPL is very timely, since most of these contracts only go up to one year. This leads to a switch in sponsorships every year and therefore the jerseys look different. Also, in international sports tournaments, there are guidelines in place to restrict the number of brands that can be placed on the jersey. In India, there are way too many brands competing for the same real estate. This is true for sports beyond just IPL.”

Shah also points out that the partnerships between teams and the brands are multi-layered, and since for most brands the objective for the IPL is above-the-line advertising (ATL), the real ROI is in sponsored events and commercials. 

Tareque Laskar, the head of research and analytics at ITW Universe, a sports marketing agency, underlines the potential reasons that amount to the difference between IPL sponsorships and global sports. In football, partnerships like Real Madrid and Fly Emirates, or Manchester United and Aon, become part of the jersey's identity, but in India the sporting culture still has room to grow.

Tareque Laskar
Tareque Laskar

"IPL teams so far haven’t been able to build a market in terms of merchandise on par with the global standard, this could be because India is still building a sporting culture and while there are fans of the game the stretch between passion and the purse is one that is yet to be tapped into," Laskar points out.

Creating lifestyle merchandise and unique fan experiences can contribute to building a stronger sporting culture, which brands can then integrate into more meaningfully.

Citing Royal Challengers Bangalore and their savvy lifestyle merchandise deal with Puma, Laskar also suggests that enhancements in unique fan experiences can lead up to a better culture in the sports. "Creating lifestyle merchandise and unique fan experiences can contribute to building a stronger sporting culture, which brands can then integrate more meaningfully," he says. It's a smart move, encouraging teams to think beyond the pitch and into fans' daily lives.

Addressing the here-today-gone-tomorrow nature of many IPL sponsorships, Laskar concedes that a bit of flexibility isn't necessarily a bad thing. "Even in European football, we see more rapid churn in sponsorships. While iconic partnerships exist, many are shorter in duration," he observes.

And let's be honest, the annual jersey unveilings have become the IPL's own version of a runway show, sparking excitement and driving fans to snag the latest designs each season. "Churn of brands, in a roundabout way, can keep the fan experience fresh and engaging," he adds.

Krupa Sheth, creative director at STRATEDGY, a branding and design agency based out of Mumbai, has some pointed critiques about the current state of IPL jersey designs. With the merch resembling a chaotic explosion of colours and sponsor logos, Sheth argues for a much-needed overhaul. 

Krupa Sheth
Krupa Sheth

"Currently, we see a riot of colours with all the sponsor logos competing for attention. It is devoid of hierarchy and structure," she remarks. Sheth acknowledges the importance of sponsorships for the league's success but insists that a more polished execution is possible.

The hierarchy attached to the logo placement is flawed at the moment. The team names should ideally have top priority, followed by the main sponsor, and so on.

"The hierarchy attached to the logo placement is flawed at the moment. The team names should ideally have top priority, followed by the main sponsor, and so on," she suggests, advocating for a logical and appealing design structure. The colour schemes, according to her, also need a serious update.

In her view, the franchises are neglecting a crucial element: the fans. "The one thing that most of these franchises forget is the fan who wants to watch, wear and cherish these jerseys," Sheth points out. She believes the current designs turn jerseys into mere billboards rather than cherished memorabilia.

Lloyd Mathias, business strategist and angel investor, opines that it all comes down to the teams themselves on how much they manage brand associations. Comparatively, Mathias points out that BCCI is far more efficient in inking deals with brands for the national team, often signing the sponsors on three to five-year contracts. 

Lloyd Mathias
Lloyd Mathias

“If you recall, in the 80s and 90s was Wills. Then for many years came Sahara. And then of course you had the Byju’s and Oppos of the world. In fact, even in IPL during the initial years, people remember KKR and its Nokia jersey, and CSK with India Cements. The onus is on the teams to do long-term deals,” he says.

All of the old franchises (in IPL) sit with a heavy profit before the tournament even begins. The pressure to go out and monetise their stadium revenues, selling merchandise, is very minimal.

Right now, however, Mathias suggests that the teams aren’t doing justice to these partnerships because they are busy raking in revenue directly from viewership, and hence have no motivation to focus too much on these ancillary streams.

“The moment BCCI signs a deal with a broadcaster, the rule is to split 50% of the money gets split between the teams. So, all of the old franchises sit with a heavy profit before the tournament even begins. The pressure to go out and monetise their stadium revenues, selling merchandise, is very minimal.”

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