Chennai Super Kings- the Super brand??

Published by MBA Skool Team, Published on January 01, 2014

The Indian Premier League, an annual sixty day glitz fest was conceived keeping in mind an average Indian’s biggest passions- cinema and cricket. Cricket is synonymous to religion in India and undoubtedly IPL has captured the viewers’ imagination. Also, roping in Bollywood celebrities as franchise owners has only increased the audience. IPL viewership in 2013 was estimated to be 100 million, and also included an online viewership of 75 million people. The presence of regional teams has only helped connect viewers better with their teams.

Team loyalty is extremely crucial for IPL as a loyal fan base provide the teams a steady stream of revenues – through tickets, merchandise etc. A recent study was conducted by Brand Finance, a firm based out of UK which valued the teams participating in the two month IPL tournament. Chennai Super Kings, the Chennai based IPL franchise was the most valuable brand at around $45.42 million which is at Rs.272 crore at current dollar rates. This was followed by Kolkata Knight Riders and Mumbai Indians respectively. So what did Chennai Super Kings do right?

Chennai Super Kings, the Chennai based franchise is owned by India Cements. It is one of the most successful teams in IPL winning the championship twice, reaching the finals twice and never failing to make it to the playoffs. Other awards in its kitty include the Fairplay award, which it won thrice and its players winning the Orange and Purple cap twice and once respectively. It has around 21000 paid memberships and also several unofficial fan clubs. One of the huge challenges of marketing for IPL teams is the limited visibility they get during the annual 60 day window. CSK has however managed to successfully reach out to fans all year long. Let’s see how…

CSK’s official website has motley of offerings for fans. From team news to exclusive memberships and merchandise like T shirts and cricketing gear, it is a veritable treasure trove for fans. CSK’s anthem “Whistle podu” with its catchy lyrics and music and fans’ participation has gone viral resulting in flash mobs even in San Francisco. CSK’s official facebook page is very active all through the year- posting pictures of players on and off season, announcing contests for fans and also winners throughout. CSK is fan engagement at its best. They have also started a junior IPL , an inter school cricket tournament in many cities in Tamil Nadu , which would serve dual purpose of engaging with younger fans as well as scouting for new talent. But is all this sufficient for earning fan loyalty in cricket?

Fan loyalty in sporting events is different from the traditional brand loyalty in that fans continue to support their favorite teams even when they are underperforming. Good performance is a key parameter for other products while fans support their teams otherwise also. Studies identify several key parameters which affect brand loyalty, some of which are listed below:

• Historical performance: Great performances in the past definitely help acquiring a fan base who like to follow the winners. First time players and amateur audiences by default tend to follow winning teams.

• Tradition: Many football teams have traditions which have helped them acquire a “cult” status.

• Product delivery/experience: This refers to the experience and excitement generated by watching the game and the entertainment level provided by the sport as such.

• Presence of star players: Presence of star players transfers some of the popularity of players into popularity for the team as well. This is widely seen in football and also seen in the IPL as well.

• Identification with the team: When a viewer/fan can personally identify with the team as well as its on field and off field actions, there is greater loyalty built for the team.

• Nostalgia: When there are strong memories associated with watching a match/visits to the stadium, a bond is developed between the viewer and the team.

• Peer acceptance: Sport is always a commonly used conversation topic in social circles and hence identifying with teams with greater peer acceptance, bring greater acceptance to the fan as well. This serves as a positive network effect for the teams- greater its existing fan base, greater is likely addition as well.

• Escape: This refers to the ability of the sport/team to provide escape for a person from the routine and monotonous life. Fans provide continued support to teams which provide greater escape. Online replay videos provided by teams have been a great success due to their ability to provide “escape”.

• Team personality: Every team has a set of values and principles that it stands for – and viewers identify greatly with these values. When a team personifies values that the viewers aspire for , they would aspire to associate with it.

Based on the above factors the fans of Indian IPL can be classified as follows:

• Hard core loyal: She swears her allegiance to a single team. This group constitutes the biggest revenue source for teams through tickets and other sources.

• Split loyal: These guys follow multiple teams. They could be following one favorite team and also the team which has their favorite player.

• Shifting loyal: They have their own favorite players and shift teams with the players’ movement.

• Switchers: They have favorite teams mainly based on success rate , and hence shift loyalties very often.

The hard core loyal fans are the biggest revenue sources for the team – through tickets, merchandise and membership and all teams aim for highest hard core loyal fan membership.

CSK’s success as a brand and its high fan loyalty can be attributed to several of the above mentioned factors. CSK has been one of the most successful IPL franchises, with two wins, two final appearances and all seasons finish in the playoffs. This success has led to greater visibility and has helped capture fans who follow winning teams. Retaining its core team of Dhoni, Raina, Ashwin was another key factor. In IPL, fan loyalty to team is also greatly attributed to loyalty to players and team preferences tend to shift as players shift teams. CSK’s retention of the core team has managed to capture fans of these players. CSK , is one team where the focus is more on the team rather than the owners/celebrities associated with the team– for instance in Kolkata Knight Riders the limelight was constantly shifted from the team to the owner. This has served as a point of difference from other teams in the IPL. CSK has also provided a local flavor to the team, ensuring that all cricket fans from this region definitely support CSK. The name Chennai Super Kings itself stands testimony to this fact. “Super” is an often used word in Tamil Nadu to describe any pleasant experience. It has always encouraged and attracted local talent – players like Vijay, Ashwin, Badrinath have hogged the limelight through the IPL. They transferred players like Balaji only when they were outbid for. Viewers contrast this with RCB when they did not even bid for the local Bangalore boy Dravid. The “Whistle Podu” anthem shot in Chennai and which uses a lot of Tamil words has also attracted the regional fans. As much as fans love CSK, there are ardent “haters” who have ensured continued visibility and talking point for the team. A recent statistic said that for every tweet supporting the team there were five tweets against the team, ensuring that there was continuous visibility for the team.

CSK has been the leading IPL team brand so far, but whether it will continue to do so remains an issue. The recent spot fixing allegations and the arrest of its team principal might not augur well for the team. Whether the team will be able to detach itself from its owners is a question that remains unanswered. Secondly, this year Dhoni and other players will also come up for auction, and a lot of CSK’s fans are attributed to Dhoni. So the question of whether Dhoni will be retained and if not, will his fans move away with him to another team. There are also other aspects of team branding which CSK can use to improve fan loyalty. Considering that IPL has a short history, there are no traditions associated with teams which ensure a fan base. CSK can develop its traditions to sustain fans in the long run. Escape provided by CSK in terms of engagement with fans is still on the lower side; year round events should be implemented. A team personality can be developed and communicated to the audience, which will attract more fans who will belong to the hard core loyal category. Whether CSK will remain the “Super” brand – only time will tell.

This article is authored by Durgalakshmi from IIM Kozhikode

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