The Chennai Super Kings (CSK) management is understandably upset at having been forced to play the remaining six matches outside their den at Chepauk. But despite the exit of the IPL matches from Chennai, it is unlikely that Brand CSK will be adversely affected. In fact, the internal assessment of Team CSK is that its brand value will go up.
This is because the perception is that CSK is the victim here, made to move out of Chennai for no fault of theirs. Add to that the fact that the team that commands a very loyal following, was out of action in the IPL for two years and when they returned, they played two well-fought matches, entertaining the crowd with exciting fare. Analysts believe this has resulted in the emotional connect with the team going up a notch or two, and expect the remaining CSK matches to garner unprecedented TV viewership.
The brands associated with CSK, about 14 of them, have expressed their support to the team. They include big names like Nippon Paint, Gulf Oil, Muthoot Group and Parle. According to sources within the management, the sponsors understand the ground realities and have conveyed that their association is not a one-season affair. A major reason why most of the brands tied up with CSK was because of the MS Dhoni factor. The former India captain who has led CSK to two title wins, remains a huge draw.
But on the ground, there are practical issues to deal with. Many of the sponsors were looking at targeting the geographical spread of a Chennai and Tamil Nadu market through contests and promotional events associated with the IPL. Having lost out in the last two seasons because of CSK's absence, 2018 was the year to strike gold. But their dealer engagement of some of the brands is in the deep south, and moving to Pune will mean these activities will take a hit. They will now have to reinvent the wheel, working out a different strategy in a new market.
Those with zero presence in the western India market will lose out. For instance, one of the sponsors is a wifi service provider and is based out of only Chennai and Bengaluru, and would find it difficult to leverage its association with CSK this season.
While the brands that are visible on the uniform of the players – about 10 of them – will still get their mileage thanks to the television broadcast, those with a non-uniform association will get impacted adversely.
The team management understands the difficulty this shift has put everyone in and is willing to go that extra yard to provide an extra deliverable to the sponsor. This is also to ensure that the brand renews the association with CSK. This is likely to be done through some extra shoots for social media platforms promoting the brand, or on memorabilia.
One of the reasons why CSK is not overtly worried about moving out of their comfort zone is because as a brand, it has been marketed differently. Unlike other IPL teams, CSK managers point out that the fans market the team, especially on the digital platform.
A team like Kolkata Knight Riders is driven by owner Shahrukh Khan's popularity and Mumbai Indians, after riding initially on Sachin Tendulkar's name, has the strong Reliance brand backing it. CSK, in contrast, has been marketed as a brand that relies more on its cricket and fan engagement. Whistle podu and Thunderclap are terms closely associated with CSK, whose fans convert their connect with the team into a celebration, a carnival of sorts. The Tamizhan lingo, attire and Kollywood connect, all combine to present a product that is uniquely Chennai.
The fan is also made to feel special at CSK. At the Tamil Nadu Premier League matches, those wearing yellow jerseys were allowed free entry into the stadiums. Over the years, the colour yellow has acquired a special place in the hearts of CSK fans.
In 2016, a water shortage in Maharashtra forced the BCCI to move some of their ‘home' matches to Visakhapatnam. The move meant both Mumbai Indians and Rising Pune Supergiants had to play outside the state. Dhoni was then captain of RPS and therefore knows a thing or two about cricket getting affected by circumstances which are not in the control of the teams.
The shift to Pune is unlikely to affect the performance of the players, professionals as they are, trained to excel in any conditions. The hardcore fans can be expected to travel to Pune to cheer their team, converting the city stadium into a sea of yellow to make them feel at home.
Time to ask Pune: Are you ready to Whistle Podu?
(Note: Views expressed by the author are personal.)