Saad Raja - IPL

What the rest of business can learn from how the Indian Premier League is marketed

From the dusty streets of Afghanistan to the green fields of England, there can’t be a young cricketer nowadays who hasn’t heard of the Indian Premier League – and who doesn’t one day dream of turning out for the Chennai Super Kings or the Kolkata Knight Riders. The league is a phenomenon – and I’d argue that a huge part of this comes down to how brilliantly it has been marketed. So what can the rest of the world of marketing learn from what the Indian Premier League has achieved?

A bit of background first though, for those of you who might not be die-hard cricket fans. The Indian Premier League is a Twenty20 tournament (a kind of short form of cricket) that started way back in 2008. In many ways it’s a kind of reaction against the more traditional game of Test cricket – it’s essentially the opposite of everything that critics of that longer format complain about in the longer game.

It’s fast, it’s fun, and it has a lot of money floating around – for advertisers in the form of revenue and the exposure they get to millions of potential customers, and for international players in terms of the lucrative contracts that the different IPL franchises offer. So what’s the secret behind its success?

It’s promoted brilliantly

The Indian Premier League is in many ways what happens when Bollywood and cricket meet – and if you understand the draw of both of these national obsessions in India then you’ll know that this is an almost irresistible combination. The cricket bit of the mix is fairly straightforward to understand. The people behind the Indian Premier League have basically honed the long form of the game down to its most exciting essentials – identifying the run-chase and big hitting batsman as two of the things that draws fans (particularly young ones) in.

But the Bollywood aspect of the concept is fascinating too – especially to marketers, as it’s here that the real razzmatazz comes in. One of the marketing aspects that the IPL does particularly well is that it is very focused on promoting people and personalities, both in terms of its players (the best in the world, attracted by the huge contracts) and the team owners, some of whom have taken a very hands-on approach to interacting with and promoting the league to fans. This personal touch adds glamour and personality to an already exciting and compelling product – and it is a winning combination for many.

They’ve got the pricing structure spot on

The way that the Board Of Control For Cricket In India (BCCI) has structured the financing of the IPL means that there is a huge amount of money to be made from marketing this product successfully, for pretty much everyone involved. From 2017 onwards, the share of revenues from the IPL has been 50% to the IPL itself, 45% to its franchisees and 5% to a prize money pot – it’s a balance that is attractive to the big money backers behind the franchises who are looking to invest in a team, and it’s lucrative for the BCCI who have hit on a model that is estimated to bring them something in the region of around US$ 1.6 billion, over a period of five to ten years.

It’s fun – and it’s simple to understand

This is, for me, is one of the most important, and most overlooked aspects of what goes into successfully marketing any product. The product in this case is incredibly simple to understand – it’s quick, it’s fun and, most importantly, people can very quickly find something in it that they identify with emotionally. That might be a player, or the franchise itself, but either way it’s relatively simple for fans to engage and emotionally connect with what they’re seeing out on the field. Most of all, it’s a fun product and its players and teams write their own compelling and exciting stories to pull even more fans in.

Advertisers love to associate their own products with it, the media likes to write about it, and fans love to talk about it – a perfect storm that any marketing manager, in any industry, would dream of creating.