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March 14, 2010

Samir Chopra

The IPL and fan loyalty

Samir Chopra


Who says no one would ever care about teams whose name consisted of a pairing of an Indian city and some other noun? © AFP
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The IPL attracts, as it should, given its prominence and importance in the world of cricket, a lot of commentary. Some critical, some adulatory. In the former dimension, one finds well-meaning worries about its influence on Test cricket, aesthetic discomfort at the crass commercialisation on display (and the prominence afforded to the grinning visage of Mr. Modi). In the latter, admiration for its delivery of an exciting assemblage of players, the broadening of the appeal of cricket, and an entertainment package neatly wrapped up for the post-work hours.

I've handed out my share of brickbats to the IPL. But I always found one particular line of criticism (or scepticism) directed at the IPL to be utterly baffling. That this strain has almost died down is adequate testimony to just how strange (and revelatory of an almost knee-jerk dismissive mindset) it always was.

For this scepticism about the IPL centered almost exclusively on expressing doubt about whether anyone in their right minds would ever care about teams whose name consisted of a pairing of an Indian city and some other noun. Our cricketing pundit would thus proclaim in a tone of almost pitch-perfect incredulity, "Who is going to care about some outfit called the Jaipur Whatchmacallits or the Rajasthan Rovers or the Landikotal Lotharios"?

What was the basis of this particular rhetorical pitch? As far as I could make out, it was the evocation of two moods: one, a sad post-colonial hangover that associated the names of Indian towns with distance, remoteness, a peripheral existence; the second, a faux-genteel distaste for the in-bad-taste excess of marketing mavens.

Has there ever been a more incoherent basis for scepticism? When I cast my eyes over the names of teams in the English Premier League or the National Basketball Association, I see teams named after English and American towns that very few could locate on a map, often paired with just as unlikely monikers.

The Utah Jazz? (Right, this makes sense, because when I think of Mormons, I think of jazz music). The Orlando Magic (Oh, I get the Disney reference; do you?) Is Aston Villa a city? Where is Fulham? I always thought Arsenal was the name of a quarter in Paris or a place where anarchists went to load up for the revolution. Turns out it's a club based in North London.

A good Vietnamese friend of mine always wore an Arsenal shirt when he could. He didn't know it was based in North London. I'm not sure he cared. He cared about the players that brought it glory. (In those days he obsessed about Thierry Henry). And in the end that's all that mattered to him. He had succumbed to the marketing, to the creation of a sustained fantasy.

Teams in professional leagues don't acquire auras or brand-value instantaneously. It takes them time, especially, if as in the case of the IPL, they start with a brand-new league as well. Very few teams have the privilege of tapping into a well-established league or an already created market (as in the case of NBA, NFL and MLB expansion teams).

That cricket pundits even imagined this was going to be a semi-coherent basis for dissing the IPL says a great deal about an entrenched mindset that prevailed then (and in some quarters even persists now). It's one thing to express a lack of personal interest (for instance, as I've been reared on international cricket I find it hard to be too invested in any particular IPL team). It's another thing to suggest that no loyal fan base could be built up over a period of time by such a well-marketed, lavishly promoted league.

This is the third season of the IPL. Whatever the particular strains of criticism that will be directed at the IPL this season, I'm pretty confident that the version I've mentioned above will be a fast-vanishing one.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

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Posted by Piyush Arya on (April 10, 2010, 18:01 GMT)

Actually, the names are really more significant than they seem.. Mumbai Indians: Hey, the local party there can't tolerate anyone from India except the Marathi Manoos, hence, the Mumbai "Indians". Rajasthan Royals: 'We got no cash to buy players, so tell you what! I'll keep "Royals" in the team-name! Savvy?' KKR: As quoted above- wt* is a Knight Rider?? But hey, that's the extent to which the localites know English.. Chennai Super Kings: The most pathetic of them all! 'Punjab has used the name "Kings", so we'll go to SUPER KINGS! Yo!' Deccan Chargers, and the depiction of the bull: Pretty significant with Symonds, Gibbs and Gilchrist in the team.. The bowler goes charging out the park.. Delhi Daredevils: Ah, the "Double-D" ;) Can't find a fault with RCB and Kings XI, for they took the safe path by not inventing any names of their own! Copy-Paste baby!!! ;)

Posted by Vandey Matram on (March 21, 2010, 12:55 GMT)

That IPL is spinning out $$$$$$$ has not gone well with most western commentrators. That the Indians came up with a successful league is even more humiliating. Goodness me, remember the English, Australians & Kiwis routinely refusing to play in India citing lack of good hotels, coining terms such as Delhi Belly etc in the 70s, 80s and early 90s now falling over each other to get a chance to acquire Delhi Belly. Sure the tide has turned....Now they have problems with the names, I mean c'mon accept the fact and move on. The other day I read a former English captain (clearly a has been) blaming the whole culture for faliure of Asian cricketers in UK, though aptly responded to by sameer, the question remains.. Wake up look around you, Your East India Co, Jaguar, NHS, MG Rover are all in the Hand of Asians (Indians and Chinese)...

Posted by selim on (March 17, 2010, 12:45 GMT)

Late in commenting. But, loyalties are complicated. They are manufactured these days. From manufactured histories. The Utah Jazz were once in New Orleans. No brainer. The Lakers began in Minnesota. A bit of a brain needed -- Minnesota is the land of a 1000 lakes. Yet ... Michael Jordan made no sense wearing number 45 as a Washington Wizard. He realised that pretty quick. IPL loyalties...strangely enough...seem to be forming around overseas freelancers like Warne and Gilly.

Posted by Arvind on (March 16, 2010, 11:33 GMT)

It is also good to show some imagination, if not creativity, while choosing a team name. Kings XI Punjab, Mumbai Indians, what kind of lame names are those? Also, naming the teams after the owner's brand is clearly an expensive method of advertising. Come on, show creativity. Who wants to follow teams like, Chennai Cement, Bangalore Liquor, Deccan Newspaper. And oh, WT* is a Knight rider? Did you mean horserider? Some years ago, there was a hockey PHL. The team names were good.

Posted by Gizza on (March 16, 2010, 8:51 GMT)

Samir and others, true the EPL isn't quite the best example to use. But an example of a sports league only recently created was the Super 14 rugby comp played between clubs from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. It started in the mid 90's and has many loyal supporters.

Okay there isn't much support outside the regional area for these rugby clubs but at least the based is covered. The international base comes as one commenter said, from the international stars. 4 per side is good enough.

Everybody seems to forget that even Modi has objectives other than making money. He has always wanted fringe Indian players to make a comfortable living. It is not fair that 11 cricketers from a country with 1.1 billion people get rich but otherwise cricketers in India get nothing (eg. Ranji Trophy).

What you find in India is an anti-cricket (sport) taking career culture. In Aus and SA parents prefer their kids pursue a sports career if talented as opposed to professions because Football leagu

Posted by raju on (March 16, 2010, 8:39 GMT)

nice

Posted by Longmemory on (March 16, 2010, 7:27 GMT)

To go off on a slight tangent, whether the IPL teams take root and develop brand identity and fan loyalty may be something only time will answer, but I fear 20/20 is here to stay. The idea of a 5-day long game which ends in a draw about a third of the time, or even a day-long game with a break for lunch (?!!), is as good as over. The T-20 version with its action-packed 3 hour format, along with the TV packaging etc. is the future and Modi - like him or not - is going to take us there. For purists like me, the best one can hope for is that people will outgrow their juvenile fascination with sixes and small grounds, and we instead return to a more even contest between bat and ball. There's a great deal that can be done to retain the best of cricket within a 3-hour format like 20/20 - whether that happens or not is the real question.

Posted by ksgrewal on (March 16, 2010, 6:13 GMT)

iam loving the ipl, people are criticizing modi, shane warne, and otners, but it is nothing new, when something suceeds people are jealous, well done modi, in matter of few years all countries would like an ipl game in their city. look at the crowds of calcutta, iam sure if kkr reaches final that game all bengalis allover the world willsupport and go to the ground to watch it. well done modi

Posted by moin on (March 16, 2010, 5:12 GMT)

Nice article samir.

First of all, folks here dont understand that IPL is a Indian domestic tournament, and if people follow it outside India, its a bonus.

The indian cricket grounds are tough to get in due to over priced tickets, worst seating and other facilities. That is the reason most of them watch them at home. Just get the viewership figures of TV and internet then u will come to know that this alone is enough to make IPL the biggest tournament.

Coming to EPL, if u take out the non british following then EPL will be a damp squib.

Regarding the naming of IPL clubs, they make as much sense as all the clubs around the world :P

Posted by Anand on (March 16, 2010, 3:11 GMT)

@Harvey It's funny u say the opening ceremony was sold out because when i tried to get tickets the day before the match (i live in mumbai), all 45,000 tickets available to the public were sold, so next time you should do a little research before you make stupid comments like that.

p.s. Samir really gave u a spanking in his reply

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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