Champions League set for aggressive promotion
With a couple of opinionated and charismatic cricketers on the commentary panel, and the biggest name in Bollywood as its brand ambassador, the Champions League Twenty20 is set for an aggressive campaign before and during next month's tournament in South Africa to best showcase its breadth of global cricketing talent.
The induction of Sourav Ganguly, Andrew Symonds and Amitabh Bachchan was based on the realisation that public perception of the tournament needed to change. Last year, the television ratings for the league suffered in comparison to that of the IPL, especially once the teams from India were eliminated.
While Manu Sawhney, managing director of ESPN Star Sports (ESS), believed such a comparison is unfair - as the IPL is an "aberration" and most leagues take time to find their footing - he conceded changes needed to be made this time.
"We went through a whole brand positioning research," Sawhney said in Mumbai, following an ESS presentation of its newest stars. "We have an integrated campaign - across print, radio, TV, as well as the internet, to communicate the values and the essence of the tournament. The thinking is very focused and driven on the feedback."
The addition of Ganguly and Symonds is meant to add energy and freshness to the commentary team. "They add the dimension of great quality and incisiveness, and bring a current flavour to the tournament," Sawhney, said.
Bachchan is on board because he represents excellence and "is a source of inspiration." He has already shot a number of promotional videos alongside Ganguly, Symonds and Herschelle Gibbs. The main thrust of the campaign is to get across the message that "this is something. This is the true competition. You just cannot afford to miss it."
Sawhney disagreed with the common perception that the Indian cricket fan only wanted to watch Indian cricket. According to him, the Indian fan is a "discerning" one who is prepared to watch a quality tournament. "It [the Champions League] doesn't have all the Indian teams in it but they [the fans] do recognise there are many more talented teams here and the competition is the next level."
As a result of this focused marketing effort, Sawhney expected ratings to be significantly better than last year. The long term goal is for the the tournament to resemble the UEFA Champions League, which the best football clubs in Europe aspire to win.
Ganguly said playing the tournament in South Africa would give some of the younger players in the teams from India an opportunity to to test themselves under difficult conditions against the best Twenty20 teams in the world.
"Facing Shaun Tait would be a good experience,' Ganguly said. "If someone like Shikhar Dhawan could get 50 or 60 against that sort of pace, it will make him a better player when he comes back."
Ganguly reckoned the bouncy pitches in South Africa will eliminate the 200-plus scores teams routinely put up in the IPL. "130 or 140 could be winning totals," he said. He named Victoria and Royal Challengers Bangalore, with its coterie of South Africa players, as two of the stronger sides in the competition. He also thought Guyana could spring a surprise or two.
"Guyana has nothing to prove and should go some distance in the tournament," he said. "Teams won't run through them."
Tariq Engineer is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo