My name is Nick Tsaousidis and I am writing to share my experiences as a student learning the culture and practices in the international sport business industry. I am currently embarking on a journey to India to undertake an internship with the Rising Pune Supergiants cricket team in the Indian Premier League. I am into my seventh year of study, after initially completing a Bachelor in Health Sciences at Deakin University, and now my Masters in Business (Sports Management) also at Deakin.
My goal coming into this internship was to gain as much experience as I could in this unique opportunity, and bring this knowledge back home to hopefully begin the stepping stones into a new career. So far, it has been a memorable first two weeks, I’ve definitely had my ups and downs, particularly at the beginning, but now I feel as if I’ve embraced this cultural way of life, and settled into a nice routine. The role I’m undertaking at the club is in the fan engagement department, where my work so far has consisted of conducting research on the current projects and trends taking place in the industry.
Upon arriving in India, my immediate thoughts were pretty much how I expected it to be; large, beautiful, but smelly and extremely busy. Now I am no stranger to foreign culture, I have travelled to many countries throughout my life and therefore was prepared for a “culture shock,” but it still hit me harder than I expected. I can tolerate the rubbish and the smell that’s no problem, but the fast pace and extremely busy environment was a little overwhelming. It is a combination of organised and unorganised chaos on a mass scale, yet somehow functional, which apparently in a city of 22 million people is what you get. For me, the office was like my sanctuary. Quiet, controlled and air-conditioned, which allowed me time to actually think about my work, and why I was actually here.
There is a general consensus that the sport culture in India is developmentally behind the western world in a number of ways, and it is very true. When you assess the industry in off field areas such as operations, marketing, communications and social responsibility, they are well behind. But deep within the systematic chaos and third world nature, you can sense that among the population there is an underlying passion for sport that rivals any other nation. I experienced my epiphany moment during my third day here, when I was strolling through a lower class business district and stumbled across a group of children playing cricket, as the picture shows, in an open space hidden amongst the surrounding buildings.
Despite the unpleasant conditions, a batters nightmare really, they were playing as if it was the fifth day at Lords during the Ashes. This moment showed me the sheer joy these people experience out of cricket, there is no such thing as a halfhearted fan. You combine this ideology with the sheer population numbers and get yourself a powerhouse for industry and the economy. This, in turn leads sports organisations and bodies to take a different approach to engaging their fans.
The Indian Premier League is an annual domestic Twenty20 cricket league which is contested in April and May. It is comprised of eight franchise teams who represent major cities in India. The IPL is into its tenth season and is considered to be the largest cricket competition, and one of the largest sporting competitions in the world. The team that I’m working with is the Rising Pune Supergiants, who are a newly established team that rose out of an unfortunate situation a year ago, which saw two teams suspended due to illegal betting activities, and the Supergiants were created as a replacement.
I have spent the majority of my time so far conducting research and brainstorming potential online and ground activation strategies that could be used for the upcoming season. Some of the key differences in fan engagement approaches between India and Australia I’ve observed: There is an obvious contrast in the desired target markets of the industries at this point in time. The Australian sports industry has a heavy focus on integrating families, women and children to become a part of the fan base, and embrace the atmosphere to promote the rising trend that is “inclusion in sport.”
Indian sport is primarily focused on targeting the stereotypical young to middle aged fan who is able to engage on multiple platforms (online, ground, game attendee) Why? It could be due to the fact that this market is the most reachable, and has the potential to be the most profitable. Or perhaps there is still a degree of cultural behaviour, which says that sport isn’t really a family friendly environment rather it’s for your true “die hard” fans.
Another difference worth noting is the seemingly non-existence of membership programs for IPL teams in India. There are no members, or season ticket holders or any related programs in the system (excluding corporates), and each fan attends solely on a week-by-week basis. This is highly unlike the Australian system, or any western sport industry, where we see gigantic membership campaigns implemented with the focus on attracting long term attendees to the game. I suppose a reason for India lacking in this field is again the systematic culture, as my supervisor said to me, “the stadium will always fill up, and the match tickets will always sell,” indicating there is no need for a membership market as the teams and the league are confident the fans are passionate and loyal enough to sell out a stadium each week.
When assessing the fans in the IPL, there is a distinct separation in how their loyalty is identified, and where their point of attachment lies. In the Big Bash League, there is a strong sense of territorial pride, in that the majority of the fans support the franchise city from which they are originally from or currently reside in. In the IPL it’s a lot more divided. In particular, the players are so strongly admired, that fans are often more loyal to a particular player than they are to a team, and will support whichever team their favourite player is contracted with. It is well known that in India players are “treated like gods,” but to see it first hand really showed the degree to which they are worshipped, it’s truly astounding.
Where these past two weeks have focused on research into the prevalence of fan engagement in India and the IPL, throughout the next fortnight my focus will be steered towards a specific idea or project to be implemented for the upcoming season. The purpose of this project will be to help maximise fan engagement for the Rising Pune Supergiants, and subsequently increase fan loyalty and other positive behaviours. This is a very exciting prospect, as I will be able to use the information I’ve gathered to potentially impact the organisation, and hopefully provide better value for them for the future.