In Part One of my blog, I focused on getting to know the Indian sporting culture in a broader sense during my first two weeks of my internship for the Rising Pune Supergiants. The second entry of three parts looks at my final two weeks, where I sought to identify a specific market for fan engagement and formulate an activation strategy around that. I become a lot more practically involved in the organisation, as the beginning of the IPL season drew closer.
With this strategy in play, it would hopefully address the need for change in the engagement area for Pune, and help influence positive behaviours from their fans. Subsequently, this period saw me engage in a lot of practical activities such as meetings and site visits, as well as being present for the player auction, probably the biggest IPL event outside of the competition itself.
My research suggested that the in-ground engagement by the Rising Pune Supergiants and the IPL was lacking, and showed a real opportunity to introduce a new innovative idea for the team. Given this is an area that Australian sport does so well, I by no means was required to reinvent the wheel, more or less just take an idea that has already been successful, and mould it to suit Indian culture and trends. When thinking of in-ground activation, think fan zones, games, pop up stalls and food trucks set up at various locations. It is an area of experiential marketing that has proven to be very successful for Australian sporting organisations such as Cricket Australia, Tennis Australia and the Australian Football League.
I visited a number of locations over the past fortnight but my most memorable visit was to the Supergiants’ home of Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium as part of a day trip to Pune. At a capacity of 37,000 seats, getting a tour of the stadium gave me a close up look at the functionality of the stadium during the season. What jumped out at me though was its location. It was built nearly thirty kilometers outside of the city next to the highway and its surrounds were undeveloped.
From my point of view it seemed out of place that a new state of the art stadium would be built in the middle of nowhere. My only thought was the stadium was constructed in anticipation of a surge in development in the area in the coming years, but it didn’t seem likely. Unsurprisingly the location supposedly had an impact on the fans as well, considering the only access points are from the highway, there is no public transport or bike tracks that go there, and it’s about a six hour walk from the Pune CBD. Learning this forced me to rethink my strategy a little as well, given part of the original focus was to market at the stadium, but unless it was during the season in a lead up to a match, then it wasn’t going to work. Travelling to the stadium was eye opening as it more or less highlighted the passion of fans that are willing to travel to see their team play.
Given the travel out to the stadium, my proposal was to implement a “fan zone” type event, which will be hosted across a series of locations in Pune in the lead up to and during the IPL season. The goal was to attract fans to these activation zones to build the brands image and influence positive behaviors among fans and non fans. Putting it simply, there’s a lot of work being put into the 37,000 people that go to the match every week, but what about the millions of supporters that aren’t going or aren’t able to go? This creates an opportunity to really expand the reach of the organisation and create a sense of belonging for fans. The zone itself can be comprised of a series of initiatives designed for fans to enjoy and be educated by the team. Initiatives such as digital activation and technology, gamification, competitions, sponsor activation, informative activation and charitable causes are to name a few. The zone can be implemented at one, or several locations where they are likely to reach their target market. Areas such as parks, universities, markets, famous landmarks, shopping plazas, and theme parks were some ideas.
A topic that was the central point of discussion throughout my entire time in India was the player auction, which was held on Monday, February 20. On the eve of the IPL season, franchises are given the opportunity to buy un-contracted players (domestic and international) to help build and fill their squads for the season. It is a largely publicised event, that gains much attention and it’s actually broadcasted live on television. It was fascinating being part of a team when in discussion about which players are the best to buy verses which players will sell for the highest bid.
For the Supergiants, it was their goal to buy one or two high profile foreign players and then fill the roster with domestic talent. As it turned out, the Supergiants went in with a specific target for one player, Ben Stokes, who was considered as the best player in the auction. They successful bid for Stokes, with an astounding offer of AU$2.9 million, which is the highest amount bid on any player in the history of the IPL. At the time, it had been mentioned they were going to bid large for Stokes, but at no point in time did I think it would be that high. When discussing with my supervisor after the auction, he said they were willing to go as high as AU$3 million to get their prize, but no further, indicating there was a limit on their plan. This subsequently also exhausted most of their budget, forcing them to recruit local talent to fill the rest of the roster.