The IPL has been declared to be a big hit in India. And while its being credited for heralding a new dawn in the era of cricket (its Kerry Packer II but with more chops), you can sense a jostling among the owners to make sure their teams are front and center in the public eye.
While most of the concepts are lifted directly from any of America's massive and lucrative sports leagues like the NBA or NFL (as they should be - no point in reinventing business models), a unique twist that comes from being in the crucible of India applies to the business and the media hype. And its been interesting to watch Shahrukh Khan and how he is going about building the brand for his team: the somewhat amusingly named Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR).
SRK is all over television tirelessly promoting his team, but importantly enough he's also positioning himself as the face of the IPL. This seems to be a deliberate strategy because what it does is it puts KKR at the forefront of all the generic IPL commercials and TV channel montages (along with SRK's mug to boot).
There is the KKR paraphernalia: music videos, CDs (with big names composing), flashy uniforms, an elaborate web site, standout promos and continuity commercials that can only be described as micro episodes (in which SRK shrewdly ties in a recent hit movie).
Then there is SRK's presence in each game. You'll see him cheering his team's successes but more importantly you'll see him trying to get the crowd engaged. He hands out his own private man of the match awards. He takes personal pictures of the crowds and puts them up on his web site. He projects himself as a tireless servant of cricket and his team as home base for quirky party animals.
So what is SRK trying to do?
Let's start by differentiating between the success of the team and that of a franchise. Sure a team's success depends on how its players perform on the field. And success brings in cash - via ticket sales and merchandise revenue. But no team wins constantly. And in bad times, the loyal fans keep the franchise afloat (Chicago Cubs, anyone?) Once the team is finalized, SRK has limited control over the success of the team. But he can still work on the franchise. Which he is doing by building out his fan base.
A number of major metros have teams. But that leaves large swathes of India that don't have a team to follow. As a disenfranchised fan, you have one of two choices: follow the team closest to your city (and possibly from your state) or find a connection with any team in the IPL and give it your loyalty. In the latter case, if you happen to be an SRK fan, KKR would be an easy choice. By transferring his brand to his cricket team, SRK is again ensuring a loyal fan base.
Whether this works or not remains to be seen - IPL is still working its way through the first season. But SRK is clearly leveraging his experience with the media and his own unique personality traits (he can be funny, earthy sophisticate, lucid and articulate) to collar attention.
Compare this to the blank stares thrown by Katrina Kaif during a Royal Challengers game or Akshay Kumar standing on the chair and giving everyone an impromptu Chippendale's performance during a Delhi Daredevils match. And you'll see why fans are likely to latch on to a more committed star and his team.