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Whose brand is it anyway?

When the dust finally settles down on the muck and sleaze with regards to the Indian Premiere League (IPL), the question that will beg an answer is how much did we all contribute to destroying Brand IPL? And who all were responsible for this destruction? Enough has been written about Lalit Modi, Sharad Pawar and Shashi Tharoor in the past few weeks and merits no repetition but what does is looking at a different perspective as far as the IPL is concerned. IPL 3 was to be bigger and better than all previous IPLs and it was. In terms of revenue, in terms of opening new vistas of engaging with consumers as also, as we now know, in terms of sleaze and mud slinging. But some fundamentals were never part of either due-diligence or for that matter, media attention or scrutiny – and this is what worries me.

Respectable brands, be it Hero Honda or for that matter Citibank, were part of the IPL. They have been supporting the IPL since its inception. Who, if anyone at all, is going to be accountable to them and the monies they’ve invested in building this property? While a lot of us may say that the IPL in its present avatar was Lalit Modi’s brainchild, the truth of the matter is everyone else other than Lalit Modi nourished the baby. It was powered by the belief and the monies of a Hero Honda or for that matter a Citibank. It came to fruition because a Mukesh Ambani or a Vijay Mallya believed in the brand proposition and its eventual worth. It would be stupid to believe that either Mukesh Ambani or Vijay Mallya did it for the money. They have a lot more riding on the IPL. They have personal reputations, they have corporate reputations and they have company boards that they need to be responsible to. So what happens to all that? How would any corporation now justify their continuation in the IPL even though they may have signed a five-year contract, and will the BCCI and its minions extend a moratorium on such payments for the future? Will brand reputation become an indice for further investment in the IPL?

I have a somewhat different take on this whole SNAFU that erupted thanks to a Twitter message. The people who created the IPL have in a strange way destroyed the only truly sporting brand that India gave the world. It is sad that people, both in the IPL’s governing council and the BCCI, were sleeping on their watch and while it may be convenient to make Lalit Modi the fall guy, the fact is that when everything is over, people will want to know why it happened in the first place? Where was the due diligence; both by brand managers of those companies that were associated with IPL and the media? Where were the controls and the processes? And great brands always have strong edifices. They don’t collapse like the IPL has. And collapsed it has, no matter what you might say.

Indians will always love cricket the game, but which corporation will want to be associated with a tournament which is now riddled with sleaze; the subject of governmental gaze and accused of almost every fiscal sin: be it money-laundering; personal enrichment or for that matter, the underworld? Today, Brand IPL is associated with everything wrong with our system. Far removed from cricket; the gentleman’s game. And for this, someone needs to take the rap. Not just Modi. Someone needs to tell advertisers and sponsors; team-owners and prospective bidders; fans and policy-makers as to why the IPL went wrong. Brands need custodians who are ultimately responsible to consumers (be they advertisers or fans) and here, everyone it seems was only responsible to themselves. More than brand enrichment, what we saw was personal enrichment and this saga will not end with Modi’s exit.

Brand IPL will need re-invention and resurgence. It will need an injection of transparency and diligence. It will need to inspire trust and not merely entertain. It doesn’t matter whether Lalit Modi continues or is replaced by some dolt from the BCCI. What matters is how honest will that new brand custodian ultimately be, to the very people who invested in the vision behind IPL.

The only way that trust can be resurrected is if the Government is honest in its probe and honourable about its purpose. Any obfuscation on either will push the brand away even further into the morasses of enduring disgrace. The time to replace TRPs (television rating points) with TRUST rating points has arrived. And the sooner we look at it, the better.

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