India ka tyohaar: The rise and rise of IPL fandom

This week, Hamsini Shivakumar and Khushi Rolania of Leapfrog Strategy Consulting, examine IPL anthems over the years. This journey guarantees nostalgia and will bring back memories of watching IPL on Sony MAX on summer nights along with giving sneak- peek into the evolution of the sport's fan following

Hamsini Shivakumar
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The Indian Premier League (IPL) has become much more than just a cricket tournament in India. Since its inception in 2008, it has transcended the boundaries of sports to become a cultural phenomenon. This annual cricket extravaganza has captivated the nation with its blend of athleticism, entertainment, and glamour.

The tournament gives fans an opportunity to connect both by regional association and player affiliation. While the teams might be named after significant Indian cities and States, their fans could be from anywhere in the country or even the world. By naming most of its teams after cities like Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai, Kolkata, and Bangalore, it legitimizes the metropolitan status of these places and simultaneously draws from them. This symbiosis is magnified when a city hosts and organizes an IPL match. These team names also embody aspirational sentiments for audiences from tier 2 or tier 3 cities and towns, making them want to be a part of the IPL phenomenon.

The unpredictability and spontaneity of matches ensure that it is best experienced live. Audiences cannot experience it in the same way even a day later. This is a crucial aspect of making IPL a collective event. While the game itself is imbued with rituals- such as those of the opening ceremony, coin toss in matches, and awarding of a trophy to the winner; the viewership of the game involves rituals, too. Fans and audiences will arrange to watch the match in specific places, accompanied by family or friends. Snacks, drinks, and special food menus often accompany these viewings. Fans also observe rituals around winning, such as bursting fireworks, waving team flags in motorcycle rallies, and partying. This zone of ritual brings IPL close to festivals, becoming "India ka Tyohaar," as the self-aware 2015 anthem has also stated. While India hosts many other domestic matches, none are televised and promoted consistently like the IPL, so there might not be audience rituals associated with those.

This week, we examine IPL anthems over the years, starting from the very first one in 2008. This journey guarantees nostalgia and will bring back memories of watching IPL on Sony MAX on summer nights. It will also give us a sneak- peek into the evolution of fan following and collective achievement in IPL.

2008 IPL anthem

The original and the very first IPL anthem from 2008 presents the game as a battlefield, akin to warriors or soldiers fighting a divine war. It also draws heavily from the Mahabharat and places the cricket players on a pedestal. The video maintains a sense of distance from the cricketers through the choice of visualisation itself. It seems as if the viewer can only grasp the semi-painted avatars of these cricketers, rather than their actual form, which is otherworldly and heroic. The narrator is akin to Krishna giving Arjun (the cricket players) a sermon on his duty in war (the cricket matches). The sounds of the temple bell and the shankh (conch shell) at the beginning of the video confirm these references. Given that this was the first IPL, it makes sense for the campaign creators to focus on granting legitimacy to the tournament by drawing on mythology.

2015 IPL anthem

Titled India ka Tyohaar, the 2015 video positions IPL and its fandom in a symbiotic relationship. IPL makes fandom, but IPL cannot exist without its fans. There is great emphasis on collective achievement off the field, triggered by cricket on the field shown on television screens. The video doesn't introduce players or team names. They occupy fleeting moments in the video and majorly feature on TV screens. The importance has shifted from the performance of players to the rituals off-screen. They are secular and will unite people across religions. They might even unite foes (evident in the hug between SRK and Salman impersonators). IPL thus positions itself as a pan-India event.

2019 IPL anthem

The 2019 IPL anthem, Game Banayega Name, takes the importance of the fans to another level. There are two crucial elements in the video. The emphasis on rules ("Maidaan jo bhi hoga, rule rahega same") perhaps tries to assure its fans that the game is clean even after the spot-fixing scandals that had been plaguing the tournament for the past few years. The opening in the boundaries between the regular teenagers' pitch and IPL stars' pitch is IPL's way of acknowledging the active participation of its fans, even without showing conventional images of collective celebration. This also refers to how IPL has provided young and talented cricketers a platform to showcase their talents.

2023 IPL anthem

The evolution in the importance of the fans is most evident in the 2023 anthem titled Shor Macha. The cutouts of cricketers come to life through the fans' revelry, spirit, and celebration. This campaign starkly contrasts with the first IPL Anthem, where there was an evident absence of fans. This IPL anthem clearly conveys that it isn't anything without its fans. Through their tapasya of cheer and support, the fans give life to the cricketers, hand them their weapons (bats and balls), and send them to play for their teams. Now, here's a subtle nod to mythology, like the first anthem!

IPL's inclusion of these catchy anthems, which draw on notions of nationalism, unity, and togetherness, reflects its reach across the country. Its inclusion of celebrity team owners, international players, and star-studded opening ceremonies help bolster its image of a pan-India sporting tournament. Regional identities are drawn upon when cities organize parties and cultural events during IPL season. Of late, social media influencers have also been roped in to engage IPL's fans.

Actionable insights:

  1. Association of regional identities with teams can be an effective way of keeping fans invested.

  2. Local myths and folklore, if used sensitively and in ways respectful of fans' traditions, can go a long way in granting legitimacy to emerging sporting cultures.

  3. Emphasis shouldn't solely be on the game on the field, but campaigns should include notions of collectivity and fan culture.

Leapfrog Strategy Consulting IPL anthem IPL fandom sports Sony MAX metropolitan