OF COURSE, IPL is only about marketing. Not because it comes loaded with the most obvious signifiers of marketing, but because it is at its heart all about the market.
The first level of argument would have it that IPL carries with it all the paraphernalia that accompanies marketing — the ads, the cheerleaders in their now-you-see-me-nowyou-don’t costumes, the celebrities, the assorted brands (teams, stars, cricketers, sponsors, Lalit Modi, etc) and that is the primary reason for its success. There is truth in this, but this is not the whole truth. These devices have helped but more by way of creating the right atmospherics around the event.
What makes IPL all about marketing is the concept itself. It begins not with cricket but with what the consumer wants of cricket. A product is nothing but an intensification of all that is pleasurable about a thing. An object or an idea becomes a product when its existence becomes all about becoming desirable for consumption. In converting something into a marketable product we make it easily accessible, we bring together all the bits that consumers really like and we package it attractively so as to seduce the senses. With IPL, cricket now officially belongs to people who can pay the owners, the sponsors, the spectators and the viewers. The cricketers must perform to their satisfaction, they must account for every paisa spent on them (already newspapers have created a Paisa Vasool Index to figure out how much every run has ‘cost’) or else they can get publicly upbraided and sacked. What IPL has done is to take cricket pack in the best names, compress it in a timeframe that makes it easy to consume and sell it to viewers, broadcasters and advertisers alike. It has re-packaged sports into an entertainment product with a view to maximise eyeballs. People like action, so here we have loads of it to keep the eyeballs glued — two hat-tricks already, a gazillion sixes and a slap here and a public sacking there.
Loyalty is worn like a badge rather than cultivated through a shared ideology or track record. Belief in a team is created overnight through an advertising tagline and disgust in a non-performing team too takes a couple of weeks to develop. Two bad performances and the Eden Garden empties. IPL threats come from the fact that unlike sports, whose appeal is timeless, as a product it has a life cycle. The consumer is fickle and eyeballs hungry for newer forms of stimulation. Can this marketing phenomenon sustain itself?