Earlier this week, the Supreme Court of India observed that Chennai Super Kings (CSK) should be "terminated without further enquiry" from the Indian Premier League (IPL) because Gurunath Meiyappan, one of its top officials, has been indicted for betting by an inquiry committee. Dhruv Munjal talks to Varun Gupta, managing director (India), American Appraisal - the company that, earlier this year, valued IPL as a brand, including separate brand valuations of the league's eight franchises - about the importance of CSK to Brand IPL and whether the brand can survive without its Chennai franchise. Excerpts:
The Supreme Court of India has observed that CSK should be disqualified from IPL on charges of corruption and conflict of interest. How important is CSK to the IPL brand?
There is no doubt that CSK is the most powerful brand in IPL. If it does get disqualified, then it will be a major blow for the league. Along with being the most popular franchise, it also attracts a large number of sponsors. CSK is one of the main reasons that the league is such a widely watched event across the world. Hence, its absence will reduce viewership and also drive some of the sponsors away.
What are the most important aspects of CSK as a brand that make it so valuable to IPL?
CSK has a massive fan base, not only in India, but all over the world. One of the main reasons for this is the huge success they've enjoyed so far in the league. They have won it twice, and barring one season, have at least made the semi-finals every year. Of all the franchises, it has been the most consistent. Moreover, it has always been an attraction because of its star players. It's high brand value is due to the number of international players that play for it. It has international players like Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin in its ranks, making it all the more popular.
How important is Mahendra Singh Dhoni to the CSK brand, and how will his team's potential suspension impact his personal brand value?
Dhoni is seen as a bankable star when it comes to endorsements. He has an unrivalled mass appeal. Several people are CSK fans simply because of Dhoni. He is the most important cog in the CSK wheel as he is the face of the franchise. Unless his name comes up later in the probe, I don't think CSK's disqualification will have a bearing on his personal brand value. He can join another team and it will be loved by cricket fans the same way as they loved CSK.
What kind of damage can CSK's suspension cause to IPL? What are the commercial implications?
Brand value is driven by positive association with a franchise. A sponsor does not want to associate itself with a brand that is generating negative publicity. The biggest problem the league may face is that of uncertainty. A cloud of ambiguity hangs over IPL now, and sponsors would be in two minds about investing in the league. Branding is all about perception. To be an attractive brand, you have to get the perception right. But I feel that most sponsors will stick to it. The scale of the platform that IPL provides is huge and almost unparalleled. Other sports leagues like the Indian Super League (football) and Pro-Kabaddi League have come up, but they cannot compete with IPL in terms of reach, viewership and the amount of advertising revenue it generates. Even if you combine all the other leagues, they would not be able to match the brand value of IPL. In spite of all the controversies, our reports shows that IPL is still a favourable destination for advertisers.
Can IPL survive without the presence of a powerful brand like CSK?
As a consumer of cricket, one is only bothered about what happens on the field. What happens behind the scenes does not matter to most fans. As long as the audience is convinced that what happens on the field is not a farce, IPL will survive. India is a cricket-mad country, and the sport will always enjoy a grand fan following. But with the departure of CSK, the league will lose its competitive edge. CSK has been the most impressive team in the league's short history, and its disqualification will leave a gaping hole.