IPL 2019: Chennai Super Kings spread roots as Indian fans deepen their relationship with franchise sport
The first over wasn't even in the bag before the top trending hashtag was #DCvCSK. Twittersphere started bleeding IPL titbits as soon as the Delhi Capitals won the toss and chose to bat against the visitors Chennai Super Kings.
Amit Mishra replaced Trent Boult and was the fourth most discussed topic. It was as if urban India was aching for action and are now hanging on to every little detail surrounding IPL 2019.
Considering that the country is running into election season, the small matter of a cricket match between two city teams should barely matter. After all, the contest could even be inconsequential in the long drawn out calendar of this colourful event.
But franchise sport is an interesting glue that excites fans across the world, turning them into fanatics. "Identifying with your sports teams is one of the ways you can vicariously experience success, and in real life, success is hard," explains Ronald F. Levant, a psychology professor at the University of Akron.
In a fiercely competitive country like India, where every inch of space is hard earned and even harder to keep, identifying with a sports team could serve as a good proxy. Especially in the case of a team like CSK that has already won the IPL three times, it offers fans an outlet of expression that is hard to supplant.
Amidst the blue and red of the Capitals at the Feroz Shah Kotla were a healthy number of yellow clad CSK fans spread through the entire stadium. It was a reminder of the deep connect that CSK have managed to establish with their fans. Merchandise sales just outside the gates is brisk, and barely any of it is associated with the Capitals.
It is interesting how Chennai is expanding its tentacles well beyond its home turf of Chennai. The golden hues of this team are seeping into the veins of fans across the country, and there is no dearth of young boys and girls willing to join in the "Whistle Podu" chorus.
On the other hand, Delhi have undergone a name change. The evolution from Daredevils to Capitals hasn't yet sunk into the hearts of their fans, and the association is nowhere as thick as the relationship between the Chennai team and its fans.
There is an anecdote about how an aged Chennai gentleman and his grandson made their way to Pune, riding bicycles, when the IPL had to reroute the CSK schedule to Pune last season due to security concerns.
The two-year ban on the team in the wake of one of the ugliest episodes of match-fixing only served to deepen the relationship of its fans with the team. It is this unique chemistry that other franchise sport and teams need to draw from and adapt to, as the model gains greater traction in India.
"Humans have a strong need to feel connected, to be part of something greater, to be something more than just an individual on an island," suggests Allen McConnell, a professor at the Miami University. "It’s a very basic social need."
The Americans know a thing or two about franchise sport. After all, if there is one country on the world map where the national team is nearly an after-thought in comparison to city franchises, it is the USA.
The Americans have tapped into the need for identification in building strong domestic and college sport teams that draw a loyal and die-hard fan base that spans across generations.
The success of the IPL and the increasing momentum for franchise sport in kabaddi and football suggests that India is heading in the same direction. Even though franchise sport is still very raw and nascent in India relative to the USA, it is safe to say that the journey to maturity and deep associations with fans will be quicker than many might anticipate it to be.
"People are tying up a lot of who they are in their identity as fan of X-team," proposes Edward Hirt, of the Indiana University, based on his research on the psychology of sports fans. "A huge part of who they are, where they derive a lot of their positive and negative effects, is from what their team is doing.”
Perhaps we are still a few miles away from such strong emotional or intellectual bonds in India, but we are clearly on our way in that direction.
Indian sports fans could be more in the phase where sport serves as an easy distraction from real issues. It helps to lessen the burden of the need for deeper reflections.
"We love distractions, and when the distractions are of less importance in the global scope, then we tend to latch on to them because they can pull us away from being concerned about some of the bigger issues," says Adam Earnheardt, giving a seemingly more accurate assessment of the state in which India's IPL fans might be.
This is perhaps why topics related to the IPL mount the ladder of Twitter trends so easily in India. The fact that this can happen even in an election season, one that happens only once every five years, is reason for a deeper exploration of our own feelings and what is truly important to us.
This is true especially for urban fans, as social media is a largely urban distraction.
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