What a fairytale it has been for the Chennai Super Kings so far. Returning to the IPL after a two-year ban, they have stormed their way into the final. The energy, the never say die attitude, the swag - it is all back with the CSK, and the fans could not be more delighted.
The matches might have been taken away from Chennai, however, the fans ensured that their vociferous support remained the same as it was in their very first home encounter of the season.
Seeing waves of yellow flood across the Wankhede Stadium when they faced the Mumbai Indians or outnumbering their rival supporters at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru, the IPL 2018 season has meant a lot to the Chennai fans.
And now, 50 days later and 15 matches later, all roads lead to the Wankhede Stadium once more. MS Dhoni has a history with this ground, lifting the ICC World Cup back in 2011. And what it would mean to him and the entire support of one of the most successful clubs to see him lift the IPL trophy in the same stadium
We have seen extremely passionate fan groups in different sports emerge all around the world. Similarly, we have the Chennai Super Kings Fan Club, the very heart of CSK, who have taken their support to a new level this year.
The fan club was founded back in 2015, shortly after the club was banned, in an attempt to keep the CSK spirit alive amongst the fans. They succeeded, and how! Over the past couple of years, the support for the two-time champions has enormously grown.
Sportskeeda caught up with Sriram, who is one of the key members of the club. He opened up about what the club does, and what they are planning for the final.
"We have a registered fan club which was formed after 2015. After CSK got banned, we did not want to lose our fan base, so we started doing a lot of social activities, speaking to CSK players, and lot of other activities which kept the fans involved. We would even go to orphanages on players' birthdays and donate a few things. We have a good reach overall," said Sriram.
Once the venue was shifted from the M Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai to the MCA Stadium in Pune, the team management ensured that the fans did not miss out on the action.
"The team management helps us by organising tickets at times and helping us. They organised the Whistle Podu express when the venue got shifted to Pune. We reached out to die-hard fans through social media and organised and got tickets for them," said Sriram
"The CSK fans are the best because of the following we have and of course, the wonderful team and management. No other team would have taken the team to Pune barring all expenses. We are like a family and the players are also close to us," he said.
These loyal group of CSK fans would not miss out on any opportunity to watch their team play. Of course, a whole bunch of them are travelling for the final.
"We booked tickets for the final once we defeated the Sunrisers as the flight tickets were cheap at that time. As of now, around 30 of us are travelling. However, we expect more than 80% of the fans in the stadium to be CSK supporters. For the home game against Mumbai itself, we got 50-50, hence, we can expect a lot of CSK support.
We are planning some unique things as we are preparing charts and planning chant. We have created a group on social media to plan for the same," he said.
The role of merchandising in improving the fan experience
It does not stop there. There is a lot more happening behind the scenes in order to make the fan experience a lot better and enjoyable.
Merchandising plays a huge role in improving the fan experience and helping the club grow.
We also caught up with the Director of Marketing, Tekplay Systems, the company behind all the merchandising for the Chennai Super Kings.
"Merchandising is one of the quintessential parts of the game and one the things that capture the spirit of the game. what we did for this season is that we came up with the tagline - "Thirumbi vandhutenu sollu", which was from a famous movie dialogue which basically means that we are back with a bang.
Apart from that, "whistle podu" and the CSK anthem have always been there. These things help fans connect with the brand and that becomes the perfect merchandising for the market," said Aarati.
The fans are one of the most integral parts of the growth of such a company. If not for the fans, merchandising companies probably would not even exist.
"The fans are the reason why the brand keeps on growing. Whenever they see their favourite players like Dhoni or Harbhajan wearing the t-shirt with the slogan, they want to go ahead and buy the t-shirt for themselves," she said.
And of course, the company themselves have been giving back to the fans in their own way, be it providing them with tickets or organising an entire train journey to Pune once the venue shifted.
"The fans have always been there with us right from the very beginning. And we want to give back to the fans. This year, the 'whistle podu' express train was organised to Pune.
We have also been helping in terms of coming up with chants and giving caps to help the fans from the heat of the 4 pm game whenever required. The stadium stalls which sell the merchandise also becomes a good experience for the fans and we have witnessed quite a big turn out this time," said Aarati.
"For tomorrow's final, we are planning to profile a few of the fans who come to the merchandise store in the stadium and upload the videos on our application and website," she said about what the CSK faithful could expect from the final.
Apart from all the above-mentioned work, the company also launched an e-store, which has been doing great business over the past couple of months. This is something new they did this year when compared to the previous seasons.
"The new tagline has been a big hit. We launched a full-fledged e-store which is running on the same platform like Flipkart and Myntra. The store has everything from jerseys, bats, kids apparel etc.
We have made the store in such a way that fans get the full experience when they log on to the store. 90% of the jerseys are being sold outline, and it is not only restricted to Tamil Nadu but we now have national reach as well. That has helped quite a bit. We also had match tickets available on the store before it was available anywhere else."
Well, all in all, the CSK fans are in high spirit for the final against the Sunrisers Hyderabad. All eyes will be on the Yellow Army as they look to conquer the IPL title for the third time.