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All about jerseys & how the Indian Premier League got it wrong

Dhoni and Rahane donning the RPS jersey
MS Dhoni and Ajinkya Rahane donning the RPS jersey
CONTRIBUTOR
Modified 23 May 2016, 17:59 IST
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“Okay, so let’s make the base a royal-blue. Add some pink in there as well. A splash of orange at the middle and a pinch of purple at the sides. Perfect!”

No, this is not the description of a budding artist at work. And no, this is not the latest popsicle from Amul. This is more of a description on how the kit designers of the newest IPL team, the Rising Pune Supergiants (RPS), must’ve designed the team jersey. See for yourself to admire the eclectic mix.

Even more than the interesting colour scheme what seems to stand out are the numerous brands plastered over every inch of the players’ jersey. Apart from the IPL branding itself, three to four sponsors are quite visible in the front portion. While one may argue that visibility is the very purpose of advertising, but what happened to plain and simple aesthetics?

For a country which boasts the best in design (NID Ahmedabad, anyone?) and has made positive strides in the fashion world (barring purple lip colour at Cannes!), the state of IPL jerseys is in a mess! We’ve got loads of bling on the Mumbai Indians (MI) jersey with shiny golden stripes. RCB’s home and away kits have taken a turn for the worse from previous seasons. While the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) makes its mark by having international cricket players promote a desi banyan brand. Only the Gujarat Lions’ orange jersey seems to look decent this time around.

Do you care what your favourite team wears on-field? 

For sports enthusiasts or fans, the jerseys and the team colours form an important part of the support and how their team looks certainly adds on to the passion. Say, “The Reds” and an avid football fan would quote a story or two on the rich history of Liverpool FC. However, for the advertisers, garnering maximum eyeballs for their brand is tge single-most important aspect. The IPL’s prime-time matches and strong entertainment (read filmy) value continue to be an attractive proposition for advertisers.

On giving it a thought, two solutions come to the fore for fixing this dilemma. Either, the teams could invest the amounts they are spending on players on credible fashion designers, or, the more practical solution, is of not having multiple-shirt sponsors, i.e. having one or at max. two sponsors for team jerseys. The caveat, it is going to cost the companies a bit (read, a few crores) more.

The simple advantage of having a single sponsor is that, unlike multiple sponsors, the brand is showcased in a clear and uncluttered manner on the kits. This is the norm across some of the popular leagues around the world, like the English Premier League or the Spanish La Liga. With the ‘Fly Emirates’ logo on the Real Madrid jersey or, the Deutsche Telekom (with its T logo) on Bayern Munich, these are some of the best-designed kits in the world.

Jersey from left to right: Juventus, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Chelsea and AC Milan
Jersey from left to right: Juventus, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Chelsea and AC Milan
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The US-based sports leagues such as the NBA and the NFL, do not allow sponsors (except the manufacturer) at all on the kits! While the NBA is contemplating on adding a single shirt sponsor from the 2017-18 season, the size of the sponsor branding is a mere 2.5 in x 2.5 in on the front-left side of a jersey. In contrast, the IPL doesn’t even explicitly define a maximum size in its logo guidelines.

Amartojit, a sports enthusiast and an ardent Arsenal fan, when asked about his views on team colours, says- “It's what fans identify with. Many a time it's the nickname of the team as well. Much of the pageantry of sport has to do with colours.” He adds on- “We've (Arsenal) had great shirt sponsors and you could identify periods (successful and unsuccessful) with the shirt sponsors.”

Keep it simple! 

The IPL jerseys seem to have similarities with the how the league itself has been governed over the past eight seasons (and the ongoing ninth) - one word, chaotic. From spot fixing to controversial owners to players exchanging slaps to Chairman’s getting sacked, these are certainly not what one would expect from a professional league.

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According to the IPL governing rules, teams are permitted a maximum of 10 (yes, ten!) sponsors’ logos to appear on the jersey. On an average, this permits a franchise to make about Rs 30-35 crore by selling various spaces on the jersey. For example, an Indian denim company invested Rs 20 crore on a sponsorship deal with the RPS this year. One may wonder here that why don’t these companies having the wealth to spend on advertising, buyout the whole jersey?

To earn more profits in the 2016-edition IPL, sponsorship slots have risen to Rs 5.25 lakh for 10-second advertising slots. So, for example, if a certain sponsor were to advertise 10 times during a match, they would be spending an amount close to Rs. 52 lakh every single match. And over the course of the whole tournament (59 matches), it would cost the company an eye-watering figure of Rs. 30 crores. Why not just buy all the advertising space on a team jersey for the same amount and redesign the jersey to the brand colours?

A mobile phone manufacturer (a relatively new entrant in India), has been one of the sponsors for two-time IPL champs, KKR, for the last couple of years. They have had the coveted front portion of the jersey to advertise. But a recent brand-recall survey conducted by Ipsos (a leading global market research company) gives the phone company a recall of just 1% of the sample size.

This mainly indicates two things – that either shirt sponsorships do not help (more on this below) or, that the companies do not persist long enough with a team to garner sufficient recall. Contrast the above case to that of a certain telecom company. It sponsored the Chennai Super Kings (now-banned) for the first eight editions. Through its steady association with arguably, the most successful team in the IPL, the company managed to improve its market share by a percentage point or two in Tamil Nadu.

Getting your jersey right!

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Shirt sponsorships definitely help, or else it wouldn’t have amounted close to £200m in the 2015-2016 season of the EPL. Case in point, Manchester United signed a massive £53 million/year shirt sponsorship deal in 2013 with an automobile manufacturer. Do note, that this was for a 7-year contract (Persistence).

The justification for such astronomical amounts could be that football is perhaps, the only true global sport, especially European football (the TV audience for the Premier League is 4.7 billion). Cricket is far from being one of the world’s biggest sports, despite the IPL being Asia’s richest, glitziest game.

Funnily, even European football teams have at times floundered with their shirt sponsorship deals. The most famous (or rather, infamous) case being the Spiderman jersey of Atletico Madrid, when it was being sponsored by Columbia Pictures back in the year 2003.

Atletico Madrids Spider-Man jersey
Atletico Madrid’s Spider-Man jersey

Conclusion

Considering how the IPL has changed the face of cricket in India, it could do well to be the disrupting agent in sponsorships (in India) as well.

The IPL is considered to be a risk-free investment for advertisers, as both ratings and reach have been consistently growing year after year. Therefore, spending an additional amount to garner necessary eyeballs is worth the investment don’t you think? An aesthetically pleasing jersey might even garner greater shirt sales, says Aditya, a Mumbai Indians supporter- “It is a case of charging less from multiple brands versus charging more from a single brand. Quality or quantity, that’s what the IPL teams need to decide.”

A single sponsor for a jersey would definitely provide additional value to that particular sponsor, as well as to the team. A sponsorship would also work best when the brand aligns itself with the team culture.

For example – the RCB has quite the star-studded lineup boasting of the very best in cricket. Keeping this cultural fit in mind, if a premium brand like ‘Tag Heuer’ made an investment to be the sole shirt sponsor, it could earn itself some serious points on recall. The RCB red (at times green) would even match with the colours of Tag Heuer!

It is not as if there is a lack of monetary resources in the coffers of the IPL or the respective team owners. The league may not feature in the list of the top ten richest sports leagues across the world, but when it comes to players' salaries, it stands second only to the NBA. Also with the advertisement overkill (sometimes even during the live-feed in an over) the IPL has devised multiple ways to fill its sizable treasure chest.

So the next time we sit down rooting for our favourite IPL teams, can we please have better aesthetics on display? Jerseys which look the worth of these costly teams!

Published 23 May 2016, 17:21 IST
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