What's in a Name?: Team Names and Fan Development in the Indian Premier League

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So, you decide to spend millions of dollars (or many, many, many crore of rupees, in this case) to launch a franchise-based professional cricket league in India. Let’s call it the Indian Premier League, since all top-flight leagues these days are premier.

Indian Premier League. Now with more Premier.

Eight teams based in eight regions, with international stars and a good portion of the national cricket team scattered amongst the league. These players previously were identified with the national team, and much of the country cheered for all of them, as a single team. For league play, though, you need people identifying with their “own” team.

How do you get people to form a deep (and therefore lucrative) affiliation with their regional team and root against their national team heroes? This duality of fan loyalty poses an issue for all sports with the club/country split (as is most often seen in soccer), but particularly for a sport like cricket that, in India, has mostly been focused on international play.

The answer? Cheerleaders imported from America. Oh, and spiffy team names.

The names chosen for the eight teams in the IPL, which just recently began play, are a mix of the faux-traditional (two teams with “Royal” in their name and a “King’s XI” harkening back to earlier cricket days of representative teams) and the alliterative:

Some of the team names feel like they fell out of a marketing brainstorming session when everyone just gave up and decided to pick one (Kolkata Knight Riders, I’m looking at you), but on the whole, the names are simple and memorable, with a mellifluous sound that should lend to the easy development of chants and cheers.

Lots of Logos

The logos are perhaps a bit too much like advertising logos for my taste, but there’s no denying that each conveys a different “feel,” from the stately lions rampant of the Rajasthan Royals to the active swirl of the Mumbai Indians. Of note, only two of the logos (Delhi and Kolkata) feature cricket-related imagery in their logos, and only one name (King’s XI Punjab) has the slightest cricket root. They’re not trying to sell the sport; they’re trying to sell the team.

The color schemes in the logos tend to the red and yellow/gold. I’d have expected more variety in the schemes, if only to foster further differentiation between the teams. Having distinct differences at every level, from name to logo to colors, is vital to giving potential fans something to grab onto and identify with.

It’s interesting to examine contemporary efforts to create fan culture. Many people are “born” to a team, growing up as a supporter, usually of the home-town team. Or, as is the case with a team like the Yankees in the U.S. or Manchester United in, well, everywhere else, people adopt a very successful team in order to hitch their wagon to a perceived winner, so as to only experience vicarious victory and never the hard slog up a league table.

Will the IPL find that most cricket fans begin pulling for the team that piles up the most wins, for the team that has the biggest stars? Or will the efforts to root the teams in their regions (only slight pun intended) succeed in developing nascent fan bases, so that one day, Indian children will be given baby clothes with the logo of the Deccan Chargers on them and Delhi Daredevils-branded starter cricket kits? Long term success of the IPL relies on the latter possibility coming true.

2 thoughts on “What's in a Name?: Team Names and Fan Development in the Indian Premier League

  1. Chris Baer

    Thanks for the feedback on how this grand experiment worked after a season. I hope to revisit the issue of team loyalty and fan development when the next season gets underway. And best of luck to the Knight Riders!

  2. Interesting post Chris. Initially I was also skeptical about building city based loyalty in a country like India where cricket is almost a religion and the team players worshipped like gods. Loyalty to the national team is very deep rooted. But once the tournament started people had already picked their favorites based on city, or the star owner or some other factor and keep rooting for their teams till the very end….It was quite surprising and even players from other countries were adopted quickly by the respective cities.

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