“Being a sports fan is a complex matter, in part irrational but not unworthy”
- Richard Gilman
What is a sport without its fans? Be it their presence in stadiums, in the comfort of their homes or debating outside tea stalls, all of them play a crucial part in making the sport that it eventually becomes. While the pandemic has meant that the fans have mostly stayed away from the stadiums for the last year, but that has not deterred them to support it from wherever they can.
Take the case of IPL, in spite of whatever has been going around in the world, this season has also seen people enthusiastically following the game like ever before. Another interesting aspect which the IPL had brought to the game was a franchise-based fan following which other games like football already had. The game of cricket reached to newer audiences, and all this was definitely good for the game.
Now in its 14th edition, the IPL fanbase has been increasing every year. A study by Ormax Media in 2020 estimated the total fans across the eight franchises at 8.6 crores (86 million). In a bid to further understand the types of fan we make an attempt at decoding its fan base.
Player based Loyalty
Player based loyalty was the idea behind having icon players in the initial seasons of IPL. A fan of Sachin Tendulkar would automatically follow Mumbai Indians and a MS Dhoni fan would naturally cheer for his team Chennai Super Kings. The franchises cashed on to this psyche of the fans as they tried to build their foundation. For instance, to establish this connection, the Chennai team’s anthem had Dhoni in its Whistle Poodu theme song as well, “Enga Thala Dhoni’ku, Periya Whistle Adinga”.
Franchise Loyal Fans
As the IPL progressed, the player-based loyalty slowly started percolating into the teams and we had die-hard supporters for different teams.
A franchise fan is someone who has a favourite team and is emotionally connected with it. These are people who would go to any extent to support their teams and watch most of the matches. Advent of social media has given them another platform to express their solidarity. From a distribution perspective, it’s not a surprise that the two most successful teams are at the top in terms of fan following as well.
Chennai Super Kings seem to have the largest loyal fan base of 26.8 million*. Mumbai Indians is close behind at second with 24.8 million* fans for the original cricket center of India. But everything about fans is not based on rational. Hence, Royal Challengers Bangalore are at the third position with 13.3 million* fans despite not having the trophy even once. “Ee saal Cup Namde” (this time the cup is ours) has been the slogan of the team from the garden city of India year after year.
This breed of fans is good for the commercial aspect of the game as it offers more monetisation opportunities.
Fantasy League Fans
With the pumping of money into India’s sports fantasy platforms, a new category of fans emerged. As per Roland Landers, CEO of The All India Gaming Federation, the last IPL season saw as many as 50 million gamers which helped these platforms to generate close to Rs. 20,000 million.
Now if we get into the psyche of this category of fans, something very interesting came out based on some preliminary studies. One may think that people who watch or follow the IPL only for the sake of playing fantasy leagues either for fun or in a bid to make some money may not be loyal to any team.
However, based on a study conducted by Michael Flanigan in 2014 it was found that as the level of fantasy sport participation increases, so does the attitudinal loyalty towards the favorite team. While a separate in-depth study in the Indian context might bring in contrasting results.
To sum it up, as a cricket fan, I just hope we get many new breeds of fans and may this “India ka tyohaar” reach the stars.
*Based on a study by Ormax India