They've braved expulsion, multiple court cases and, for one of them, a diminished salary cap just to participate in the 2011 IPL. Despite all those question marks, though, Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab wear their success literally on their sleeve - and all over their jerseys - in the form of various sponsors' logos. It's a show of market faith in both the franchises and also highlights the powerful lure of the IPL for advertisers.
In Rajasthan's case, the number of sponsors and partners has grown from 10 last season to 16; the new sponsors include the main sponsors the Floriana Group, with interests in manufacturing, retailing, personal care and education. Innovation came via a deal with Barista, the popular coffee house chain, who will offer Royals-themed drinks for the duration of the tournament. "They have all shown confidence [in us]," Raghu Iyer, the franchise's marketing director, told ESPNcricinfo.
It wasn't easy during the seemingly endless procession of court cases, said Arvinder Singh, Punjab's chief operating officer; there were some anxious moments for everyone involved. "Of course we were concerned. Why won't anyone be concerned? [It was] one thing after the other after the other." This season the team has 12 sponsors and partners, down one from 13 in 2010, but their main sponsors, led by Emirates and Carlsberg, have stuck by them. "It's heartening to see that six of our partners who were with us earlier have continued to believe in us," Singh said. "We must be doing something right."
Rajasthan and Punjab were terminated by the BCCI on October 10 on charges of transgression of shareholding and ownership norms. Both franchises took the board to court over the decision and won a temporary reprieve that allowed them to participate in 2011, while their cases were heard by an arbitrator. However, Rajasthan were hit by a deduction of $1.9 million from their salary cap as the bank guarantee they gave the court did not cover the full $9 million.
The show of faith by the sponsors has much to do with their fear of missing out on the IPL gravy train. Santosh Desai, the chief executive of Future Brands, told ESPNcricinfo that it is probably easier for sponsors to ride out the current issues than to back out of the league and risk missing out on a potential opportunity. "There is a general sense that this [the IPL] is on the way up. If you get a piece of it, take it. Any piece of it will eventually be of value since the whole thing seems worthwhile."
One of Rajasthan's sponsors - they have the space on the back of the jerseys, above the player numbers - is HDFC Life, among India's leading private life insurance companies, which recently announced that it would continue as the principal associate for Rajasthan for the third straight year. "The IPL provides a window for people to see young talent," Sanjay Tripathy, executive vice-president, marketing and direct channels, HDFC Life said. "And Rajasthan Royals gives the most exposure to young talent." HDFC Life's brand image is build around the slogan Sar Utha ke Jiyo (Live with your head held high) and that goes well with the Rajasthan Royals' ethos, Tripathy said. "The team is made up of younger players who dream big and feel like they can compete against the best. It goes very well with our brand package."
Tripathy said the franchise explained the situation surrounding their termination from the league and convinced him that they would take the field come April 9. "At the end of the day, there was no reason to think negatively and not support the team."
Rajasthan's maverick identity has worked to its advantage, Sridhar Ramanujam, who heads brand consulting firm Brand-Comm, said. "They were winners in the first year. They have a very strong association with Shane Warne. Like Dhoni is associated with Chennai Super Kings, Warne is associated with Rajasthan Royals. He manages to make news; as a cricket team, it has a lot of interest. If I was a sponsor, and if the value was right, I would probably have put some value on that team rather than any other team."
For Sameer Kale, director CMGC and president of Sportz PR, it's the glamour factor at work. Rajasthan can offer Shilpa Shetty, while Punjab have Preity Zinta, which is something other teams, aside from Kolkata Knight Riders and Shah Rukh Khan, can't match. "The glamour quotient is very much valid with these two teams."
He doesn't feel the controversies should affect sponsorships because they have nothing to do with the cricket on the field, and so the sponsors can work around them by having clauses in their contracts that void the deal if a team were to be thrown out of the league.
Ultimately though, Kale said that it is the IPL that sponsors are really after. "You have Shane Warne, you have Rahul Dravid. It is going to play a part. But I don't think I will value that much. It is not the individual team, it is the IPL. The IPL has become a hot property."