IPL 2021 suspension: Were the negative signals already visible? Yes, say IIHB & Red Lab
Season 14 of the Indian Premier League (IPL) has been suspended after several players and some staff tested positive for COVID-19. A total of 29 matches were played before BCCI decided to suspend the tournament, while stating that IPL 14 could return later this year before or after the T20 World Cup. While the mega cricket tournament came as a welcome relief amid pandemic times, but the rapidly deteriorating COVID-19 situation in the country, further compounded by lack of oxygen, hospital beds, Remdesivir medicine and the rising number of people dying, has had a sobering effect on the people.
Were the signals – the negativity already visible? The Indian Institute of Human Brands (IIHB) and the Rediffusion Consumer Lab (more popularly called Red Lab) had been tracking consumer sentiment for the past three weeks, and according to them, the bomb dropped on the IPL almost on cue.
On April 17 and 18, IIHB and Red Lab started a small consumer survey, reaching out to 482 respondents (M=271, F=211) asking the following questions:
- Should the IPL have been played at all this year?
- Given the pandemic, should the IPL have been played overseas again?
- Do you think watching IPL every evening provides an escape from all the pain, grief and death all around?
- Are you watching more/ less/ same of the IPL as last year?
- Do you remember ads and celebrities from the IPL telecast?
- Given the current mood, do the ads on IPL attract you? Would you buy the brands being sold?
- If IPL were to be cancelled, would you miss the game?
The same questions were asked to the same respondents the next week on April 24 & 25. IIHB and Red Ldb found that there was a 22% drop rate of respondents ‘not available’ or ‘not contactable’ from the previous week. A third round of the same questions was administered on May 1 & 2, with the drop-out rate down 18% of the original sample.
The responses make for interesting reading
Should the IPL have been played at all this year?
The sentiment started pretty positive at 81% saying ‘yes’, 14% saying ‘no’ and the rest ‘maybe/don’t know’ in Week 1.
By Week 2, it was 75% ‘yes’, 21% ‘no’ and balance undecided.
Week 3 saw a big plunge with only 58% still saying ‘yes’. ‘No’ was up to 37%, the numbers nearly doubling. It seems the grim reality of the pandemic upsurge across India was ﬁnally catching up with India’s biggest sports entertainment show!
This feedback in Week 3 had already been recorded before news of the IPL bio-bubble being breached had become public. So the decline in sentiment cannot be attributed to actual negative news from the IPL front.
Overall the majority as of the last weekend was still in favour of holding the IPL, but the decline in support over 3 weeks has been visibly signiﬁcant.
Given the pandemic, should the IPL have been played overseas again?
In Week 1, 22% said ‘yes’, 18% said ‘no’. Rest didn’t care.
In Week 2, 27% said ‘yes’, 22% said ‘no’.
In Week 3, 42% said ‘yes’, 14% said ‘no’.
Perceptible change in sentiment can be discerned.
Do you think watching IPL every evening provides an escape from all the pain, grief and death all around?
Overwhelming majority in Week 1 said ‘yes’; at 86%. Dipped by Week 2 to 78%. Sharp dip in Week 3 to 62%. The majority would still want to continue to see the IPL. But maybe true sentiment or anti-sentiment calibration needs to go beyond quantitative numbers … the 33% fall in three weeks is more eloquent indicator of the mood.
Are you watching more/ less/ same of the IPL as last year?
In Week 1 itself, 27% respondents said they were watching less of the League. This had climbed to 32% in Week 2. By Week 3 there were 38% who said they were watching less of the IPL.
Subsequent reportage of BARC data on viewership of IPL seems to bear out the feedback. An average of 105 million unique viewers watched 17 matches in the ﬁrst two weeks of IPL 2021, registering a dip of 9.5% over last year. In 2020, an average of 116 million unique viewers watched 14 matches in the ﬁrst two weeks of the league. So, the research ﬁndings are in sync with those of actual viewership data.
Do you remember ads and celebrities from the IPL telecast?
Ad recall for the IPL remained exceedingly good. So was the recall of celebrities. IIHB last week separately published a report on Brand & Celebrity Recall at the IPL. MS Dhoni and Ranveer Singh topped the recall.
Given the current mood, do the ads on IPL attract you? Would you buy the brands being sold?
The biggest dip in the entire survey was noticed in response to this subject.
84% respondents said they loved the ads and would buy the brands in Week 1. Support remained nearly constant at 79%. But plummeted in Week 3 to just 52%, a notch above the half way mark.
The important inference from this feedback could be that if the IPL had not been suspended, brands continuing to advertise on IPL may actually have started to hurt. The medium really is the message. The cancellation of IPL may therefore turn out to be a blessing for brands who were advertising on it, provided they can in some way manage to pull out of the deal or postpone their releases.
If IPL were to be cancelled, would you miss the game?
This question was asked all three weeks, and much before the announcement of the suspension. 81% had said ‘yes’ in Week 1. Dropped to 72% in Week 2. Actually dipped to 49% in Week 3. Viewers were starting to get wary of the IPL.
“Consumers are very perceptive. They are also very sensitive. Somehow there was growing discontent with the IPL … it was seen to be an extravaganza of greed … so much death and devastation all around but fat cat players romping around hitting sixes. Not a single black band of sympathy or support … that may have reduced the anti-sentiment somewhat,” said Dr Sandeep Goyal, Chief Mentor of IIHB.
Navonil Chatterjee, who heads the recently set up Rediffusion Consumer Lab (Red Lab), added here, “Sentiment analysis always gives you early warning signals. It is then for you to pick up the signals and either act on them or ignore them.”
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