Will Gambhir’s Return Restore KKR’s Local Connect

Gautam Gambhir and Sunil Narine. PC: Debasis Sen

Supporters often overreact, and that’s always been the story of fandom. But to a degree, they are entitled to. This is for the simple reason that the two most important constituents of the IPL are the players and the fans. Unless the fans watch, there is no IPL. They help the broadcaster make money, encourage the advertisers to spend and make the tournament what it is. They make heroes of the players and create brands of them. The best example was when the Kolkata Knight Riders won the tournament in 2012. Over 80,000 fans made it to the Eden Gardens on a scorching summer day to be a part of the celebrations on the team’s return. 

On the contrary, if things don’t go well for a franchise, fans get upset and vent their ire. It is only natural that they will, for they are upset. They will speak out, for they are frustrated and disappointed. A committed fan is also a vocal fan and it can’t be that the team will take the good and reject the bad. If we hail his or her fandom and use his or her praise to highlight the robustness of the brand, we need to take criticism seriously and be accountable to a degree. 

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That’s exactly what Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) will need to do in 2024. While they have struck the right chord by bringing back Gautam Gambhir, they will need to make sure that the local connect stays strong as the season goes on. KKR, suffice to say, is an emotion for many in Bengal. It is a sentiment that can hardly be ignored. In business, the shareholders need to be told why certain decisions were taken. KKR is no different. In a professional franchise, they need to embrace the fans and carry them with the team in good times and bad. 

In 2023, it was a shock when Eden Gardens turned all yellow for MS Dhoni. Such a thing can only happen if the city has little connect with the local team. Yes, Dhoni is an emotion, but to see an entire stadium of 70,000 turn yellow was a huge surprise. And at the same time, it wasn’t. In the absence of a face whom the fans could identify with, it had become increasingly difficult to connect with the local support. With Gambhir back in the fold and with Shreyas Iyer leading the team again, KKR should have this sorted in 2024.

The KKR management in 2024 has the fan at the core of their brand campaigns. See the taglines, and you will understand what I mean. If that’s the case, they should be part of the journey in good and bad. For the last several seasons, things haven’t gone to plan for KKR. Yet, the fans haven’t deserted the franchise. They haven’t switched loyalties. For the first time, in 2023, we saw signs in the game against CSK. And that’s what makes me say that KKR owes it to their fans, and should dedicate this season to them. 

Fans are with the team because they believe. They have stood for the brand and are committed to it. They need to be celebrated, for if it doesn’t happen, we could well see Eden not sporting purple a few more times this year. Inviting fans to events like the one on Monday night, and broadcasting events for fan clubs, are steps in the right direction. The management needs to make sure that a couple of poor results don’t impact this outreach. Fans are integral to the narrative, and aren’t just a part of it when the going is good.

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