Apart from being a rip roaring entertainer, the IPL promises to be a much needed adhesive for a shaky society where friends have stopped meeting friends. Its sheer occurrence is sufficient proof that the tide has reasonably turned and we can revert to being humans once again, albeit with precious precautions. I sincerely predict that this is indeed the catalyst we have been waiting for and there will be no looking back.
In my society in Gurgaon, the live meeting policy has been rather staggered with three clear segments emerging. The first is clearly the ‘Patal Lok’ segment, where even the friendly neighbour is viewed with dire suspicion and diplomatic relations have been severed courtesy the felon virus. The second is definitely the ‘Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa’ segment, wherein the perception of safety defines the selection of friends you care to meet. The third is actually the ‘Oh Darling Yeh Hai India’ segment where the affiliation is so strong that regular connectivity was never stunted. Although it must be said with firm vigour that the first and second dominated our population and that is the point of this article.
Truthfully, the first wave of the virus led to certain unfathomable panic and this was unprecedented in every possible sense. But once the offices opened and the unlocking commenced, common folks needed a certain springboard to get rid of the fear driven inertia that drives distance. Till date that candidate was unavailable as the most potent popular culture expositions were on streaming video which by design is a solo viewership medium. We saw the first strains of conversation during the European football leagues but otherwise the dialogues were rather limited. In the absence of festivals and other public events, the IPL becomes the most attractive glue to resume the status quo. Quite like the London Olympics of 1948 which acted as the stimulus of resurgence for the entire free world, not just the UK.
What must be acknowledged very deeply that in India at least there can be no greater catalyst than the IPL to accelerate social equilibriums courtesy the well worn cliche, that cricket is our foremost unifying religion. Unlike say Ayodhya which is divisive or politics at large which is designed to be disruptive and most certainly the streaming video shows like Gunjan Saxena and Bandish bandits are too niche to be significant as a mass. Folks are itching to reunite with fellows for a common scalable cause and the IPL is an indisputable candidate being the closest to constructive mass hallelujah that we can ever imagine. But to make it work, the IPL experience machinery must act with imaginative maturity given the sensitivity of the era.
The first strategic manoeuvre that Team IPL must do is to create experience alliances with other logical collaborators who can add to the party in full gusto. For starters the F&B sector currently under severe duress and who can help create an integrated watching experience at home with a regulated quota of eight friends or so. An opportunity waiting for Swiggy to create customised IPL deals along with alcoholic beverages as per license of the prevailing times and thus conjuring a home entertainment experience for those wishing for IPL with friends. Now it would be very seductive of Teams and Zoom came to the party, creating a conversation platform uniting friends across cities and thus reinitiating the values of coherent community, currently denied by the pandemic. Home chefs, streaming music platforms and so many others can act as co-creators of this experience of the scaled-down community watching and why must the Cokes and Pepsi be left behind. Hotels and clubs must not feel shy and with social distancing protocols, this can well become the beginning of meaningful change. Uber and Ola can wish to engage as their services will enable the friends to reach home from the converged destination, as per norms of yore.
For a crisis to revert to regularity, quite often we need to have a certain viagra, an infusion of the significant stimulus that signals continuity and yet defines change. The IPL is one such unique candidate and this year it is blessed with contactless gaming experience, from the perspective of empty stands and zero fans. Which does mean that the passionate follower must experience the matches from some form of digital stimuli and what the marketing fraternity must do smartly is to stimulate conversations. The conversations that the fans are accustomed to enjoying at the venue and the ambience that the stadium provided must now be delivered by private distant forums - be it homes, clubs, hotels, multiplexes or even faux stadia. Everything works as long as the fan is happy but this time, it is blessed with a very significant socio-cultural upheaval which is the resumption of overdue familiarity.
Quite rarely in the annals of time does sport gain an opportunity to be a genuine catalyst of change and this is one such exception. The IPL is blessed with the power to reunite friends and recalibrate society and we cannot let this opportunity pass.
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