Not many T20 franchises in the world can boast of a complete package as the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) in the Indian Premier League (IPL).
Glamour – Check!
Glitz – Check!
Global reputation – Check!
On-field success – Check!
Brand Ambassador – Double Check!
On-field and off-field success, planning, strategy, implementation, brand pull – what not, you name it they have it! Their story is no less than a fairy-tale of ups and downs.
Where it all started
The city of Kolkata or the ‘City of Joy’ is no stranger to emotion, enthusiasm, and passion – be it for football or cricket. The iconic Eden Gardens Stadium needs no introduction to any cricket lover in the world. Understandably, when the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) announced the birth of a city-based franchise model T20 tournament Indian Premier League (IPL), it was natural that Kolkata got a team. Adding glitz to the city’s passion, it was Indian movie superstar Shahrukh Khan who bought the rights for a price of US $75.09 million and named it the ‘Kolkata Knight Riders’ (KKR).
To ride on the emotion and passion that Kolkata represents, KKR went ahead and added the theme Korbo, Lorbo, Jeetbo Re. Roughly translated from the local dialect as We will act, fight and win, the tagline was expected to be an apt reminder of what the game means for KKR. Indians love their cricket and love their movie stars, so when KKR married them together it was a perfect recipe for success.
Teething problems for the Kolkata Knight Riders
Any hope of instant success, though, were nullified. They were one of the basement clubs in the first three seasons by finishing sixth, eighth and sixth respectively. The euphoria of the fans and the energy of the city wasn’t enough to power them on the field. It wasn’t as if the side was lacking top players. Far from it, Kolkata Knight Riders had some of the best names playing for them – Sourav Ganguly, Brendon McCullum, Chris Gayle, David Hussey, Angelo Mathews, Ricky Ponting, Brad Hodge, Ajantha Mendis, Ishant Sharma, Umar Gul – it was a collection of who’s who of T20 cricket at that time. Still, success eluded them.
The club courted controversy when icon player Sourav Ganguly (referred to as Dada by his fans) was released and not purchased before the 2011 season. With Ganguly a larger-than-life name in Kolkata cricket no longer with the KKR, it was feared that the club might lose its fan base. The infamous protests – No Dada No KKR – rocked the city and the franchise. Credit to KKR, though, for having kept their ground and maintained that it was a cricketing decision. Little did the fans know that this was the beginning of a new era for the franchise.
The dawn of a new era in Kolkata
Signalling a change of intent and direction, Kolkata Knight Riders went for the outspoken Gautam Gambhir as their new captain for the 2011 season. The entire team was revamped and in came Yousuf Pathan, Shakib Al Hasan, Jacques Kallis, and Brett Lee. Success was immediate, as Gambhir led his side admirably and led them to their first playoffs. Although they couldn’t go all the way and finished fourth. However, the foundations for a strong future had been set and they would no longer be considered underdogs by the betting sites.
The dawn of a new future was on the horizon, as the club added important names in the 2012 auction. Former captain Brendon McCullum was brought back, while Sunil Narine was added to the squad. Both would go on to play important roles for the side. Breaking their trend of mishaps, KKR went the distance in the 2012 season winning the title with a five-wicket win over Chennai Super Kings (CSK) in Chennai. The decision to rope in Gambhir and give the franchise a new direction was vindicated. Although they finished seventh in the subsequent season, Kolkata Knight Riders was a club on the rise. The fans got their reward in the 2014 season, starting with the IPL auction.
Strong Indian core
Before the 2014 auction, KKR retained only Gambhir and Narine raising eyebrows and questions from some of the fan groups. However, the club had a distinct direction. They brought back Yousuf Pathan in the auction and added a strong Indian core by going for players like Robin Uthappa, Umesh Yadav, Manish Pandey, Suryakumar Yadav, and Piyush Chawla. All these went on to play vital roles in landing the 2014 IPL title for KKR.
A blip in 2015 (fifth) notwithstanding, KKR went on to make the playoffs for the next three seasons – although falling short of the title. Any franchise finishing fourth, third and third in consecutive seasons would be happy with the results, but KKR’s thinktank had other ideas. After maximising Gambhir’s captaincy stint, they pulled in Dinesh Karthik as their captain from the 2018 season. KKR still has some of the best Indian youngsters as their core. The philosophy of the club remains the same – sign young players with heavy potential and back them to the hilt.
KKR signed Kuldeep Yadav when he was making waves in the India U-19 side. The same goes for the signing of Shubman Gill, Shivam Mavi, and Kamlesh Nagarkoti. All these three are either already knocking on the door of Indian team selection or are on the verge of breaking through. Continuity has been the mantra for the franchise, even with their foreign player selection. Chris Lynn, Sunil Narine, and Andre Russell remain three of the biggest names in T20 cricket and the first three names on the KKR team sheet.
Kolkata Knight Riders Brand Strategy
Extending their success, KKR went on to buy Trinbago Knight Riders (TKR) in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL). With this, KKR manages to keep the ‘Knight Riders brand’ going during the off-season and expand their horizons. The Indian viewership of the CPL has quadrupled (from 20 million to 100 million) since KKR entered the arena, so it remains a win-win for all parties. More than that, it is a testimony of KKR’s strong brand strategy. They currently have associations with 22 brands, as KKR look to move beyond brand Shahrukh Khan and carve a niche for themselves. Of course, the on-field success remains paramount, as the brand-wagon of Kolkata Knight Riders chugs along. Korbo, Lorbo, Jeetbo Re!
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