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The ‘restage’ of Brand Sri Lanka Cricket

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The other day I was talking to the Treasury Secretary at the Ministry of Finance who was a board member of the Export Development Board when I was Chairman of the EDB way back in 2005. 

Given his vast experience in the public sector I have always looked up to him for his words of wisdom. He mentioned something that really got me thinking. He said that in the public sector somebody comes along and for three years develops a particular entity and thereafter another person walks in and during the next three years destroys whatever was done. It’s sad but his analogy is right. 

BUP_DFTDFT-16Sri Lanka Cricket got a new breath of life with the recent win over Australia 


Sri Lanka Cricket today

When I look at Sri Lankan cricket today, I get a feeling that we are in an era of development given the structured basis through which the business is looked at. The recent victories experienced against the Australians and the signage that has sprouted at key roundabouts announce the ‘restage’ of brand Sri Lanka Cricket in my view. Now what is required is for every Sri Lankan to support the task ahead.

Essence of Brand SL Cricket

The essence of brand cricket is excitement but it has a strong connection with every Sri Lankan which hinges on patriotism - being proud that we are Sri Lankan. This is essentially seen when the brand is featured in other markets but we saw this happening during the last two weeks in Sri Lanka following the team’s victories over Australia. 

The second element that has made this brand very powerful is the advertising expenditure directed towards it in the wake of the country’s 1996 World Cup win. This includes not only the sponsorship money that the team attracts but also player endorsements of private sector brands. If all this is valued, Brand Sri Lanka Cricket will be worth way above the IPL brand value of $ 4 billion in my view, but sadly no one has valued this most valuable Sri Lankan asset. Given the new management thinking, I feel that very soon we will see this business perspective coming into the system.

But a point that needs to be understood is that Brand Sri Lanka Cricket is created by the fans it attracts and the events with which it has been associated. Hence most of its success must be attributed to the fans, whom we hardly hear about in the news, which means that this brand belongs to the people of the country. This means that the administrators must be accountable and responsible to them as they created the brand.  

Deep dive

If we do a deep dive, the challenge for Brand Sri Lanka Cricket is to get a brand custodian who will calculate the brand value and understand the propositions that are wrapped around the brand. Thereafter, a clear brand development plan can be drafted, one which will focus on the promotional side as well as sharpen the identity as it evolves in the changing fashion of the game - be it the five-day, one-day or 20-over game - but more importantly safeguard the brand from activity that will devalue it.

If I am to share a best practice from my experience - if one does a brand equity study on a brand like Dettol you will find the detailed 16-01architecture of the brand and what activities have added value to the core proposition of it being a disinfectant. The study will also identify what activities hurt the brand values that it possesses.

This is the type of management science that Brand Sri Lanka Cricket requires, which is my take on the Cowdrey Lecture that Mr. Sangakkara very beautifully delivered some years back.  Maybe it is worth revisiting the ideas shared that day, given the new management’s perspective on the game today.

Building of Brand Sri Lanka Cricket

An important point to note is that if we take a typical brand like Signal for instance, the brand custodian can clearly mark out the values that brand must be wrapped in, for instance caring, aggressive but protective, just like the personality of a father at home.

But in the case of Brand Sri Lanka Cricket, it’s the situations around it in the past regime that has resulted in the devaluing of the brand values on the name Sri Lanka Cricket. In other words the uncontrollable variables such as the political economy at play affected the brand drastically.

However, it must be said that with careful planning even a difficult situation, such as the case of  Brand Sri Lanka Cricket, could have been managed provided the there was strong leadership at that time. But the reality was that at that time it sadly lacked this calibre of talent on the administrative front.

Cowdrey architecture

Let me take you back to the MCC Cowdrey Lecture at the Nursery Pavilion at Lord’s which was brilliantly delivered by the former cricket captain. I feel it is more relevant today given the restaging of the game that is taking shape.

The ideas shared by Mr. Sangakkara can be held in parallel with the works of brand theorist Keller in the popular marketing theory Customer-Based Brand Equity Pyramid. Let me capture the essence of this idea.

1. Brand salience

Sangakkara said: “Cricket in Sri Lanka is no longer just a sport: it is a shared passion that is a source of fun and a force for unity. It is a treasured sport that occupies a celebrated place in our society. It is remarkable that in a very short period an alien game has become our national obsession, played and followed with almost fanatical passion and love.” I guess the new management must understand the responsibility that they carry in their daily work.

2. Performance

The speaker said: “In 1981, Sri Lanka’s cricket suffered from an identity crisis and there was far too little Sri Lankan in the way we BUP_DFTDFT-16-FT3played our cricket.”

He went on to say that before Sri Lanka’s World Cup success “the leadership of Arjuna during this period was critical to our emergence as a global force. It was Arjuna who understood most clearly why we needed to break free from the shackles of our colonial past and forge a new identity, an identity forged exclusively from Sri Lankan values, an identity that fed from the passion, vibrancy and emotion of normal Sri Lankans.

“From Matara came Sanath, a man from a humble background with an immense talent that was raw and without direction or refinement. A talent under the guidance of Arjuna that was harnessed to become one of the most destructive batting forces the game has ever known. It was talent never seen before and now with his retirement never to be seen again.

“Murali came from the hills of Kandy from a more affluent background. Starting off as a fast bowler and later changing to spin, he was blessed with a natural deformity in his bowling arm allowing him to impart so much spin on the ball that it spun at unthinkable angles. He brought wrist spin to off-spin.”

The speaker said about winning the World Cup: “The impact of that World Cup victory was enormous, both broadening the game’s grassroots as well as connecting all Sri Lankans with one shared passion. For the first time, children from outstations and government schools were allowed to make cricket their own.”

Sangakkara said about the Lahore attack: “It is strange how clear your thinking is. I did not see my life flash by. There was no insane panic. ‘We are Sri Lankan,’ we thought to ourselves, ‘and we are tough and we will get through hardship and we will overcome because our spirit is strong’. This is what the world saw in our interviews immediately after the attack. We were calm, collected and rational. Our emotions held true to our role as unofficial ambassadors.” I guess this is the same spirit we need to drive public sector responsibility.

3. Feelings

The speaker also said: “Our cricket embodied everything in our lives, our laughter and tears, our hospitality, our generosity, our music, our food and drink. It was normality and hope and inspiration in a war-ravaged island. In it was our culture and heritage, enriched by our myriad ethnicities and religions.”

On meeting a soldier after the Lahore attack, Sangakkara said: “That soldier looked me in the eye and replied: ‘It is okay if I die because it is my job and I am ready for it. But you are a hero and if you were to die it would be a great loss for our country’.”

4. Resonance

The speaker said: “A game that brings the nation to a standstill; a sport so powerful it is capable of transcending war and politics. This is the spirit of Sri Lanka’s cricket.”

5. Judgement

Kumar Sangakkara said: “I will play my cricket for them. Their spirit is the true spirit of cricket. With me are all my people. I am Tamil, Sinhalese, Muslim and Burgher. I am a Buddhist, a Hindu, a follower of Islam and Christianity. I am today, and always, proudly Sri Lankan.”

6. Imagery

The speaker said about Murali being no-balled in Australia: “No matter what critics say, the manner in which Arjuna and the team stood behind Murali made an entire nation proud. In that moment Sri Lanka adopted the cricketers simply as ‘our boys’ or ‘ape kollo’. Gone was the earlier detachment of the Sri Lankan cricket fan and in its place was a newfound love for those 15 men. They became our sons, our brothers. Sri Lankans stood with them and shared their trials and tribulations.”

Brand hurt

Where Brand Sri Lanka Cricket can get hurt the speaker mentioned: “With the victory in 1996 came money and power to the board and players. Players from within the team itself became involved in power games within the board. Officials elected to power in this way in turn manipulated player loyalty to achieve their own ends. At times board politics would spill over into the team causing rifts, ill-feeling and distrust.”

The speaker went to say: “The new administration needs to adopt the same values enshrined by the team over the years: integrity, transparency, commitment and discipline. Unless the administration is capable of becoming more professional, forward-thinking and transparent then we risk alienating the common man.”

Product development

On the area of product development, the speaker said: “Although our school cricket structure is extremely strong, our club structure remains archaic. With players diluted among 20 clubs it does not enable the national coaching staff to easily identify and funnel talented players through for further development. The lack of competitiveness of the club tournament does not lend itself to producing hardened first class professionals. Various attempts to change this structure to condense and improve it have been resisted by the administration and the clubs concerned, the main reason for this being that any elected cricket board that offended these clubs runs the risk of losing their votes come election time.”

Cricket for nation branding

The speaker on the importance of cricket for the country said: “I pray we do because cricket has such an important role to play in our island’s future. In our cricket we display a unique spirit, a spirit enriched by lessons learned from a history spanning over two-and-a-half millennia. In our cricket you see the character of our people, our history, culture and traditions, our laughter, our joy, our tears and regrets. It is rich in emotion and talent. My responsibility as a Sri Lankan cricketer is to further enrich this beautiful sport, to add to it and enhance it and to leave a richer legacy for other cricketers to follow.”

Next steps

The masterpiece of the MCC Cowdrey Lecture in my view was the first draft of Brand Sri Lanka Cricket. With the proactive current management it has the potential to become a formal document. But the real challenge is when it will come to play on the ground.

(The author is an award-winning Marketer and business personality in Sri Lanka who is the Former Chairman of the Sri Lanka Export Development Board and Sri Lanka Tourism and currently heads the Rs. 35-billion government retail chain Lanka Sathosa).

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