Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

In 10 years, RCB should be a global brand beyond just cricket: Rajesh V Menon

Why is the Diageo-owned franchise that hasn't yet won an IPL still such a big draw? Menon, the VP and head, explains how RCB as a brand is being built brick by brick

Kathakali Chanda
Published: Apr 26, 2024 10:38:02 AM IST
Updated: Apr 26, 2024 11:17:27 AM IST

In 10 years, RCB should be a global brand beyond just cricket: Rajesh V MenonRajesh V Menon, VP and head of RCB
 
Their men's cricket team hasn't won an IPL title in 16 seasons, while the women 's team has only recently won the WPL. Yet, it has one of the largest fan bases and some of the largest sponsorship deals in its kitty. Royal Challengers Bengaluru's on-field performances might have fallen short of expectations, yet its teams have never been short of spunk, making it one of the most valuable brands in the Indian sports ecosystem.
 
And it’s not just cricket. RCB has forayed beyond the 22 yards and into the fields of retail, content and even thought leadership, with the ultimate ambition of being recognised as a premium global brand. Rajesh V Menon, the VP and head of RCB, takes us through the journey on an episode of Sports UnLtd. Edited excerpts:
 

Q. RCB doesn't yet have an IPL trophy but still has one of the largest followings among cricket fans, and some of the largest sponsorship deals. How have you built up the brand beyond on-field performance?
Just to start with, we have a WPL team as well and we have won the trophy this year. So that's a good beginning from a trophy point of view.
 
Now, to go back to RCB as a brand… the RCB fans don’t just support the men’s team; they support brand RCB. If you look at the turnout and support for RCB’s WPL games, it was phenomenal. Chinnaswamy stadium in Bengaluru [where we played the first leg] was packed, then when we went to Delhi, 90 percent of the stadium cheered for RCB. RCB as a brand transcends multiple geographies. Born in Bengaluru, but here to thrill the nation is how we envisaged the brand.  
 
When we conceptualised the brand, we didn’t pin ourselves to one geography. We looked at India as a whole and understood the key insights of young India.
 
In the 90s or early 2000s, our social ecosystem was very conservative. People lived in big, joint families, which acted as a safety net should something go wrong. But when the Indian economy opened up, people started to migrate to bigger cities. That’s where the safety net was broken. IT jobs, startups became aspirational. But we know that of the many thousand startups, only a few succeed, hence there is fear of failure. That was a critical insight on which RCB was built. We wanted something to nudge this populace, to tell them it’s okay. That’s where RCB’s philosophy of ‘Play Bold’ came in. What we’re saying through this is nothing but ‘you don’t know what’s on the other side unless you go and play bold’. This philosophy resonated with young India, and we align the philosophy with everything that we did and that we are doing.
 
Q. What are the verticals through which you are building Brand RCB?
We are building RCB as a lifestyle brand. When we look at expanding the brand into multiple dimensions, both on and off the field, it resonates with different cohorts and target groups [TGs]. For example, we joined hands with Puma and launched an athleisure range, which wasn’t only confined to the games, but people started wearing it to offices and also in their leisure time. That brought the brand traction across different zones. Second, the RCB Bar and Café, [the first of which opened in the heart of Bengaluru], and the second just opened in Bengaluru’s T2 airport. We're looking at expanding as we speak. It isn’t just a place for cricket but for fans to socialise and entertain themselves. Third, we have launched our fitness app Hustle, and in three months, we have logged around 11,000 subscriptions.

On the field, we have created a dog enclosure for pet parents to bring their canines along for the game. We are also the only team which became carbon-neutral. All these initiatives resonate with different sets of TGs which adds back to the brand. Especially the young TG, which is critical to the growth of the brand.

Also read: From IPL to lifestyle, how RCB is planning its next big bet
 
Q. So, if you were to define Brand RCB in a few words what would those be?
Scale and fearlessness. If you look at whatever we do, we do it at scale. For instance, for our first Unbox event ahead of IPL 2022, we put up a 40-foot container in the middle of Church Street, the heart of Bengaluru’s commercial district—it represents both those values, which, again, are manifestations of our ‘Play Bold’ philosophy.
 
Q. RCB has tied up with the UK-based Leaders in Sport and hosted the first ever sports conclave in November. What have been key takeaways from the summit?
Our ambition was to host not just India’s, but maybe Southeast Asia's biggest sports conference. We had to look for a partner and that’s how the Leaders and RCB collab happened. The objective was to have a conversation around sports, bring different perspectives—be it the government, private partners, NGOs—and just see what’s happening in India and what is required to move sports in India. And our endeavour was not to tom-tom what someone has done. For example, the Odisha model. We want other state governments to see it and figure out what is the public private partnership model that can be introduced in sports in their state. I feel we have been successful because the kind of response we got from different strata and different verticals was brilliant. We have different state governments asking us to come to their state to host this summit next year. And, as we speak, we are also preparing an impact report which will be launched maybe in the next couple of months.
 
Q. So, you are also building a thought leadership vertical?
Yes. But we we're not seeing this as a profit-making vertical. It is to bring sports awareness in India. The idea is how to make India a sporting nation. And we believe sports is critical for economic development and we want every individual to have some say in sports.
 
Q. There are a number of franchise cricket leagues that have been launched around the world. Does RCB have plans to expand internationally with this?
As we speak, we are reimagining how we will grow in the next 7-10 years, where we should go as a brand. We are still in the discussion and ideation stage, and once that is clear only then will I be able to discuss further on. As of now, we’ve invested in a WPL team because that was key for Diageo to show how women’s cricket is critical for RCB.
 
Q. How does the women’s team augment the brand value of RCB?
Inclusivity and diversity is at the heart of Diageo. if I’m not wrong, nearly 45 percent of our execs are women. The RCB men's team was the first to have a women’s therapist in a men's team, and the number of women in the RCB men’s team is also high. We believe in bringing equality, and when we got an opportunity to pick a women’s cricket team we were absolutely clear that we should own one.
 
Q. What have been your key learnings when it comes to building Brand RCB?
Consistency. We need to be consistent and keep a tab on how the culture is moving within the ecosystem of consumers. What does Play Bold mean? For example, Play Bold would have meant something else 20 years ago, now it will mean something else. We need to figure that out so that the brand stays refreshed and relevant. The manifestation might change, but the philosophy doesn’t. That’s the task, that’s the challenge.
 
Q. How do you want Brand RCB to look in five years?
This brand should be a global brand in the next 5 to 10 years where everybody across the globe understands and recognises Brand RCB. Which means Brand RCB should expand itself beyond cricket in the next 10 years.