Kolkata KnightRiders team huddle during match thirteen of the Vivo Indian Premier League 2018 (IPL 2018) between the Kolkata Knight Riders and the Delhi Daredevils held at the Eden Gardens Cricket Stadium in Kolkata. Image Credit: IPL

Dubai: When Kolkata Knight Riders decided not to retain Gautam Gambhir as their skipper for the 2018 season and put a heavy accent on youth in the February auction, it certainly raised the eyebrows among its legion of fans. Can they cope with a distinctly lightweight batting line-up and the trio of spinners to talk about?

Four months down the line, the franchise managers and team management must be feeling smug as the Knights soldiered on during the past one and-a-half months to qualify for the last four as they take on Rajasthan Royals in the eliminator in Kolkata on Wednesday.

It’s a matter of conjecture if KKR can overcome the hurdles of the knockout stage and be only the second team after Mumbai Indians to win the IPL thrice, but it’s been already a win-win situation for the franchise. Not only have they made the top four with a team low on box office appeal, it will also help them stay on the top of their game in brand-building — where KKR have consolidated their position as ‘most valuable’ among the top franchises.

According to a survey by Brand Finance, a UK-based brand valuation company, KKR emerged as the most valuable brand among the eight IPL teams at $58.6 million (Dh215.17 million) after the 2017 edition. Mumbai Indians were second on the list at $54.1 million, while KKR’s valuation had shown the fastest growth from year to year at 24 per cent.

What makes the KKR tick at an environment, which has boasted of more studded line-ups like say a Royal Challengers Bangalore or Mumbai? “KKR has its owner Shah Rukh Khan to thank for a larger part of its popular appeal. The Bollywood superstar attracts incredible media attention and fan following, acting as an icon for the entire franchise. Depending heavily on Khan’s personal brand equity and connections, KKR lands a host of local and national sponsorships and has been one of the first to introduce an effective merchandising strategy,” the Brand Finance survey observed.

Venky Mysore, the CEO of KKR and Red Chillies Entertainment, who was appointed after KKR had extremely ordinary seasons in the first three years, had been a catalyst in the turnaround in the franchise’s fortunes — right from the auction in 2011 when they did not retain former Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly.

In a move to globalise the brand further, they have also acquired two more franchises — one each in the Caribbean and South Africa in recent years. The Caribbean team, Trinbago Knight Riders, was acquired in 2015, while Cape Town Knight Riders was bought as part of the T20 Global League in South Africa. “The thrust is much more on how we build up the brand and the fan base. The Indian Premier League is a fantastic tournament, but the challenge always is to keep the brand vibrant and alive. Some of our global strategies have been around that,” Mysore said in a recent interview.

“April-May is IPL, August-September is the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) and November-December it is the (T20) Global League. We are always on the lookout for another asset somewhere. In an ideal world, you would have three-four of these and it takes you ahead with the preparations and so on,” he added.

While the IPL franchises have been proactive on the social media, no other team falls back on it — or as aggressively — like KKR to increase their fan base and allow them a peek into the team’s dressing room, hotel foyer and team bonding sessions. This season, they have taken it to a new level with Facebook feeds in three languages — English, Hindi as well as Bengali to wow the diehard Kolkata fans.

No wonder, the team has over 15 million likes on Facebook, 3.58 million followers on Twitter and 417k followers on Instagram according to figures released in 2017.