You love a few teams. You hate a few. But very rarely comes across a team which has such a polarized fan following that it is impossible to ignore it. When it comes to the IPL, Chennai Super Kings is that team.
The ones who like the team, revere it. The ones who don’t, loathe it. And they are not referred to as the Manchester United of the IPL for nothing.
But how did a team develop such an interesting fan following equation in a mere matter of six years? How does a club that plays together for just about two months every year develop into a brand equivalent to that of the New York Yankees? How did CSK become the most supported club in spite of not having a Shah Rukh Khan or a Preity Zinta sitting in their dug-outs?
The first obvious reason that comes to mind is team success. CSK has been the most successful team in the short history of the IPL. They are the only team to have reached the playoffs every single time and they look set to continue that streak. They are twice champions and also have a Champions League T20 trophy in their cabinet. This is a team whose resume could easily be compared with that of a Manchester United, Barcelona or New York Yankees.
The second and probably the more important reason is continuity with the teams. In the first ever auction, CSK bought the likes of MS Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Albie Morkel, Stephen Fleming and Michael Hussey along with a horde of local talent, i.e. S Badrinath, R Ashwin, Murali Vijay and Srikanth Anirudha to name a few.
These names have become synonymous with the club till date. When there was a reshuffle prior to the fourth IPL season, all teams let go of their local talent, barring CSK. They also retained MSD, Raina, Vijay and Morkel, and brought the rest of the players in the auction. Their squad bore the same look as the previous seasons. The only player they missed out on was Muttiah Muralitharan, that too only because another team outbid them.
Due to this continuity, the club ensured that none of its fan base moved away. The local flavor was intact and the fans loved it. Compare this with Bangalore. They retained only Virat Kohli and dropped everyone else, including Rahul Dravid. RCB did not even bid for Dravid in the auction, who eventually went to the Rajasthan Royals. It was equivalent to removing the Bengaluru out of RCB. This led to RCB losing a huge share of their fan base (including me). They more than made up for it by acquiring the likes of AB De Villiers and Gayle, but the local flavor was missing in the team.
The local flavor of the team is also prominent in their anthem, “Whistle Podu” and “Raise your hands”. The jingles have played their part in seducing the fans — the flash mobs in San Francisco and Chennai are proof enough for it. The CSK official twitter handle is active throughout the year and constantly interacts with its fans. It has an apparel collection of its own, which is promoted by the players themselves. In the earlier seasons, Matthew Hayden also shared pictures from within the team dressing room in his personal flicker account. The CSK brigade left no stone unturned in connecting with their fans.
Another major similarity with the huge names mentioned before, i.e. Manchester United, Barcelona etc is the hate against the team. For every one CSK supporter, there seem to be five CSK haters. Check out your twitter timeline during any CSK match and there will be a plethora of hate/mock tweets directed at CSK, their fans, Dhoni, N Srinivasan and anything remotely CSK. A team has not made it to the big leagues until it doesn’t just have a loyal fan base, but also has a huge base of loyal haters. CSK fans can proudly say that theirs is the first IPL team to have made it.
The CSK 'fandom' is surreal. The whole of Chennai is painted in bright yellow for the best part of two months every IPL season. The fans are crazy and worship the team and the players love the atmosphere and the adulation they get from the fans.
Each and every player who joins the Super Kings seems to genuinely enjoy playing for the team, which in turn often translates into success. I, personally, am a Rajasthan Royals fan. But being from Chennai, it is impossible for me to not be a part of the CSK experience. Whistle Podu!