Cricket becomes more Sexy, Thanks ICL & IPL
Eiveryone from Hollywood Star Russell Crowe to Bollywood heartthrob Shah Rukh Khan wants to have a piece of Cricket. Home-grown industrial barons such as Anil Ambani and Sunil Mittal, UK entrepreneur Lord Swaraj Paul – all of them are lining up to bid for franchises in the to-be launched Indian Premier League.
Who knows, even an Abramovich or a Warren Buffet might one day wish to buy into a cricket franchise. The sport has just got that attractive.
There are pom pom girls dancing every time a boundary is hit or a wicket falls. Giant screens replay live action. And Twenty-20, the glitzy new format that makes cricket short and snappy, has made it doubly attractive. More than 90 corporates and rich individuals are now in the beeline to buy one of eight teams in the inaugural edition of IPL (2008). What will they stand to gain, apart from the expected publicity spin-off of owning branded teams like, say, the Airtel Mumbai Lions or the Reliance Delhi Panthers?
The Indian Cricket League (ICL) has appointed Zee Sports for the television production of all the matches of its inaugural Twenty-20 Championship starting November 30. The IPL franchise will work on the auction principle. People would have to bid for the teams.
Hi-profile teams such as Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore will fetch bigger sums than say Kolkata and Chennai. The minimum bid amount for a team is expected to be in the range of $50 million. Companies can also bid for Star players such as Ricky Ponting, Glenn McGrath, Kevin Pietersen and also for national players who will make up the XI of these combined teams.
Successful bidders will pay players their annual salaries and meet all other expenses connected with running the team. In return, they would get a share of the television revenues which should run into several million dollars a year. Teams that do well by reaching the semi-finals and final will obviously get a larger share of the TV cake.
Also, those who win the bid will be allowed to keep the ground signage and advertising rights, the ticket money at the gates and any profits from merchandising.
The most valuable commodity will, of course, be television revenues. It will ensure that a corporate which spends, say, $100 million (about Rs 400 crore) in the first season will get back a big portion of that money.
Whatever a team owner loses in the initial years will obviously be written down as a business expense towards corporate publicity. The prestige associated with sponsorship will probably be the bigger return. After all, cricket is a professional sport that has the pull of Hollywood-Bollywood.
Lalit Modi and the International Management Group are basing their business model on the American professional sport system in which the Star teams stand to gain more from exposure to the public. Like Michael Jordan and his team Chicago Bulls, many cricketers and their teams can hope to earn in millions if the IPL model proves to be a success.
Time was when cricket was thought of as a staid game that players in whites used to play for five days without a winner being spotted. Then Kerry Packer introduced floodlights, white balls, black sight screens and colourful clothes for his gladiators in 1977-78 Thirty years later, the game has become more exciting thanks to its decision to shed its image of a prim and proper dowager. It has decided to become young, spectator-friendly and in tune with the times.
Lalit Modi, the architect of India Premier League, hopes the official international series will go one better than the rebel series India Cricket League, thought up first by media baron Subhash Chandra. “We will have food courts, lots of dancers, cheerleaders, music both inside and outside the stadium and music concerts as bonuses at the end of certain matches,” says Modi.
It was India’s victory in the Twenty-20 World Cup which awakened the world’s biggest cricket market to the newfound thrills of the big hitters going for their strokes from ball one. The overs are few but the action and thrills are aplenty. The format has captured the public imagination.
Mohinder who was playing grade cricket in Perth in the 1970s, has observed all the changes that have occurred since Kerry Packer’s innovations. “The pundits rubbished all innovations such as night cricket, white balls and black sight screens,” he recalls. “It is difficult to think how the game would have survived without those ideas. One has to move with the times and T 20 cricket is a product developed to meet modern demands,” he adds.
In fact, T20 and its venue, South Africa, have played big role in resurrecting cricket as an exciting game. The World Cup in the Caribbean was a complete disaster – it was unfriendly to the spectator, went on for too long, sported a poor format and had a messed-up final, supposed to be the premier showpiece event of the game. In contrast, the friendly atmosphere of South Africa helped the game’s revival. People could walk in with their braais (kind of barbecue), cook their meats and kebabs and have a whale of a time quaffing beer and eating their favourite food while bringing their kids to the Twenty-20 cricket carnival.
Dinesh Karthik, India’s wicket-keeper batsman was so impressed with the atmosphere that he has become a big fan of cricket in South Africa. “The T20 World Cup was special because we won,” he says. “But it was exciting anyway. The manner in which it was conducted needs to be commended. The whole country wore a festive look through the event,” he adds. “Twenty20 cricket is here to stay for the simple reason that it will keep ushering in kids to the venue,” says former Indian batsman Ajay Jadeja.
It is the simplest form of the game. One need not know the nuances of the game to appreciate this thrill-a-minute format. Even from the media perspective it becomes the easiest form of the game to take across to the general fan. The rising TRP’s prove the point. Coming back to business, Pavan Kachibatla, sports management consultant, says that the franchise module makes the whole exercise definitely sustainable. “Corporates or individuals who own the team must look at their own infrastructure in a few years to maximise on ground rights,” he says.
“India is a mature market and the failure of cricket merchandising is purely because it has not been done correctly,” he adds. He believes this will change with people like Anil Ambani coming in. “I am sure they will have a proper marketing and merchandising programme in mind,” he adds. Players too are pleased with the T-20 format.
While they complain bitterly about excessive cricket, they will not mind a format that takes less out of them. However, they also know that expectations of entertainment in terms of hitting sixes will be huge, certainly after Yuvraj Singh rocked the World Cup with his six sixes off Chris Broad in an over that simply showed what is possible. India’s fierce fast bowler S. Sreesanth says that many old ideas were disproved in the T-20 World Cup.
“Many myths were broken including the one about this being a batsman’s game,” he says. “Every department needs to click as in other forms of the game. It was an eye opener in many ways,” he adds.