Thursday, May 5, 2011

Replicating IPL - the new Srilankan Cricket League

Do you remember hearing the names of Bangalore Hi-Fliers  • Chandigarh Dynamos  • Chennai Veerans  • Hyderabad Sultans  • Maratha Warriors  • Orissa Steelers  • Sher-e-Jalandhar  ………

All Management Gurus would talk of replicating success and not reinventing the wheel – to most of them, a successful idea can be implemented as it is, elsewhere..  IPL is drawing huge crowds and event the lengthy 70 match structure is a big hit.  More importantly, brand IPL is valued very high – as high as  $5 billion (Rs.23000 crores !]  - the amount could be disputed but not the value.  Now there are 10 teams and in this cricket crazy nation, if you were to double the no. of franchisees and triple the no. of matches, perhaps you might still have more crowds thronging venues and more millions watching the matches.

The extravaganza transcends all barriers – it is not player expenses, it is not ground charges, it is not support staff expenditure – there is money spent and earned in everything.  You could notice that now a days, players have so many brands and logos on their jerseys.  There are many luxury brands associated with IPL – one such is the 132 year old Swiss watch brand Bandelier – who are the official watch licensee [!!]for 2010 version – the collection consists of trendy watches for men and women.  Nine variants  and a diamond variant were made available with price tag of more than Rs.50000/-   ; there reportedly were close to 80 official merchandising deals, which for this version should certainly have crossed 100. 

The idea perhaps flourished from the European model.  Soccer has always been a popular game in Europe but it had a low point in the late 80s with stadia crumbling, supporters not provided basic facilities, rife hooliganism, English Clubs being banned from Euro competition for 5 years and more.  The Football League First Division, had been the top level of English football since 1888 was behind leagues such as Italy's Serie A and Spain's La Liga.  With the success of England in 1990 FIFA, things started improving, television money started playing a key role.  Around 1991 proposal for establishment of new league was gaining ground and money was getting pumped in.  The next year, top clubs resigned from football league and formed FA Premier league. 

At the top of the English football league system, it is the country's primary football competition. Contested by 20 clubs, it operates on a system of promotion and relegation with The Football League. The Premier League is a corporation in which the 20 member clubs act as shareholders.   The English Premier League was a huge hit engaging topmost players, high quality games and of course huge money. 

Dynamos, Veerans, Sultans and  Warriors were the names of the teams that played in the Indian Premier Hockey league – the professional league competition held for top hockey teams.  There were seven teams and competition was held every year from 2005 till 2008 when it fell into oblivion, obviously due to lack of financial support. 

If you thought, that the Hockey league failed as only Cricket has the patronage of big Industrial houses and hence not much money flowed, sorry – there was this example of India Cricket League (ICL).  ICL was a private cricket league funded by Zee Entertainment Enterprises that operated between 2007 and 2009 in India. Its two seasons included tournaments between four international teams (The World, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) and nine domestic teams notionally located in major Indian cities as well as the champions Lahore Badshahs who were based in Lahore, Pakistan. The matches were played in the Twenty20 format.  Though the games were good and fiercely competed,  it  folded in 2009. Aside from commercial factors, the ICL lacked the support of the Board of Control for Cricket in India.

It smacked politics as Zee Telefilms, part of the Essel group promoted by Subhash Chandra, had bid for the telecast rights to the 2003 Cricket World Cup. Although the highest bid, it was unsuccessful. In 2004, Subhash Chandra again bid for telecast rights and ended up in an inconclusive court battle. He made another bid for the 2006 ICC Champions Trophy rights and once again lost. He responded by creating the ICL.  Their logic was to create a cricket content when denied one officially.  They created ICL partnering major infrastructure group IL&FS to create a new, ambitious cricket organization.  There were ambitious plans to become the richest professional league in India.  Many international players including Brian Charles Lara were contracted.    The Board hit back terming it unofficial and most of the national cricket boards warned their players against joining it and as a result most of the international players who signed for the first edition were retired internationals.  They were denied access to existing infrastructure as local associations could not provide the grounds and eventually many factors worked against them ensuring its closure.  The players – some young – had to face the brunt of having joined ICL.  Thus good cricket still could not prevail. 

Then came IPL [Indian Premier League] on the horizon.  This was an initiative of BCCI.  Now into its 4th year, it is unique in many ways and its success has been ensured by many bodies – all of which have made huge money.  In 2010, it became the first sporting event ever to be broadcast live on YouTube.  According to global sports salaries review, IPL is the second highest-paid league, based on first-team salaries on a pro rata basis, second only to the NBA.

Though the brand and concept is Indian – their mite to reach outwards was demonstrated in 2009.  that year the games coincided with general elections in India and there were concerns regarding player’s security – the venue was shifted to South Africa – still a grand success of Indian league in foreign land.  Much has been written about the version 4 which is presently on.  IPL has revealed that many players get addicted to the lure of money than the prestige of playing for the Nation. 

Drawing a leaf, Lankan Cricket is about to launch a T20 league in their country somewhere in July – Aug 2011 wherein top players of India, Australia, Pak, WI & SA besides the host are expected.  The league is proposed to be run by  Singapore-based Somerset Entertainment, which won the organisational rights and is now looking at securing a TV deal.  Going by Cricinfo reports, there will be five regional teams led by senior Sri Lankan cricketers.  There are also reports that the League has  approached around 35 international players including Yuvraj Singh, Kieron Pollard, Chris Gayle, Yusuf Pathan and Shahid Afridi, and most of Sri Lanka's leading cricketers.

Obviously this could be no match for the IPL when it comes to salaries and it is reported that there would be three salary slabs with the highest at $30,000, which is what a mid-level player would get for each game of the IPL.  The BCCI is understood to have given the league its blessing and the tournament's timing - it will coincide with India's Test series in England - will suit India's limited-overs specialists. An Indian player, who was one of the first to be approached by the organisers, said he was made to understand that the tournament was being held with the approval of the Indian board.

Presently, it is stated that the league would have a lower-profile and would benefit from the fact that many players will be from international commitments at this time.  It could provide platform for many who are not currently active.  The league will also be a boon for players from Pakistan, who currently are not part of the IPL and whose international exposure has been limited because of security issues.

The new league hopes to cash out of the popularity of IPL – but as history has proved not all replications have been success or a success at another level could harm the prospects of the golden geese called IPL.

Regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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