By: Aditya Bothra
The recently concluded Indian Premier League (IPL) was by all measures a potent combination of competitive cricket, Bollywood glitz, cheerleaders and generous helping of money that was powerful enough to force the average middle class Indian family from the comforts of air conditioned multiplexes to the heat and noise of cricket stadiums.
At the forefront of this intoxicating combination is “Twenty20”, a short version of cricket in which each team bowls 20 overs (each over consists of six balls bowled). The curtailed format of the game lasts approximately three hours or just about as long as a typical Bollywood movie. By contrast, cricket in its purest form can range from one day to five days. The people behind the launch of Twenty20 in India is a likely bunch – the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the national governing body of cricket in India that has for a decade now held sway over Cricket worldwide. BCCI is the world’s richest cricket board and is unmatched in its ability to draw sponsorship and fans to top class cricket. With LalitModi, the current VP of BCCI at the helm, the game of Twenty20, devised first in England in 2003, went for a facelift to cater to the tastes of Indian audiences. The end product of the “masalaization” of cricket has successfully managed to shake cricket from the top to bottom.
IPL format is based upon that of the English Premier League, whereby eight city-based “franchises” played in the inaugural version. The franchises were auctioned for fees ranging from $67m (for the Jaipur franchise/Rajasthan Royals) to $111.6m (for the Bangalore Royal Challengers). The sale of franchisee rights alone raised $723 million. The $723 million is added to $1 Billion plus already raised via auction of television rights of the game.
But who would be shelling out these large sums of money to buy a team that had not played a single match in a form of the game that was still untested in India? The who’s who of Indian A-list circles bought the franchises. Film star, Shahrukh Khan, co-owns Kolkata Knight Riders. Actress, PreityZinta and industrialist Ness Wadia are owners of Kings XI Punjab, in Mohali. Mumbai Indians belong to MukeshAmbani, head of Reliance Industries, the largest company in India in terms of market cap; Vijay Mallya, boss of United Breweries Group and Kingfisher Airlines, owns Bangalore Royal Challengers. For these owners, buying a cricket franchise serves to not only promote their individual production houses, brands and companies, but also gives them what they believe is a value buy in a cricket crazy nation of a billion plus people that is growing upwards of 7-8% each year
Once the teams and infrastructure were in place, the last critical element was the easiest to get: the players. The players that played in the inaugural version of the game came from all corners of the cricketing world. Players from Australia, Pakistan, South Africa, New Zealand, West Indies and Sri Lanka came to join the teams of local Indian cities that they knew very little of. The luring factor was the opportunity to get salaries that ranged from $200k to $1.5 million for a little more than a dozen games played over less than two months. The only noticeable cricket powerhouse missing was England, but that was due to the schedule clash of domestic cricket season and IPL. The Indian players, worshipped as gods in this cricket loving country, joined their mortal foreign counterparts in the auction that separated them into eight teams.
Once the details of profit sharing and sponsorship were sorted out, the entertainment portion of the venture got to work with each team vying to attract a network of fans comparable to those of the most successful sporting franchisees worldwide. Bringing fans to the stadium meant hosting night games in a large stadium that came alive with fireworks, laser shows, scantily clad cheerleaders (flown in from the US), loud music, beer, a well stocked concession stand and occasional Bollywood star sightings. With good cricket available during a period that was previously off-season in the Indian cricket calendar, throngs of people came to stadiums to watch their city team try to fend off rivals. The matches screened at 8pm, pulled in prime time TV viewers in millions and cut by tenth according to surveys released by the Economic Times, visits to restaurants and movie theatre during the time slot. The IPL was by all measure a smashing success!