IPL pitches cricket to a new high in India

May 23rd, 2008 - 6:33 pm ICT by admin  

By V. Krishnaswamy
Regardless of which part of the cricketing world you look at, all signboards seem to be pointing towards India. International stars of the game are flocking to India and so are sponsors, big corporates and television viewers in their millions as the Indian Premier League (IPL) unleashes a revolution of sorts with its snazzier version of the game. Holding promise of transforming the game, much like Australian magnate Kerry Packer did three decades ago when he introduced the ‘pyjama’ version of the five-day sport in a one-day form, cricket’s latest avatar is the bikini version of the game, lasting all of 20 overs a side a total of three hours! A far cry indeed from six hours of cricket for five days.

If Packer rewrote the rules of the ‘gentleman’s game’ with coloured uniforms, floodlights and a white ball to replace the cherry red in the conventional version, IPL has gone further and made Twenty20 - a peppier variety with a trendy in-your-face form and svelte cheerleaders in tow.

Combining India’s two biggest obsessions, cricket and cinema, in an explosive mix, the country’s richest sporting league has taken the game to a new level of global attention - and India, riding the crest of an economic surge with its businessmen earning more and more global renown, to the game’s high table where they can influence its financial fortunes.

The 44-day tournament featuring eight teams with international stars of the game kicked off on a warm evening April 18 in the south Indian city of Bangalore with glamour and razzmatazz. And it instantly heated up. The gentlemen’s game of old had transformed into a showbiz event with stars and cheerleaders.

As the first results trickled in, the indications were that it was going to be a landslide win for IPL. The opposition, if any, had been rolled over and enthusiasts started talking of rival channels - to the one that was telecasting the matches - looking for alternative time slots for their daily soaps. The prime time seemed to have been taken over by IPL.

The ticket sales in many venues were muted, but initial TV ratings were sky-high surpassing even World Cup cricket finals.

After months of hype, the hitherto unheard of bidding for teams and auctioning of players IPL delivered the first verdict - it was here to stay.

These may be early days. Maybe even ennui will set in after watching so much of cricket and not knowing who is in which team and who is losing or winning, but the fact is people are loving this format of ’slam-bang’ cricket.

The owners are a mix of Bollywood and business - superstars Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta and business magnates Vijay Mallya and Mukesh Ambani. Add to them corporates, some of whom are better known for building airports, or are into construction or even media, who have found investing in T20 cricket teams serious business.

For now, it is all the excitement of seeing the world’s top stars in an action-packed 44 days with 59 matches in eight cities. And if you had paid a bit of attention before IPL, there was the ‘rebel’ Indian Cricket League’ (ICL) which had all the just-retired stars and a smattering of upcoming young talent.

It seems the whole cricketing world has been in India over the last three months.

It was ICL on Zee till the other day and now it is IPL on Sony. The cricket-crazy fan couldn’t have asked for more for evening entertainment.

It sure beats the hell out of ’soaps’ and even dedicated ’serial followers’ are shouting themselves hoarse over sixes and fours.

There’s jazzed up team names and film stars as brand ambassadors - Akshay Kumar for Delhi Daredevils, Hrithik Roshan for Mumbai Indians, Shah Rukh himself for Kolkata Knight Riders, Preity Zinta for Mohali’s Kings XI Punjab, and a host of southern stars for Chennai Super Kings and others.

Experts who till the other day sounded sceptical about whether the multibillion-dollar IPL would attract the attention of Indian fans are suddenly changing tune. Business models, which looked ridiculous, may even seem feasible.

The sums of Rs.2.5 billion ($62.6 million) and more being doled out annually by team owners, might even look like ’smart’ investments.

Yes, the T20 league is headed for becoming an unqualified success - financially, for the players and the Indian cricket board, and in terms of visibility for the owners.

The world’s biggest names are playing. Retired stars are coming out of the attic and performing like teenagers - take a look at Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. And unknown youngsters like Abhishek Nair and Pragyan Ojha and numerous others are on their way to stardom.

The eight franchisees paid a total of more than $720 million to get 10-year rights. The floor price for each team was $50 million and the highest fee was paid by Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance for Mumbai at $111.9 million.

The cricket community is even asking the game’s governing body, the International Cricket Council (ICC), to set aside a clear slot for the league in the next Future Tours Programme to avoid a clash of interest for players on national duty.

The 10-year TV rights contract went to Sony for more than $1 billion, with TV rights at $918 million and another $100 million for the league’s promotion. In addition, the IPL Board also clinched a five-year title sponsorship rights deal worth $50.3 million from DLF.

Sony is said to have priced 10-second advertising slots at Rs.225,000 ($5,672), a rate similar to the one for the Twenty20 World Cup. And with the first few matches eliciting huge ratings, the price will stay and even spiral as the tournament climaxes.

The tournament climaxes in Mumbai on June 1. And in the meantime, people are already saying that the ICC needs to keep an annual window or a slot open for IPL each year and see that it does not clash with Tours mentioned in the Future Tours Programme of the ICC.

After all, the players want a slice of this huge pie and the Australian players are said to be even contemplating retirement from Tests and ODIs to play IPL. And why not if you can make more money in a little over six weeks than even in two years?

England fast bowler Matthew Hoggard has suggested that the ICC Champions Trophy be scrapped for IPL as “we’re talking six weeks’ work for roughly a year’s salary”.

He wrote in a recent column: “When the England players were discussing the IPL on our recent tour to New Zealand the general feeling was that we’d see how this first run of the tournament went. There were no gaps in the schedule this year, so participation was not an option for England players. But in the future, you would be silly to rule yourself out, such are the sums of money involved.”

Since India is world cricket’s biggest market, they are coming in droves and this time not just to see the Taj Mahal.

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