Large Indian-origin fan base made T&T attractive - Mysore
A natural progression, business expansion, brand synergy and an attractive fan presence are the main reasons the owners of Kolkata Knight Riders bought total ownership of the Trinidad & Tobago franchise in the Caribbean Premier League. The deal raised curiosity because it was the first time an IPL franchise had invested in an overseas league.
The majority shareholders of Knight Riders are Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan and his wife Gauri, who own 55% of the franchise, with the remainder held by the Sea Island group, a family-owned trust of Jay Mehta, husband of Bollywood actress Juhi Chawla.
According to Venky Mysore, the chief executive of Knight Riders, T&T Red Steel was the best place to invest from the perspective of crowds, sponsorship opportunities, the rich cricketing tradition in the region, and the talent base. "Forty percent of the population in Trinidad & Tobago is of Indian origin. There is a very strong connect of those people to Bollywood," Mysore said. "And they are all extremely big Shah Rukh fans. And Trinidad is among the most advanced economies in the Caribbean."
Mysore said his vision had always been to expand the Knight Riders brand and go beyond the IPL in terms of earning revenues. One of the ways was to globalise and the CPL opportunity came at the right time. Peter Russell, the CPL's chief operating officer, traveled to India during this IPL to meet Mysore and place the deal on the table.
In 2013, Mysore had rejected a proposal from the CPL because the "timing" was wrong. "There were people involved at that stage with the league [CPL] with whom we did not vibe well so we let it pass."
So what convinced him the second time? "There has to be a strategic fit, firstly. Secondly, you have to figure out if it is a viable business. If the answer is yes, you take it forward," Mysore said, adding he had rejected similar proposals from various organisers of franchise-based tournaments in other sports who had approached him to leverage the value and reach of the Knights Riders' brand.
The day the T&T deal was made public, the news made the front page of most of the newspapers in the country. Few days later, Mysore was in a meeting with Shah Rukh when he received the call from Trinidad. It was Gerald Hadeed, who holds the twin portfolios of communications and tourism in the T&T government.
Hadeed extended support to Mysore and said he and his country were looking forward to seeing Shah Rukh soon. Hadeed was subsequently elated when Shah Rukh personally accepted the invitation over the call and said he would try to come for a couple of matches this CPL. According to Mysore, Shah Rukh is "extremely kicked" about the CPL deal.
Mysore, who is in the Caribbean for the season launch, is already thinking of making some plans: changing the franchise name from T&T Red Steel to T&T Knight Riders, as well as changing the kit to purple and gold. "We will be very careful in making sure when we go out there we are not imposing ourselves. We know the business. But our aim would be to let us learn the environment first and how to manage it and what are the sensitivities there."
Mysore is not only looking at this as a business expansion into an overseas market but also as an expansion of the fan base to the Indian origin fans from the Caribbean to the strong Indian diaspora in North America, which falls in the same timezone.
Mysore is aware that the CPL is working hard towards increasing the Indian presence and viewership. "If we are able to impact that and influence that we will do that. Our role is to go in and say let us partner. Let us figure out how we can bring in the best practices of what we have done into an environment which is very exciting."
Mysore pointed out that apart from the look and feel - logo, name, uniform - it will be the cricket that will attract further business. "If you are able to make an impact, Indian brands will get interested in that property, especially brands that are interested in that market place. Another ancillary excitement for me is that this league is in the best position to tap into the US market. They are in the same time zone."
It is also a case of synergising and leveraging the various brands Shah Rukh & co own. "We are in the entertainment space. So how do we disseminate entertainment? You have to be aware of the different platforms on which this entertainment is being disseminated and consumed.
"That is where the synergies come in. We are going to be in Kolkata. We are going to be playing in the Caribbean. We are going to be say playing in the US. At the same time if we are launching a movie. Now Shah Rukh is huge in international market and by far the bigger than any star in India. So this [CPL] gives us a platform to market as well in many ways when you think about the business."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo