An easier and more relaxed travel schedule, familiar playing conditions and more freedom to fulfill sponsor obligations are some of the major advantages of the IPL's decision to conduct the first, and if need be middle, phase of the tournament in the UAE and Bangladesh, according to franchises.
With just 16 matches being played in the first phase in the UAE, franchises say they are much relieved after anxiety over the past few weeks over the overseas venue and schedule. A substantial part of that edgy feeling, franchise officials have pointed out, emerged from the nervousness of their sponsors who were eager to know if the displacement of the tournament overseas would affect the activation exercise of their brands.
"It is a good start. The IPL has taken a good first step," said Hemant Dua, chief executive of Delhi Daredevils. "It removes the uncertainty. The advantages of having the tournament in India are obvious from the sponsor and revenue point of view. I do not need to adjust to the demands of the sponsor if the league does not happen in India."
During the auction most franchises had displayed a chin-up attitude stating they had assembled squads that could compete in any conditions. But subsequently their tone became more defensive as a few suggested that if half the tournament was played on bouncier pitches in South Africa before returning to India, it could damage their chances of making the knockouts.
However, with the UAE and Bangladesh being familiar terrain, the franchises have assumed a more confident tone. "Playing in familiar conditions is an advantage," a franchise head coach said. "And once the tournament shifts back to India it would be smooth considering the playing conditions would be virtually similar."
Considering the three venues across the UAE would host 16 matches, each of the eight teams would play four games in the first two weeks of the tournament. "Four matches in 14 days is not terrible," the franchise head said. "It is not make or break for a team in the initial part of the tournament. That would also mean it is a pretty relaxed schedule for every team considering you would be staying in one place. The travel headaches would be significantly less."
This cheerful mood was non-existent in the last two weeks especially. Most franchises ESPNcricinfo spoke to confided that their sponsors, both old and new, were curious as to how they would carry out the activation programmes where players endorse their brands. Officials pointed out that many sponsors did not even want to "lock" the deals till the final venue was announced.
"Realistically it should not make a difference. What the local sponsors are worried about more is the activation," said Venky Mysore, Kolkata Knight Riders' chief executive. "When we play in Kolkata, does that help a local sponsor in activating in a big way? To some extent, possibly, but at the end of the day as long as KKR are playing, it is on TV then it is business as usual. For a sponsor there is no change in visibility factor since it is on TV. The only difference is when you play on your home ground there is more buzz. There is no doubt. But difference this time is instead of having the whole tournament played outside, only part of it would be played abroad."
According to a franchise marketing head one of the major concerns of the sponsors was the extent of costs. He said sponsors now expect more value for their money compared to 2009 when the entire IPL was played in South Africa. "Between 2009 and 2014 the difference is the sponsors' value has gone up substantially," the marketing head said. "Five years ago sponsors were not paying too much but now they pay us big sums. So to some extent sponsors will expect some sort of discount in exchange for the tournament being displaced overseas. Like if the sponsor wants to entertain some friends he might ask me to pay part charges of having them flown overseas."
According to him, sponsors are not just limited to the ones seen on players' uniforms and kitbags. There are others such as associate sponsors who will look for interactions with players. "People who have paid big dollars will ask me kuch toh help karo (help us in some way atleast)," the marketing head said.
Mysore said that franchises need to get more creative in helping sponsors activate their brands. "We might end up having to upgrade some of the timelines. If it was a full tournament in India you had seven weeks to spread in terms of sponsor activation," Mysore said. "On the other hand there are going to be only 60 compared to 74 (actually 76) matches last year. So that is a positive. When it was 74 games you did not have too much respite. So in terms of sponsors activates players did not have too many off days. Here there could be. So we will have to be creative."
The marketing head agreed with Mysore. "It is an opportunity to convert this weakness into a strength. I was telling the sponsors that earlier we would get them to watch a match of the franchise. Today I can tell them that you can watch the match abroad and even meet the players which is easier abroad compared to in India. That is because players' movement is restricted and that way they are captive in their hotels and more sponsor activities can be done. There are positives also."
According to the marketing head, the skeptics are wrong when they say the tournament might be played in front of empty grounds, a familiar feature during the majority of the international matches that have been organized in the UAE, the home venue for Pakistan. The presence of Bollywood stars like Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta and Shilpa Shetty, who are co-owners at different franchises can attract a lot of fans not only from the Indian diaspora but also from Pakistan, where these actors have a lot of support.
Asked about the perception that a venue like Sharjah had been vulnerable to free movement of bookies during the match-fixing years in the late 1990s, franchises indicated that the IPL as well the ICC had extended all possible support to erase any doubts. "All the franchises have learnt a lesson from the last year's fiasco and will be extra vigilant irrespective of the venue," a franchise official pointed.
According to a senior BCCI official things had improved a long way and the UAE had worked hard to wash away the stains of the match-fixing years. "The BCCI has not been averse to playing in the UAE," the official said. "Had it been that way, why would we have played two ODIs in Abu Dhabi (in 2006)? Don't forget that the working committee unanimously decided very recently that the BCCI is willing to play a series against Pakistan at a neutral venue. This was decided keeping in mind that the only venue would be the UAE and we were fine with it."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo; Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent