Indian Premier League May 11, 2010

Going global IPL's best bet, say experts

Tariq Engineer
The alleged proposal to create a parallel IPL in England has attracted plenty of attention and criticism but experts feel it is inevitable for the league to thrive and grow

The alleged proposal to create a parallel IPL in England has attracted plenty of attention and led to a second show cause notice for suspended IPL chairman Lalit Modi. But what of the proposal itself? Setting aside the procedural and administrative concerns, does expanding into England actually make good business sense for the league, the franchises and other participants? The views of the various potential stakeholders that Cricinfo spoke to - most spoke only on condition of anonymity - indicate taking the IPL brand beyond India's border is more a question of when than why.

"It is about scaling your brand," said one franchise official.

The opportunity to build the brand is the primary motivation for taking the IPL abroad. It is clear the addition of the two new teams in this year's auction is the end of any expansion within the country for the time being - even the minutes of the March 31 New Delhi meeting specifically mention this. Further growth, if and when it comes, must be from outside the country.

The proposal for a parallel IPL in England outlined in ECB Chairman Giles Clarke's email to the BCCI would give the existing Indian franchises the first right to bid for a UK franchise, along with a local partner. The tournament would feature the same restrictions on foreign players as the IPL does, to give the tournament a local flavour, but be broadcast in India at prime time.

A hypothetical second league would give teams an added opportunity to engage with their fans. Despite the IPL's initial success, the franchises feel they need a longer, sustained period of time to build a truly loyal following, The English Premier League season, for example, lasts nine months. The IPL, by contrast, leaves fans with a ten-month off season, which makes it difficult for the franchises to retain their attention and affection. A second tournament would also allow teams to better leverage the use of their players, whose cumulative salaries rise to $7 million per team next year. Players in the English Premier League, to use the same example, only sporadically miss league games for international commitments. Furthermore, the Indian diaspora is used to connecting emotionally with its local sports teams, so building a fan base abroad would be relatively easy.

A hypothetical second league would give teams an added opportunity to engage with their fans. Despite the IPL's initial success, the franchises feel they need a longer, sustained period of time to build a truly loyal following, The English Premier League season, for example, lasts nine months. The IPL, by contrast, leaves fans with a ten-month off season, which makes it difficult for the franchises to retain their attention and affection. A second tournament would also allow teams to better leverage the use of their players, whose cumulative salaries rise to $7 million per team next year

For the advertisers affiliated with the league, it would be a chance to spread their wings in a new market. "It would be a great thing for brands with a global presence," said Ramanujam Sridhar, the CEO of Brand-Comm, a leading brand consultancy and public relations firm. For instance, the UB Group, owners of the Royal Challengers Bangalore, sells Kingfisher beer in the UK. According to Sridhar, owning a second team in England would provide the UB Group with the prospect of promoting its beer to a potentially large English audience.

The IPL could do worse than take its cue from Bollywood, which has already been very successful in exporting its product to Indians abroad. With Bollywood firmly entwined with the league in the shape of Kolkata Knight Riders owner Shah Rukh Khan, Kings XI Punjab owner Preity Zinta and Rajasthan Royal's brand ambassador Shilpa Shetty, who won the UK reality show Celebrity Big Brother in 2007, even the smaller franchises, which don't have the backing of a major conglomerate, can benefit from going to a foreign market. Khan's latest film My Name is Khan, for example, took in almost a million pounds in its opening weekend in the UK earlier this year and over $2 million in the US.

Meanwhile, for broadcasters in India, the key issue is which Indian cricketers would be involved. A Sachin Tendulkar or an MS Dhoni draws viewers, say industry sources. A Pragyan Ojha or Amit Mishra does not, even if they did top the IPL's list of wicket-takers. So long as India's "stars" are involved, there will be an Indian audience. Cricket's finances are shaped around big TV deal s and the appeal of cricket in India is clear from the massive sums a number of television companies have already shelled out for tournament and country rights to the IPL ($1.6 billion), the Champions League Twenty20 ($975 million), the ICC ($1.1 billion) and the BCCI ($436 million). The only question is whether there is anything left in the kitty to spend on a new property.

To be sure, the IPL has plenty of other issues to deal with, from allegations of financial impropriety to concerns about management styles. But in effect, the process of reverse colonisation has already begun. Earlier this year the Rajasthan Royals' announced a tie-up with Hampshire in England, the Cape Cobras in South Africa, Trinidad & Tobago in the West Indies and the Victorian Bushrangers in Australia. The agreement between the teams calls for them to play under the same name, wear the same uniforms and share players and profits, changes Hampshire have already begun to implement. Their limited-overs side has been renamed the Royals and they have a team uniform similar to Rajasthan's. There is also a proposal to play a three-day tournament in England at the end of July, part of an annual series of Royals Festivals to be played around the world.

However, not everyone agrees with a move to foreign shores. Santosh Desai, the CEO of Future Brands, another well-known brand consultancy firm, says it is too early to be thinking of global expansion, even if it is simply to play exhibition matches. "After [fans] start following it, then exhibition matches make sense," he said. Dedicated fan bases "take decades to build".

"Let the format take root [in India]," he said. "Let viewership equalise. International ambitions are getting ahead of the curve. In the fullness of time, certainly. Right now it is one plan too many."

Tariq Engineer is a senior sub-editor with Cricinfo

Comments