September 5, 2010

Under the shadow of the IPL

The Champions League already has better cricket to offer than its Indian sibling. And this year it hopes to replicate the audiences of the IPL as well

Andrew Symonds is probably the last cricketer on earth you would expect to see playing with a rubber duck in the bath. Yet there he is up to his neck in soap suds, a shower cap shielding his dome, cradling, yes, a little yellow rubber duck. What's more, he isn't alone. Sitting below the tub is Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan, doing what any one of us would do in that situation - making fun of Symonds.

Of course Bachchan and Symonds don't hang out in the same social circles. The scene is from one of a handful of commercials shot with Bachchan, the Champions League Twenty20's brand ambassador, whose purpose is to generate buzz ahead of the tournament that starts on September 10 in South Africa.

The Champions League Twenty20 offers arguably the highest-quality 20-over cricket outside the international arena. From Sachin Tendulkar to Kieron Pollard to David Warner, it packs quite a punch into 16 days of cricket. Yet three years since it was announced, the tournament is still trying to emerge from under the long shadow cast by the Indian Premier League, its resoundingly successful sibling.

This year's competition takes on an even bigger significance because it will be the first multi-nation tournament to be held following the News of the World sting operation that led to the ICC's investigation of three Pakistan cricketers for spot-fixing. A good, clean tournament would go a long way to cementing its place in the cricketing universe.

The IPL and the Champions League Twenty20 were created together in 2007, and originally envisioned as two parts of the same whole. The former's six-week Indian extravaganza would be capped by the top Twenty20 domestic sides taking on each other to crown the best team in the world, not unlike the Champions League in football.

Both events generated huge interest from broadcasters. Sony paid $1.8 billion for the rights to the IPL, while ESPN Start Sports (ESS) spent nearly $1 billion for the Champions League Twenty20. There the similarities end. The IPL's mix of cricket, Bollywood and cheerleaders drew full houses and attracted 102 million Indian television viewers in its first season. In contrast, the Champions League Twenty20 did not get off the ground in 2008: it was cancelled following the terrorist attack on Mumbai in November that year.

When the tournament did make its belated debut as a 12-team event in 2009, it was hurt by a more nagging problem - fans in India, cricket's largest market, showed little interest in non-IPL teams despite some exciting cricket from the likes of Trinidad & Tobago, who upset a few of the more fancied teams to reach the final.

T&T's Pollard announced his arrival on the global stage with a violent 18-ball 54 in a league match against eventual champions New South Wales. His performances led to an IPL contract with the Mumbai Indians, but they failed to generate ratings. The three IPL teams in the mix - Delhi Daredevils, Royal Challengers Bangalore and 2009 IPL champions Deccan Chargers - were knocked out in the group stage.

When those three teams left, they took the majority of television viewers with them. The 2009 IPL saw an average television ratings point (TRP) of 4.1, according to TAM Media Research, a television ratings agency, compared to an average TRP of 1.16 for the 2009 Champions League Twenty20 (one TRP represents 1% of viewers in the surveyed area in a given minute).

The contrast in ratings led, perhaps inevitably, to comparisons between the two events, comparisons Manu Sawhney, managing director of ESS, believes are incorrect because the IPL's immediate success has skewed expectations. "It does take time to build a tournament," he told ESPNcricinfo. "The IPL is an aberration."

The 2009 IPL saw an average TRP of 4.1, according to TAM Media Research, a television ratings agency, compared to an average TRP of 1.16 for the 2009 Champions League Twenty20 (one TRP represents 1% of viewers in the surveyed area in a given minute)

The IPL's biggest advantage is that not only is it a made-in-India tournament, but it is made for India. It guarantees Indian teams fighting it out until the bitter end and features the same teams each year. Meanwhile the Champions League Twenty20 features a constantly changing mix of teams: only three of the sides that made it last year are back this year.

"The larger challenge for us is the familiarity with the teams," Champions League Twenty20 chief executive Sundar Raman said. "Unlike IPL, [where] geographic location/ownership sets the fan base. Here it will only be the quality of the sport and the stature of the players."

That said, Raman thinks it is only natural for fans to take some time to become familiar with teams from other countries, and is confident the tournament will eventually become "one of the premier domestic competitions in world sport".

To help overcome the lack of team recognition, the Champions League Twenty20 is being aggressively promoted by ESS, hence the signing of Bachchan as the event's brand ambassador and a string of ads featuring the actor and three players - Sourav Ganguly, Herschelle Gibbs and Symonds. The three IPL teams that qualified - Chennai Super Kings, 2010 champions, Bangalore and Mumbai Indians - are running their own marketing campaigns to drum up excitement among their fans as well. Yet some doubt this will be enough.

SRIDHAR RAMANUJAM IS THE HEAD OF BRAND-COMM, a leading Indian brand consultancy and public relations firm, and an avid cricket fan. He believes that Indian fans only care about Indian teams and have little understanding of, or appreciation for, teams outside India. He thinks the format would work if the audience was global but the tournament, which is already missing teams from England, will be telecast during the night in Australia. That leaves India, Sri Lanka and South Africa as the main markets.

"The Indian audience is going to be fractured," he said, "not the same level of interest as the IPL. It is has been marketed very aggressively with Amitabh Bachchan trying to create hype. Whether it will deliver is a big question mark."

Another problem for the tournament has been finding a slot in a crowded cricket calendar. The IPL found a place for itself during cricket's traditional off-season and the new ICC vice-president, Alan Isaac, has said he is in favour of creating a window for the league. The Champions League Twenty20 hasn't had such good fortune.

"Finding a time in the jigsaw that's suitable for all nations is one of our most significant challenges," Raman said. "And as we have seen this year, English teams are unfortunately unavailable due to the completion of their domestic season."

Raman, though, is confident the tournament will be better received this time around. He would prefer to take the event to different countries each year, but is constrained by the need to satisfy the Indian market.

"The commercial realities of cricket mean the tournament needs to be played at times that are largely compatible to the subcontinent. As we saw with the 2009 IPL, South Africa fits the bill perfectly, and is one reason why I'm sure this year's tournament will be a success."

Where the Champions League Twenty20 does score over the IPL is in the quality of its cricket and the uniqueness of its format. Even the teams that are thought of as underdogs, such as Sri Lanka champions Wayamba, are full of internationals.

"The appeal of the Champions League Twenty20 is that it is the only international event for domestic franchises and features not only current internationals but many of those who will become the next tier of internationals," said Gerald Majola, the chief executive of Cricket South Africa. "It is a genuine proving ground both for the domestic standard in the various countries and for the emerging stars of the game." Majola's assessment is backed up by the players, who appreciate the strong test of cricket the tournament provides.

"When I was a child, I always said I wanted to play against the strongest teams," South African fast bowler Dale Steyn, who plays for the Royal Challengers Bangalore, said. "And I always thought that was international cricket. You are playing against some international sides at domestic level [in the Champions League Twenty20]. That's fantastic."

Wayamba opening batsman, and former Sri Lankan captain, Mahela Jayawardene echoed Steyn in his appreciation for the event. "It is something totally different from what we play with the national team, and even with the IPL. So I can see it going forward a long way, and as long as cricketers enjoy it and express themselves, it will definitely be something big."

This year the 10 best Twenty20 teams from six countries will compete for the $2.5 million first prize. Two groups of five teams each will compete in a round-robin format, and the top two sides from each group will go through to the semi-finals. The format is different from last year, which had two group stages. The new set-up should ensure the IPL teams last longer, keeping Indian fans around longer too.

The Twenty20 revolution in India was kick-started by India's win in the 2007 ICC World Twenty20. That victory led to a massive gathering in Mumbai to welcome India's conquering heroes, and led to the creation of the IPL and the Champions League Twenty20. If an IPL team were to win the Champions League Twenty20, it could be the boost the tournament needs to come out of the IPL's shadow and into the light.

"The key thing would depend on the performances of a few key players," Sridhar said. "A few tight games and two Indian teams making it to the final. That is the ideal scenario."

Tariq Engineer is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Senthil on September 8, 2010, 10:11 GMT

    @danney707 - Absolutely right about Kumble, even though AB has done a fair bit of acting. Kumble sounds in the ads. like he is reading from a board while the teacher holds a cane!

  • Harshavardhana on September 8, 2010, 7:09 GMT

    @sweetspot. Yes correct. We want to boo our neighbours. In my case, I want RCB to win and want CSK to lose. So I will watch matches of both teams. Then want to see Sachin score, failure of yuvraj, dada's struggling. These are to calm my secret desires. There might be others like me. So I watch IPL and RCB's matches in CL. Not worrying about any other teams, even CSK, sachin. Yes. I will watch their match only if it is against RCB and if they have a chance to meet RCB. Esle, I better do some browsing.

  • Runster on September 8, 2010, 2:23 GMT

    @HorseH Who told you that fans expected teams like Wayamba and CD would get barcelona man u status?????? Realistic people knw that BCCI is not aiming these teams to become a world wide famous criket team???? IPL teams have a pretty large fan base and will get even a bigger one if they get into the CL final.

  • umee on September 7, 2010, 3:30 GMT

    I agree with danney707. certainly prospects might come alive with home and away system game.

  • Mudassar on September 6, 2010, 14:05 GMT

    if they want a more interesting outcome of this tournament, then they should award the games to the playing clubs/teams. And they should play it on home & away system. So that the actual supporters of the side are involved.even semi finals & finals can be decided based on aggregates . With current format. I am not sure if they gonna do any good.

  • Mudassar on September 6, 2010, 13:23 GMT

    Amitabh & Kumble loooks sooooo STUPID in those ads .... i dont whose mind is behind those ads but they certainly need some good professionals with good marketing sense

  • Damian on September 6, 2010, 12:36 GMT

    No matter how much spin they put on this tournament, it will always be a dud. Perfect example of administrators (BCCI in particular) killing the goose that laid the golden egg. All they they can see are $ signs and devising ways to get more games on TV. If anyone thinks South Australia, Central Districts or Wayamba are ever going to get global support like Barcelona or Man U then you're living in fantasy land. This is and can never be like the Champions League! ESPN Star Sports have been sold a dud and it will, like most things associated with the BCCI, no doubt end up in court. This tournament needs to be canned.

  • Wesley on September 6, 2010, 11:31 GMT

    I think that for the CL each team should be limited to 3 overseas players or something like that, this would make a more fair competition. And I think a player who could play for more than one team should play for the team he signed for first.

  • Runster on September 6, 2010, 8:35 GMT

    @Sir_Freddie_Flintoff I agree with you man. It would create a better atmosphere and more exciting games for locals if they could see their home team vs another foriegn domestic team. @manasvi_lingam IPL is a better concept than CL. IPL is what started CL and revolutionised T20 to become more prefessional and not a mere "tonk" @ other people who whinge about IPL team contracts Chillax peopless!!! IPL is just trying to be professional by buying foriegn talent into thier squads. What about premier league...? You dont see anybody complaining about how many non-english players take part in the most popular soccer league!!! Its stupid. You guys are whingers who dont have anything to do but bag the only T20 league that is professional and is perpared to pay cricketers above 2000 dollars a week!!!btw...its cameron white's descision to play in the IPL. why do people blame the IPL for the players descisions to play for bigger money...?

  • Senthil on September 6, 2010, 8:27 GMT

    The equation is simple. If my team is OUT, I don't care who wins the CL. I don't care even for the "other" side from my part of the world. Forget about unfamiliarity, this is about a fun loyalty. IPL may not produce the highest standard of cricket, but it is a fantastic carnival and a chance for us to boo our neighbours. Doesn't matter who plays for my team - it is all about the colour and the game at hand. The CL really is about getting us to "care" about teams we don't give two hoots about. It really doesn't help with silly slogans like "Ab Hoga Asli Muqabla", as if the IPL is a fake tournament and the CL is suddenly all ready to get real. The organizers are the ones who have the dilemma of facing up to the Asli reality nonsense. The IPL works at every level. The CL doesn't. May this dawn on everyone.

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