February 5, 2013

No thanks to the Pakistan board if the PSL succeeds

There does seem to be a market, and sufficient interest, in a T20 league in Pakistan, but the PCB's defensive mindset is not helping

Pakistan's national team may be battling it out in South Africa at the moment, but life at the PCB these days is heavily dominated by the domestic matter of the Pakistan Super League. It's still just an idea, and there isn't much yet to show for it beyond a name and a logo, but there is a distinct buzz about it. If the PSL's organisers are working their way down a checklist, then the first box - the one requiring them to create a bit of a stir - can certainly be ticked.

One reason for the chatter is that the event is shrouded in mystery. All that the PCB is willing to reveal at this point is that it will be a T20 league with five city-based franchises competing over 23 matches starting March 26, and that - judging from the player auction slabs - serious money will be involved. Beyond this, things are sketchy. The five cities have not been named, and PCB officials politely demur when questioned about finances in granular detail. "Everything will be revealed in due course," said Nadeem Sarwar, the PCB media manager, in a recent phone conversation. "Talk of financial matters like net capitalisation and broadcasting revenue is premature at this point, but I can assure you all details are being worked out with great efficiency and diligence."

An indication of the PCB's serious intent regarding PSL is the involvement of the ICC's ex-boss Haroon Lorgat as an advisor to the league. The naming of Mike Procter as a match referee, and the appointment of a four-person umpiring panel comprising Rudi Koertzen and Russell Tiffin, in addition to Asad Rauf and Aleem Dar, are also positive signs.

Pakistan cricket insiders have also warmly welcomed the naming of Salman Sarwar Butt as the league's managing director. A respected banker and noted cricket buff, Butt was instrumental in setting up Pakistan's domestic T20 competition, whose first edition in 2005 was sponsored by his then employer, ABN-AMRO Bank. Even in Pakistan's fractious cricket circles, no one has anything negative to say about him. During a recent phone chat, he confirmed that there was mounting interest in the PSL from broadcasters and potential team owners. "I cannot give you any names at the moment," he said, "but the interest in TV rights has come from outside Pakistan as well."

Butt (no relation to the Pakistan ex-captain) converses in a calm and reassuring manner, and seems clear about the limits of what he can create. When asked if he plans to reproduce the glitz and glamour of the IPL, which is inevitably held up as the gold standard for any franchise-based T20 competition, he refused to take the bait. "Lalit Modi is a legend, and what he did in creating the IPL was simply brilliant," said Butt. "Our effort is different - the scale is simpler, and we are struggling with certain limitations, but we are confident of delivering an impressive product."

It remains to be seen how effectively those limitations can be overcome. Ultimately, what will distinguish the PSL from Pakistan's standard domestic T20 tournament is the presence of overseas players and a substantial glamour quotient. PCB officials are claiming they can attract a host of high-profile stars - the Kevin Pietersens, Michael Clarkes, and Chris Gayles of the international game - but given the security perception surrounding Pakistan - already the England cricketers' association and the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations have advised players against participating - that appears a tall claim. Glamour too, at least in the conventional sense, will be hard to come by: Pakistan has no Bollywood equivalent, gossip and tabloid media are frowned upon, and the country's conservative outlook precludes the presence of sexualised cheerleaders.

Despite these constraints - each a barrier in some form to the league's commercial prospects - there is evidently still enough in the PSL to attract genuine business interest. Industry insiders say that both Pakistan's local private sports channel, Geo Super, as well as the UAE-based Ten Sports, are expected to bid for television rights and are interested in telecasting PSL matches on their platforms. Their reasons may be different - Geo Super needs it to validate its brand, while for Ten Sports this amounts to required maintenance of its long-term relationship with the PCB - but either way, it is oxygen for the PSL.

Perhaps the strongest criticism of the PSL is that the PCB's intent appears rooted in negativity. In public statements and media interviews, Zaka Ashraf, the PCB chairman, has positioned PSL as some desperate manoeuvre to help lift Pakistan's image as a host cricketing nation

I was also able to speak to two potential team owners, one of whom went on the record. "We are fully behind this effort and keen to become a franchisee in PSL," said Atif Bajwa, CEO of Bank Alfalah, which is already a major sponsor of the Pakistan national team. Bajwa shied away from discussing team composition or monetary figures, but my second, anonymous, source, a well-heeled Karachi businessman, was more forthcoming. "I anticipate an upfront investment of US$5-6 million per year for acquiring and maintaining a PSL franchise," he said, adding that he was attracted to the business model because he felt he could generate a profit.

As with any other commercial cricket league, franchisees will have three chief sources of income from the PSL: their share of the broadcast rights, gate receipts, and advertising. Pointing to examples from the IPL, the Karachi businessman felt he could also use the platform of PSL team ownership to enhance revenues from his primary business (which in this particular case happens to be a media and entertainment empire). This gentleman was not too enamoured of the PCB, but he is nevertheless confident about the value of top-level cricket in Pakistan as a business product. "PCB are the custodians of Pakistan cricket, so we have no option but to deal with them," he said, "but it would be better if all affairs of the league were quickly passed over to a consortium of private team owners."

Perhaps the strongest criticism of the PSL is that the PCB's intent appears rooted in negativity. In public statements and media interviews, Zaka Ashraf, the PCB chairman, has positioned PSL as some desperate manoeuvre to help lift Pakistan's image as a host cricketing nation. The naked yearning for foreign stars and the clumsy announcement of a US$2 million life insurance policy for each overseas signing embody this approach, which only draws further attention to Pakistan's security stigma.

Even though cricket authorities in a number of countries have prohibited their players from participating in the PSL, such admonitions are only to be expected and one can't take them to heart. The good news is that the PSL is on the map and is getting discussed; given the constraints, any publicity is good publicity. There is enough of a market for the PSL to exist - and even succeed - but the PCB's defensive mindset is not helping. Pakistan's cricket board naturally has to set up the fundamentals, but it would do well to quickly hand over the reins to private enterprise, and then just stand aside and watch the show flourish.

Saad Shafqat is a writer based in Karachi

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Hassaan272 on February 7, 2013, 21:18 GMT

    Brilliant.. absolute brilliant.. Saad shafqat, a great neuro-scientist and an excellent and neutral writer.. Dont have words to praise your work..

  • Zahidsaltin on February 6, 2013, 14:26 GMT

    The only thing which kept Pak cricket going was IPL's refusal to add Pak players. PSL is going to destroy our test and first class cricket.

  • getsetgopk on February 5, 2013, 20:27 GMT

    umairasgharbutt: If PSL gets half the money involved in IPL there is a fear that our players wont have the same intensity at test level. We asians have a nasty habit of stop doing anything when our pockets are full. It happened to India and it will happen to Pak as well. I have said it before that IPL is a curse for Indian cricket and to be fair to India fans I'll say the same thing for PSL, tests will suffer but two things here justify PSL, 1st it'll bring international cricket to pak and 2nd its just ten days and hence i'm forced to support it, but as cricket fan, i think it will be a bad influence on bowlers line and length and will further degrade batsmens techniques.

  • getsetgopk on February 5, 2013, 20:17 GMT

    HOpe it succeeds but if it doesn't I would be equally happy. These T20 leagues are a menace to Test cricket, the ultimate form of the game. Look at India, their test team doesn't seem to have any interest left in tests and all about IPL, look at BD and their BPL not that they were any good at tests to begin with but BPL will make sure they dont even think about improving.

  • cricket-india on February 5, 2013, 17:51 GMT

    per the author, the PCB has done everything right and its only crime is a craving to lift Pak's image as a cricket destination and offering tax-free incomes and life insurance policies for all players. but is it a crime to be desperate to lift the image of your country as a safe and enjoyable place to play cricket? if the PCB suceeds in with every step they take for the PSL (foreign umpires, TV rights, sponsors, involving lorgat, etc), the life insurance policies certainly won't turn off any prospective player. saad shafqat sees the PCB's desperation but sees it in a negative light; there's no need to. you have to commend the PCB for taking the bold PSL gamble against many (if not all) odds.

  • warneneverchuck on February 5, 2013, 17:31 GMT

    @umairasgharbutt let PSl last first for 2-3 editions then talk about any IPl comparison.

  • umairasgharbutt on February 5, 2013, 12:58 GMT

    first 2, 3 editions psl gonna struggle but after that it would has a potential to overcome ipl !

  • Energetic. on February 5, 2013, 12:19 GMT

    It has a silly format 5 teams and still a semi-final just to knock out 1 lol all in one city good luck!

  • Selassie-I on February 5, 2013, 11:34 GMT

    Posted by half_blood-prince on (February 5, 2013, 3:44 GMT) - Actually the ECB had the first T20 league, the rest are copies. Maybe higher profile, even 'better' copies, but copies none the less.

    Personally I think Pakistan should go for it, why should they not have their own big money league? Especially as the BCCI don't seem to want the Paks in the IPL. Good luck Pakistan!

  • toopSTARS on February 5, 2013, 11:04 GMT

    Well, watching the sub-continent teams' struggles at the Test level, do we really need the IPLs, the PSLs, the SLPLs and the BPLs??

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