April 30, 2013

How to host an IPL match

Amrit Mathur
Franchises have to fork out a lot of cash, take care of a ton of logistical issues, and keep all kinds of people happy during the season

The IPL is like a big fat Indian wedding - grand in scale, full of glitter and glamour, noisy and garish.

When Chris Gayle smashes a ball out of the ground, fans roar in appreciation, and 34 cameras capture the action, the reactions of the team owners, the cheerleaders' steps and the mood of the spectators.

But those working behind the scenes at the IPL don't see quite the same things. They see that fans are waving Royal Challengers Bangalore flags ordered from China at a price lower than what was offered by local suppliers; they see the logos on the cheerleaders' uniforms for which sponsors pay serious money. For them, these, and other off-field factors, indicate the match is running like clockwork.

To put the big cricket party together, a franchise starts work months in advance.

The to-do list is long: import between six to ten dozen Kookaburra balls (costing US$100 each), book flights and hotel rooms (suites for the captain, coach, manager), equip the team meeting room (among the essentials: a flip chart, markers, projector), ensure players get practice and match clothing with correct sponsor branding and identification numbers, and that the overseas players get Indian SIM cards. Arrange for portable massage tables, acres of tape and strapping, and specially formulated health drinks. Hand out daily programmes to players containing information about practice timings, gym sessions, sponsor commitments, photo shoots, bat signings, media interactions and after-match parties.

This is the easy part. The non-cricket-related arrangements to stage home games are far more challenging.

Franchises have to pay to use their "home" stadiums. The standard IPL contract allows them control of the facility for about Rs 30 lakhs a game or Rs 2.4 crores (about $450,000) a season. Most of them have reached an agreement with their host state associations, some by using influential people to lobby for them, others by handing over more than the IPL-mandated 20% tickets to the association.

With tenants becoming owners during the IPL, conflict is inevitable and it takes extraordinary relationship management skills on both side to maintain peace and cordiality. In past seasons, disagreements have erupted in Kolkata, Mohali, Jaipur, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Pune, over issues ranging from allocation of tickets and seats for members to service payments.

Franchises have other organisational hurdles to cross as well. When Delhi Daredevils first came to the Kotla, the stadium didn't have floodlights, which then had to be put up in less than ten weeks. Cricket infrastructure in most Indian venues for the IPL was primitive six years ago. The stadiums were not designed keeping in mind the basic needs of spectators, like toilets or safe drinking water, let alone what was specified by the IPL. The franchises were left to make up the deficiencies.

The Daredevils franchise hired a cleaning agency a month before the Kotla's first IPL match in 2008 to get the stadium spruced up in time. We discovered, not to our surprise, that there were parts of the ground that had not had met a brush or a bottle of cleaning liquid for a long time.

At IPL games, a franchise serves food to around 6000 people in its hospitality stands; these are spectators who pay between Rs 5000 to Rs 20,000 per ticket (between $90 and $370). But some stadiums don't have kitchens or storage space, so pre-cooked food has to be brought over in refrigerated vans hours before the guests arrive.

No matter what journalists say about the IPL, the ones covering matches in Kotla will always be grateful for the fact that the stadium's toilets have improved because of the tournament.

The Daredevils franchise hired a cleaning agency a month before the Kotla's first IPL match in 2008 to get the stadium spruced up in time. We discovered that there were parts of the ground that had not had met a brush or a bottle of cleaning liquid for a long time

In-stadium entertainment is another IPL must, but PA systems at most grounds were ancient when the event first began. Franchises paid to install modern equipment, including hiring giant replay screens at grounds that didn't have them.

For back-to-back matches specialist housekeeping agencies are called in. Temporary structures, known as overlays, have to be erected to house the venue operations centre, the TV studio, the drug-testing control room, and the cheerleaders' change rooms.

When it comes to organising parking, there is never a quick fix for most franchises. Kotla, with a seating capacity of 40,000, has only 400 authorised parking slots, which are shared by players, teams, guests, sponsors and VIPs (of whom there must be at least 4000 in the city).

To hold matches, a franchise must gain a licence, granted by the police after permissions are given from practically every other government agency - the municipal corporation (for commercial branding, playing music), the electricity and fire departments (for safety), the excise department (to serve alcohol), and in Delhi, the Archaeological Survey of India, because of the stadium's proximity to the Feroz Shah Kotla fort. Getting these permissions mostly involves knocking on hundreds of doors and begging and pleading. In several cases it is sorted through a barter deal, in exchange for free tickets.

The support of the police is essential, since they deploy close to 2000 personnel for a match, do background checks on everyone who is granted accreditation, sweep the stadium for bombs and sanitise it with the help of experts and sniffer dogs. On match day, special scanners are installed and about 100 metal detectors and CCTVs are placed at strategic points. Security in Delhi is particularly strict: spectators can bring in mobile phones but not pens, bottles or coins. Kotla is the only IPL venue where flags on plastic masts are banned.

For match-day traffic control, franchises must issue a newspaper advisory (again, at considerable cost), operate a park-and-ride facility, and possibly get public transport services to run beyond normal hours. In Delhi arrangements are so thorough that a senior police officer actually signs each of the 400 valid parking stickers for the match.

Normally the police don't charge for their services. A contribution to their welfare fund and some complimentary tickets are the usual terms, but given the IPL's commercial nature, and the frequency of matches, most franchises now pay anything from Rs 50 lakhs to Rs 1 crore (about $180,000) per season towards that end. They also hire about 300 private security guards and 30 bouncers, who cost about Rs 2000 ($37) each, per game.

The myth that Indian cricket is run by a non-profit charitable organisation has finally been buried. IPL games attract entertainment tax ranging from 15% to 25 % in different states. The tax has to paid in advance, on full stadium capacity, with a provision for refund for unsold tickets, though those refunds rarely materialise. Delhi has recently passed a law that brings even sponsorship monies under the tax net. But even as tax laws get tighter, Rajasthan, despite their battles with the cricket association and the local sports council, have managed to secure total entertainment tax exemption this season.

The IPL shares the burden of franchises by taking on the responsibility for ground and pitch preparation, equipping the dressing room, ensuring that the match referee and the third umpire have a scorer and uninterrupted TV feed, and managing drug testing, anti-corruption, accreditation and TV production.

These "central" IPL functions are executed by IMG, which also supervises the unique look and feel of each venue, manages the toss and the post-match presentation ceremony, ensures "sponsor deliverables" and prevents ambush-marketing.

Central control is necessary because technically the event belongs to the IPL, the owner and regulator; each franchise only has the right to host its matches. The IPL lays down non-negotiable guidelines to ensure consistency across venues. Franchises have limited operational freedoms; they can, for instance, organise pre-match entertainment but it must end before the toss. Of the 72 advertising perimeter spots around the ground, the IPL uses 60 for its central sponsors, while the remaining 12 are available to the franchise, subject to many conditions.

The franchises also need to plan for disaster management, conduct mock drills for spectator evacuation, make medical arrangements for players and spectators, set up food and merchandise stalls, and insure players and the event. The insurance cover must include protection of match revenue, third-party liability and, particularly in Delhi, protection against acts of terror. The ground must be sprayed with chemicals to prevent dew and fumigated to keep insects away.

The franchise must also make sure liquor is consumed only in enclosed spaces. All music must be turned off at 10pm.

Early on in the IPL, there were four FIRs (First Information Reports, or official complaints made to the Indian police) filed against me, as Daredevils' chief operating officer, for black-marketing of tickets, overcharging for food items in the stadium, betting on games, and the "indecent behaviour" of the cheerleaders. The cases were dismissed, but the complaints indicate that the on-ground operations of organising the IPL can be as nasty as facing Dale Steyn on a wet wicket.

What I learnt during my time in charge was that the two most important people in the business are the Station House Officer of the police station that has jurisdiction over the stadium, and the entertainment tax officer. You can't have a game if you don't have them on your side.

In part one of the series, we looked at how Indian business entered the world of cricket, and in part two, the impact the IPL had on players. Part four will be about how profitable or not the franchises are.

Amrit Mathur is a former manager of the Indian cricket team and currently a consultant with Delhi Daredevils