The Indian Premier League (IPL) took a huge step forward on Thursday with the naming of the eight city franchises and their owners, a mix of the biggest names in business and Bollywood. The auction to pick the owners fetched the IPL - which is backed by the Indian board - US$723.59 million, almost double the combined base price of US$400 million. Mumbai was the most expensive team, costing over US$111.9 million.
The franchisees come from several areas previously unconnected with cricket, testifying to the sport's growing profile as a blue-chip investment in India. Among the successful bidders were Bollywood's top stars Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta, a Hyderabad-based newspaper group, a UK-based media rights company and the regular big players, Reliance Industries - owned by Mukesh Ambani, the richest Indian, and Vijay Mallya, who also owns a Formula 1 team. The failed bidders included Deutsche Bank and construction major DLF, and among those disqualified was ICICI Ventures.
"We can say that all the hard work fructified and the IPL is here to stay," the IPL chairman and commissioner, Lalit Modi, said. The league, which has the ICC's sanction, sees the teams play on a home-and-away basis and is due to begin on April 18.
A large part of the IPL's success will depend on its entertainment value as much as its sporting value and Modi, in his interaction, harped on how Bollywood and cricket are the two biggest box-office draws in India. The involvement of Khan, Zinta and Juhi Chawla - Khan's partner in the Kolkata franchise - takes care of the glamour quotient; Zinta's presence alone at the BCCI office in Mumbai saw a larger-than-usual media turnout.
Khan said he would take expert help before putting together a winning combination. "I have already decided on the entertainment part but we have not decided on the core and content of the team," he told the news channel CNN-IBN. "We want to put together a winning combination ... [but] I hope [Sourav] Ganguly leads my team."
The sporting element was established last month, when the IPL unveiled its roster of more than 70 international cricketers. They included some of the biggest names in current limited-overs cricket, and some from the recent past: Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Kumar Sangakkara and Graeme Smith. The affiliation of these players, and the Indian players involved, will be decided by a draft pick; it was originally slated for February 7 but will be finalised after consultation with the franchisees.
However, four top Indian players - Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh - will not be included in the auction but will play for their home teams, to ensure maximum support.
The next step is for the IPL to be marketed, and Modi spoke of a multi-million-dollar campaign, with US$15 million coming from the media deal with the Sony Entertainment Television-World Sports Group combine and the IPL chipping in as well.
The one sour note was struck when Modi was asked whether there was a conflict of interests in India Cements, of which BCCI treasurer N Srinivasan is vice-chairman and managing director, becoming a team owner. "Mr Srinivasan is just a stakeholder there, he is not the owner," Modi said. "So there is no conflict of interests."