"When is the next time we'll see a packed Eden Gardens?"
Kolkata Knight Riders chief executive Venky Mysore is trying re-imagine the world of cricket for the near future, confronted by the immense challenge posed by the Covid-19 pandemic which continues to surge globally. Some of the innovative ideas Mysore believes are likely answers to make up for empty stadia in future include LED walls and simulating crowd atmosphere while allowing the fan an immersive experience from his home.
Mysore is clear that when cricket returns, it would have to be played in "stadium lockdown" mode. However, rather than getting deterred, Mysore said cricket has the opportunity to "re-imagine" its business strategy if lucrative tournaments like the IPL are to keep going.
The IPL was postponed indefinitely by the BCCI after the Indian government put the country into lockdown since late March. Although there is no clarity on if and when the IPL will be played this year, Mysore said technology would play a bigger role once cricket returned.
"We're definitely going to have some challenges," Mysore told ESPNcricinfo on the Stump Mic podcast. "If we're lucky enough that things will settle down or the tournament will take place later this year, it's clearly going to be in what they'll call as a stadium lockdown mode. Which means straightaway the ticket revenues are affected, your food and beverage revenue is affected, the merchandising sales at the stadium is affected. The challenge to us is how do you activate the sponsors? Are there ways in which you can compensate for this?"
Luckily, due to the lucrative media rights deal BCCI signed with Star India in 2017 for five years, all eight IPL franchises are assured a healthy sum of money annually. However, the biggest challenge for the franchise is how they retain sponsors, evolve their business model and generate profits.
"If you're thinking out of the box - an LED wall in stands where, through social media, [fans] can virtually be present there. There are people who'll be reacting the same way if they were physically at the ground." VENKY MYSORE
Mysore felt technology companies now have the opportunity to fill a void, and said fan experience and immersion could be engineered in many different ways. For instance, during the 2014 edition of the IPL, Kolkata Knight Riders had developed an app that allowed remote fans to be able to send in a specific types of chants or encouragement to the DJ at the stadium, who would then produce that sound live at the ground. At the very least, an artificial aural atmosphere can be established in stadiums, something England bowler Jofra Archer also suggested recently.
"Technology is going to play a massive role," Mysore said. "I am just saying, if you're thinking out of the box - an LED wall in stands where, through social media, [fans] can virtually be present there. There are people who'll be reacting the same way if they were physically at the ground. People have said something about simulation too.
"I lived in the US for several years and became an American football fan. Home games and away games are big events there, because the crowd becomes your twelfth man. So what visiting teams used to do when they practised was blast the crowd noise on the speakers, just to get used it. The noise can be deafening in matches."
Even as leaders in all walks of life have been forced to think creatively, one change Mysore is not willing to accept is the IPL being played without overseas players, keeping in mind the restrictions on travel imposed by various countries. The issue was discussed at a face-to-face meeting in March between the BCCI and the franchise owners, where most of the owners agreed they would prefer the overseas players' to be present as far as possible.
"Why [IPL] has caught the imagination of the country and the world is the quality of the product. The best of the best - this is the pinnacle," Mysore said . "So I'm of the strong view that the format of the tournament should not be tinkered with. It should not be a glorified domestic tournament."
Another idea discussed at that March meeting was conducting the IPL at limited venues like Mumbai and Pune, who have enough venues between them to conduct the whole tournament. Mysore pointed out the IPL had already done that exercise successfully in 2014 when the first half of the tournament was played in the UAE. "We did this in the UAE - we played in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah. There were no flights, just buses that were taking players back and forth. If we were to think of something like that, the idea that was tossed around was what if you think of a city like Mumbai. There are already four grounds here if you include the Reliance Ground. And if you think about Pune, which is only two and a half hours away, you could easily contain the whole activity.
"You can assign one hotel to each team, make sure each team has two buses, fully sanitised and proper distancing maintained. So the logistics of travel is completely removed - no airports, no flights. You reduce the risk to a level people feel comfortable and can live with it. This is obviously based on the premise that things are under control and we get some kind of a blessing from the powers that be. I think it's a doable model. And in this environment if we could pull it off, it would be fascinating, without touching the quality of the product that we've all so carefully built. "
The StumpMic podcast with Venky Mysore will be published on May 16.